Home Insight Uruguay’s greatest football club Peñarol rediscovers cricket roots

Uruguay’s greatest football club Peñarol rediscovers cricket roots

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Life has come full circle for cricket at Club Atlético Peñarol in Uruguay.

It is an extraordinary development as Peñarol is no ordinary football club. It is one of the greatest football clubs in South America, having won the Copa Libertadores (Champions League of South America) five times and the national title an astonishing 50 times.

A decade ago, the club was voted as the greatest South American Continental Century Club (1900 – 1999) by the International Federation of Football for History and Statistics (IFFHS). To put things into context, Peñarol beat competition from clubs in heavyweight nations such as Brazil and Argentina, to win this award.

the cricket section is working to raise funds that will allow it to build an exclusive cricket facility and, in turn, adequate training spaces for the growth of the sport through the recruitment of Uruguayan children and youth.

Leonardo Viñas- Peñarol Cricket President
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The club inspires intense loyalty and devotion from its legions of fans, no doubt helped by its railways origins and its working-class ethos. Now, remarkably it has its very own cricket team once again, a full 100 years since the club decided to abandon the sport altogether.

Club Atlético Peñarol Logo
Club Atlético Peñarol Logo (Supplied)

Emerging Cricket sat down with Peñarol’s cricket President Leonardo Viñas to discuss this exciting news; we also chatted about his goals & ambitions for cricket’s development at the club and in Uruguay.

Q) Cricket has a long history in Uruguay. The first game was played in 1868 against Argentina. Peñarol also started its life as a cricket club in 1891, but the game never became popular. What do you think are the main reasons for this?

Basically, because football – which over the years became our national identity – was embraced enthusiastically by all social classes throughout the country, after its introduction. Uruguay Football Team’s early sporting successes surely also played a significant part. We won the South American Championships in 1916, Gold at the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928 as well as organising & winning the first ever FIFA World Cup in 1930.

Furthermore, the immigrants who arrived en masse to Uruguay at the beginning of the 20th century were mainly Spanish, Italian and French, along with smaller numbers of Germans, Irish, Swiss, Austrians, Poles, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Belgians, Slovenians, Croats, Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Armenians, English and Scots.

Out of all these immigrant groups, only the English and Scottish played cricket. Therefore, it was inevitable that football would go on to become the multicultural vehicle of integration for Uruguayan society, especially after the national football team’s phenomenal successes internationally. Peñarol’s Football Team also achieved incredible growth and became very popular; while fewer and fewer players were recruited for the cricket team. Eventually, in the late 1920s, the club decided to abandon the sport altogether.

Q) What caused Peñarol to start a cricket team again, almost a century later?

The historical vision of the club has been to participate and support the development of all competitive sporting activities.

Since the 1990’s, the vision of our Presidents had been to focus solely on professional football. However, as of 2018 it was decided that the club should return to the practice of various disciplines. These include basketball (a sport in which Peñarol was also a professional continental champion), volleyball, rugby (the only professional team in the country) and cricket. The latter especially because it is the sport that gave rise to the club. In 1891, Peñarol started its life as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club or C.U.R.C.C.

Cricket being part of the club once again allows us to fulfill a social role that is part of our institutional identity, which is the social and sports integration of immigrant workers who arrive in our country. In this instance, it is the Indian immigrant community that has been growing in Uruguay since 2003.

Peñarol in Action, in the Uruguay Premier League
Peñarol in Action, in the Uruguay Premier League (Supplied)

Q) How’s the project to build a new cricket ground coming along?

At the end of 2019 the club launched and began the first stage of construction of a ‘Sports City’, on a 40-hectare site around its Champion of the Century Stadium. The project signifies an important change in the club’s sports infrastructure. Although it will mainly be used for football training, there are also plans to install a sports complex with regulation space for cricket.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, construction was stopped for several months. However, the work has recently recommenced and the board is discussing the deadlines for its inauguration.

Likewise, the cricket section is working to raise funds that will allow it to build an exclusive cricket facility and, in turn, adequate training spaces for the growth of the sport through the recruitment of Uruguayan children and youth.

Q) Are there plans to attract more Uruguayans to the sport?

Yes, there are plans to incorporate training courses as soon as possible (at this moment it is the only active sports discipline of the club that does not have them), but because of the pandemic and the lack of infrastructure we are at an impasse in this regard.

Peñarol after winning the Uruguay Premier League - 2019
Peñarol after winning the Uruguay Premier League – 2019 (Supplied)

Q) As President, what are your future goals for Peñarol cricket & Uruguayan cricket in general?

The main objective is to consolidate the practice of cricket in the country. That is why since the club restarted its cricket team, it has participated in all the tournaments that are organized. We are also focused on obtaining funds that allow the development of adequate facilities for the sport and the development of formative establishments.

As a sporting goal, Peñarol has the obligation to always go for the first place in the local competition and is working to organize an international competition with clubs from different countries of the Americas as soon as sanitary conditions allow.

Q) Are there any plans to develop women’s cricket?

Yes, the development of training includes the formation of a female team that joins the competition with the youth.

Q) If cricket became an Olympic sport, how much funding or support will you receive from the government?

If cricket became an Olympic sport, it will allow us access to credit lines in the form of government funding and sports infrastructure for the national team, which would obviously lead to the growth and recruitment of new athletes.

Peñarol Cricket Team Home Kit
Peñarol Cricket Team Home Kit (Supplied)

Peñarol’s decision to re-start a cricket team is truly a momentous occasion for the sport in South America. Being affiliated with the famous black & yellow colours of this club gives cricket legitimacy in a manner that wouldn’t have been possible – if it had just been immigrants or expats forming new clubs to play the sport. Hopefully, this provides the kind of spark that cricket needs to establish itself firmly on the Uruguayan sporting scene.

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Shounak Sarkar
Shounak Sarkar
Finance Professional by day & Emerging Cricket Writer by night. Passionate cricket fan and advocate of the Global Game!

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