The British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) rugby7 team, ‘Spitfire 7s’ is in Kolkata not only to compete at Calcutta International Sevens Tournament, but also to promote the sport among underprivileged children.

As their football team stares elimination from the World Cup finals, an English rugby team is here on an 11-day trip, away from the disappointment back home. The British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) rugby7 team, ‘Spitfire 7s’ is here in Kolkata not only to compete at Calcutta International Sevens Tournament, but also to promote the sport among underprivileged children.

They got a warm welcome from the British Deputy High Commission here last night, but they are faced with the harsh reality of their football team, who is all but out of the World Cup after a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Uruguay in a thriller on Thursday.

“Back home, football is the no 1 sport followed by rugby and cricket. This is the reason one cannot escape the football fever,” RAF Spitfires director squadron leader Tim Barlow told PTI.

“In a way, it’s good to be here in India and play rugby in the midst of the World Cup fever back home. Our team is not doing well, so we’re better off following the match from the telecast.”

“I’ve fallen in love with the country and its culture. I know its cricket that is number one here, but we also follow them when they play cricket. There’s a split loyalty.” The RAF team landed here on June 14 and was engaged in a charity programme when it visited Don Bosco Ashalayam Orphanage, while on June 16 it travelled to Siliguri for various coaching and promotional activities. “We’re overwhelmed to see the excitement in Siliguri. We were packing our bags and saw a group of school girls came in and started playing rugby. It was fun,” Mr. Barlow said referring to their match with Mirik Night School and their activities as part of the Khelo Rugby festival in Saraswati village.

This is for the fourth year in succession Mr. Barlow has been accompanying the side since their visit in 2011, in an initiative by Khelo Rugby, a campaign by city-based side Jungle Crows, who are ranked third in India.

“If the response was from about 500 kids, now it’s quadrupled,” he said referring to Calcutta International Sevens Tournament that will have 16 participating teams, including one from Fiji.

Spitfire 7s is the three-time defending champions. “It’s not the same team that came last year, but we’re confident of doing well this time as well.

Hopefully we’ll return from here with our heads held high.”

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