Rugby unites former Falklands enemies


Hersham - Using a ball blessed by Pope Francis, British and Argentine veterans of the Falklands War came together Monday for an emotional rugby game between former enemies timed to coincide with the Rugby World Cup.

Organised by the Rugby Sin Fronteras (Rugby Without Borders) foundation, the game was held at Esher rugby club in Hersham on the outskirts of London.

"It was an unnecessary war," Horacio Gatas, an Argentine veteran, told AFP ahead of the game, echoing the views of many of the former combatants.

"I like the opportunity of meeting people 33 years later who fought against me, who followed orders like me. I want to shake their hand," he said.

Argentinians and Britons played side by side on both teams, as their family and friends looked on.

The veterans of the 1982 conflict wore special identifying bracelets and the game was shortened to two 20-minute halves as many of them are now over 50 years old.

After the game, everyone went for a traditional beer.

"The beauty of rugby is afterwards we talk, we drink and we laugh," said 57-year-old David Jackson, who left the British army to become a doctor to treat soldiers afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder which he also suffered from.

"I'm here because many years ago I realised that everyone that fought in that war was either a son, or a husband, and we are agents of political times and political decisions," he said.

Jackson said that the veterans of any war are united by their shared experience of conflict.

"We have a different sense of humour, our work ethic is different and that's what binds us together, our differences as civilians," he said.

Russell Craig, a 56-year-old veteran, said: "We were victims of circumstance. Politicians failed and we had to go and try to fix what politicians did wrong.

"Reconciliation is important, it's very good, this is an emotional moment," he said.

Any political differences were set aside for the game.

"We are neither for or against (Argentine) sovereignty" over the Falklands, said Alejandro Diego from the Rugby Sin Fronteras foundation.

"We don't have borders," he said.

Argentinian troops occupied the Falklands in 1982 under orders from the military junta but were ousted by a British task force after a 74-day war which cost the lives of 255 Britons and 648 Argentinians.

Argentina still claims sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands, which it calls the Malvinas, but London has ruled out any negotiations.

Jorge Murias, an Argentine priest who came to watch the game, said: "What's important for people is coming together, working for peace, for justice, for solidarity and fraternity, for everyone and forever."

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