Juan Jasso Jr: Trail-blazing in the Americas

The name Juan Jasso Jnr might be familiar to rugby league fans, though it might not.

Jasso was thrust into global prominence in June he was racially abused on a tram in Manchester in the wake of the Brexit vote. A video of the incident went viral and made headlines around the world.

Jasso, a former US serviceman of Mexican heritage, has lived in Manchester for the past 18 years. He is also a rugby league nut.

The university lecturer has been involved with the sport all his life in various capacities, both as a player and coach. He coached the first all-Latino team to play rugby league in the USA and has coached at UK clubs including the London Broncos.

Jasso’s passion is growing the game in South America. He explained to Love Rugby League how a lack of funding is really hindering the expansion of the code in that part of the world.

“I am helping to develop a programme in Mexico,” he said.

“They don’t get any funding whatsoever. The other issue is that people who have played rugby union are being forbidden from taking up Rugby League.

“In Mexico, the costs associated with playing Union are huge. We are talking people’s wages for an annual year just to play.”

Jasso will be a part of rugby league history when he referees in the first-ever tournament staged in South America this weekend. The move was made possible after a fund-raising campaign by the Australian rugby league club Latin Heat.

The tournament is being contested by teams from Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

Even though he has long been involved with the game, being a referee is something which he has limited experience in.

“I have only just passed my course probably about three or four months ago,” Jasso said.

“The experience isn’t as in-depth as I would like it to be however I have had a handful of matches.”

Jasso admitted he was slightly relieved after learning the tournament was going to consist of nine-a-side matches, not 13-a-side.

“I thought originally the matches were going to last a full 80 minutes,” he said.

“Just a couple of days ago I learned it was a 9s tournament so whilst the pressure isn’t off it’s lessened a little bit because there will be so many matches going on.

“Each game will consist of two ten-minute halves so I can chill out a little bit.”

The format may be less intense but Jasso admitted the size and importance of the event is still playing on his mind.

“There are going to be three governing bodies for three different countries and probably a lot of spectators as well because it is going to be broadcast live on radio,” he said.

“I still feel a lot of pressure because it is the first tournament and it’s extremely significant.”

Although this will be the first tournament in the continent for over 10 years, Jasso thinks this could be the catalyst for more events in the future.

“Rugby League is still fairly new but it is starting to take off,” he said.

“I think the number of Latin American teams playing Rugby League will increase significantly in the next couple of years.”

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