Beyond the Springboks, African rugby is still searching for itself – DW – 02/07/2023

Next September, South Africa will defend their Rugby World Championship title in France. Three World Cup victoriesAnd Including the decisive home win in 1995After the end of apartheid and as rugby became more professional, it cemented its place in the history of the sport.

But the Springboks’ success separated them from the rest of the continent. As rugby union struggles to adapt to the increasingly expensive landscape of the global professional sport, its future in Africa hangs in the balance.

South Africa, one of the world’s rugby powerhouses, unfortunately does little for the sport in the rest of the continent Photo: Imago Images/Kyodo News

In March 2023, Herbert Mensah was elected as the first English-speaking President of Rugby Africa. The Ghanaian studied in the UK in the 1980s and has an entrepreneurial background in the telecommunications sector.

This charismatic speaker’s business acumen and close ties to the locals have helped him take Ghanaian rugby to another level over the past few years.

Now I want to do business with France and Europe, but first I want to do business with Africaexplained to DW.For example, I want to sit down with Mark Alexander, the president of the South African rugby team, and tell him how he makes things work. People need to understand that you may have looked at us that way in the past, but not in the future.“.

Popular new boss

Mensah hasn’t been in office for long, but he’s already seen results in countries that have signed up to his plan. The 63-year-old has been working to tackle governance issues in Cameroon and pressure governments to support more rugby in schools, regional leagues and infrastructure in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Morocco.

You can’t have problems, create problems and tell people: It’s because I’m in Africa or because I’m African, that’s the way it is here. No, for me there is no such thing here or there. There is a general way to do this. We must adhere to this global standard. “

Cote d’Ivoire, Host of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nationshas already agreed to make rugby football pitches available.

In Accra, Ghana, a dedicated rugby stadium is already under construction, while the Kenyan government has already pledged land for the construction of a stadium. Herbert Mensah strives for Africa to see the sport as big business and has already secured the support of several rugby captains on the continent.

He is a visionaryBotswana Rugby Union President Sean Irish told DW.He has the passion and ability to rise to the top and push the sport forward.”

World Rugby in Africa

African Rugby is a full member of World Rugby, the premier rugby body in the world, but when it comes to finance, that’s a different story.

While the governing body for world sport pays around $5 million (4.5 million euros) to each European rugby country to promote the sport, it only pays $2 million to the entire African continent outside of South Africa. This equates to about $55,000 on average for each of the 36 rugby nations in Africa. The message is clear.

We will fight for our rightsThe Promises of Herbert Mensah.The financial system that was created to reward countries is not working for Africa. I will be fighting all day with World Rugby on this. We will seek more shares.

Herbert Mensah (left) discovered rugby during his college years in England Photo: Markus Brandt/Bongarts/Getty Images

Botswana is one country that would benefit from more money under a new system, but Sean Irish is not optimistic.

World Rugby gives us $43,000 a year, but what they want from me is $70,000he explains to DW.World rugby will not make more money for Africa. They don’t understand Africa or Africa’s potential. “

Despite a lack of funding, Botswana made huge progress before the pandemic, training nearly 100 school teachers a year to coach rugby and increasing the number of schools playing the sport. The pandemic halted all sporting activities in the country for two years, and its return has been slow and controversial.

The story is similar in Kenya. Most recently in 2009, the Kenyan rugby team (playing a shorter version of the game with seven players per team instead of 15) beat rugby giants New Zealand. Today, she is fighting to get back into the World Championships.

Kenya Rugby chief Sasha Mutai is working on plans for a six-team professional league backed by private owners.

You must be ambitious because the talent is thereCommander explains to DW.

Do English speaking countries have an advantage?

To stimulate these talents, Herbert Mensah in particular must succeed in bringing together the francophone and English-speaking cultures of Africa.

Burkina Faso Rugby Union President Roland Boroux believes that the francophone countries in Africa are having a more difficult time than their English-speaking counterparts.

This is a serious problem. Francophone countries are struggling to take offshe explains to DW, emphasizing the influence South African rugby has on its English-speaking neighbours, like Namibia, World Cup regulars and ranked 21 in the world, or Zimbabwe.There was a clear effect“, Emphasizes.

The president stressed that the legacy of rugby between the two cultures is not the same, citing the example of rugby which is part of the Commonwealth Games but not included in the Jeux de la Francophonie, the French equivalent.

Moreover, from a more practical point of view, Rolande Boro points out that emerging countries such as Burkina Faso have successfully focused on the “Sevens” format, rather than the 15-a-side game, where technical aspects such as scums or sidelines are more difficult to develop. .

Cameroon-born former France international Serge Petsen admits that numerous changes to rugby union rules have not helped, but believes the difference between the two cultures is less clear than it appears.

I don’t think there is a difference between English and French speaking countries [en Afrique] In terms of rugbyA native of Cameroon, Kumba, explains to DW.

Rugby is played all over the world.

Heaven found

Herbert Mensah, president of Rugby Africa, wants to use the continent’s natural attractions to help develop the game, using a dramatic landscape as a backdrop for the ‘Sevens’ circuit.

As Africans, we are past the stage of wastelands, desert famine, and coups d’étathe explains.For example, if we had a Sevens tour that included Mauritius, a safari in Kenya, Kampala, Victoria Falls, somewhere in Cape Town…the camera could zoom in on that paradise.

The idea of ​​the leader sounds like a dream, but it is a dream that can be achieved because rugby is not only a less complex game, but as an Olympic sport it is funded through various channels.

The qualifiers for the Olympic Rugby Sevens Championship will be held next August in Harare. Kenya is one of the favorite countries for both men and women.Photo: IMAGO/Kevin Manning

Rugby sevens is the future of the sport because it requires less investmentSerge Betsen explains.It is a revolution, and African countries should embrace the Olympic dynamics of this sport. Rugby sevens could be a good window for the development of the sport in Africa. “

Mensah’s vision may be so big, rugby in South Africa so separate from the rest of the continent, World Rugby’s contribution so small, but perhaps none of that matters.

Because of its values, rugby is the best sport in the worldinsists Batesen, who has set up rugby charities in Cameroon and Mali.It brings communities together, as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.

* This article was originally Published in EnglishTranslated and edited by Sophie Serbini.

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