Sportsmuch more than just the "Springboks" – DW – 06/28/2023

    much more than just the “Springboks” – DW – 06/28/2023

    South Africa are reigning rugby world champions and aim to defend their title at the World Cup in France in September and October. The “Springboks” have won three World Cups so far – including the coup in their own country in 1995 after the end of apartheid – and have thus played their way into the rugby history books.

    But the South African national team’s success has isolated them from the rest of the continent. The sport of rugby union in Africa is struggling to keep up with global professional sport and the future is uncertain. There are four crucial years ahead.

    New president as a beacon of hope

    “Rugby Africa” ​​is the continental federation responsible for the sports of rugby union and sevens rugby. In March 2023, Herbert Mensah was elected the first Anglophone President of Rugby Africa. Mensah studied in the UK in the 1980s and originally comes from the telecommunications industry.

    The charismatic speaker’s business acumen and strong local connections have helped him take Ghanaian sport to new heights in recent years. He is the leader that many believe can also take rugby to the next level in Africa.

    “I want to do business with France, the EU, but most of all I want to do business with Africa,” Mensah told DW. “Like sitting down with Mark Alexander, the President of the South African Rugby Union, and asking, ‘Now how do we make things happen?'”

    “Visionary” Mensah relies on global standards

    Mensah has not been in office long, but countries that have embraced his plan are beginning to see success. The 63-year-old resolved governance issues in Cameroon and is urging more government support for school rugby, regional tournaments and infrastructure in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Morocco.

    “You can’t address your problems by saying to people, ‘Oh, because I’m in Africa or because I’m African, I’m going to do it this way,'” says Mensah. “There is no ‘one way or the other’; there is a global way. And we have to set that global standard.”

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    Côte d’Ivoire, host of the Football Africa Cup of Nations 2023 (AFCON), has already agreed to make its football stadiums available for rugby. A rugby stadium is currently under construction in Ghana’s capital, Accra, and the Kenyan government has already committed and provided land for the construction of a stadium.

    Mensah is pushing to get Africa to see sport as big business and he has already garnered the support of many rugby executives across the continent. “He’s a visionary,” Sean Irish, president of the Botswana Rugby Union, told DW. “He has the passion and ability to rise to high positions and push the sport forward.”

    Rugby World Federation saves on Africa

    Although African rugby is part of the world association “World Rugby”, it only plays a subordinate role when it comes to finances: while the world association pays around 5 million US dollars (equivalent to around 4.5 million euros) to every European rugby nation, to promote the sport, he pays just $2 million to the entire African continent. That equates to around US$55,000 for each of the 36 rugby nations (not including South Africa) in Africa. The message is clear.

    “We will fight for our rights,” says Mensah. “We will tell them that the powerful financial system of rewarding countries is not working in favor of Africa. I will fight World Rugby all day. We will look for more equity.”

    The Kenyan men’s sevens team has shown that sevens could be the format that moves Africa forwardImage: IMAGO/Kevin Manning

    Botswana is just one of the countries that would benefit from a bigger slice of the pie, but Sean Irish is less than optimistic. “World rugby gives us $43,000 a year, but what they expect costs $70,000,” Botswana’s rugby union president told DW. “World Rugby will not give Africa more money. They don’t understand Africa or the potential in Africa.”

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    Despite the lack of funds, Botswana had made tremendous strides before the pandemic, training nearly 100 rugby coaches annually and increasing the number of schools offering the sport. However, the pandemic shut down sport in the country for two years, and the return is slow and controversial.

    Advantage for English speaking countries?

    It’s similar in Kenya. It was only in 2009 that Kenya’s rugby sevens team (a shorter version of the game with seven players per team instead of 15) defeated rugby giants New Zealand. Kenya is currently fighting to return to the World Series.

    Kenya Rugby chairman Sasha Mutai, in tears that day in 2009, is working on plans to set up a six-team professional league backed by private owners. “You have to be ambitious because the talent is there,” Mutai told DW. “It’s like we’re in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and you throw a stone and you get diamonds or cobalt.”

    To mobilize this talent, Mensah and everyone involved must win on many fronts, including dealing with Africa’s Francophone and Anglophone cultures. Rolande Boro, President of the Burkina Faso Rugby Union, believes French-speaking countries in Africa are having a harder time.

    “It’s a serious problem. French-speaking countries are struggling to get going,” explains Boro, highlighting the positive impact South African rugby has had on its anglophone neighbors Namibia and Zimbabwe.

    The rugby heritage between the two cultures is not the same, Boro said. Rugby is part of the Commonwealth Games, but was not included in the French-style equivalent, the “Jeux de la Francophonie”. Emerging rugby nations like Burkina Faso have also successfully focused on the sevens format rather than the full 15v15 game where tactical aspects are more important and more difficult to develop.

    Cameroon-born former France international Serge Betsen disagrees. There is no difference between anglophone and francophone countries in Africa when it comes to rugby, Betsen told DW. “Rugby is everywhere in the world but the problem is that it’s not developed enough to have any visibility. Rugby needs to work to devote more resources to the sport to make it accessible to everyone.”

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    Use the African paradise as an opportunity

    Herbert Mensa would like to use the natural and spectacular landscapes of Africa as a backdrop for a seven-a-side rugby series. “As Africans, we have left the days of drought, desert starvation and coups behind us,” says Mensah. “What if we had, for example, a sevens rugby series that included Mauritius, a safari in Kenya, Kampala, Victoria Falls and Cape Town? The camera would zoom in on paradise.”

    Mensah’s idea sounds like a sports investor’s dream, but it also has practical benefits: sevens rugby is not only a less complicated game, but as an Olympic sport it is also funded through other channels. “Rugby sevens is the future of the sport because it requires a lot less investment,” says Betsen. “You only need ten people to have a team. It’s a revolution and African countries should embrace the Olympic dynamic of the sport.” Sevens rugby could “be a good window for the development of the sport in Africa”.

    Perhaps Mensah’s vision is too big, African rugby too disjointed, and World Rugby’s contribution too small. But maybe none of that matters. “Rugby is the best sport in the world because of its values,” says Betsen, who has founded rugby charities in Cameroon and Mali. “It brings communities together, just think of what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.”

    After years of effort, “Rugby Africa” ​​is ready to enter the home stretch. Now it has to be shown whether they can also bring the ball to the goal.

    Adapted from the English by Olivia Gerstenberger.

    Source: DW

    This post is posted by Awutar staff members. Awutar is a global multimedia website. Our Email: [email protected]


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