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Africa on its way up to dominate rugby sevens and 15s

By John Kwoba NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The rugby development is showing great potential in African courtesy of structures and programs being rolled out by Rugby Africa, the continent’s governing body of the sport.

Rugby Africa President Abdelaziz Bougja believes the sport is shining brighter as more countries jostle to join Kenya and South Africa as core teams at the World Rugby Sevens Series.

However, the Moroccan has also challenged other teams to take advantage of the great tradition they enjoy of the sport to develop it, especially in rugby 15s.

In a special interview with Xinhua on Friday, Bougja said countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe have got good rugby 15s traditions and heritage.

He also singled out teams that have developed tremendously in the shorter version of the sport, Uganda, Tunisia, Morocco, Zimbabwe and Namibia saying they are just a step from crashing the party of world elite Sevens rugby.

“South Africa and Kenya have showed other African countries that performance at higher level is not only about money. There is no secret in Sports: work and you will become the best. Teams like Uganda, Tunisia, Morocco, Zimbabwe or Namibia are knocking hard on the door. They have an amazing potential and a huge passion for the game,” said Bougja.

Rugby Africa is also contended with three countries representing the continent in the 2019 World Cup.

“The World Cup is like the final of the football champions league. To get there you must be one of the very best. Rugby only started in Africa in the 1950s. However, traditional teams (England, France, New Zealand...) have a competitive advantage over us. But don’t worry the potential is on our side and with the proper funding and training our teams will soon compete with the very best in the world,” he said.

However, Bougja says his most important point is the gains made in introducing the sport to the female gender, which he took upon himself when elected back in 2012.

“When I came in there was no women’ s rugby. In my tenure I’ ve pushed really hard to develop rugby as a whole in Africa. With women rugby, we adopted a realistic strategy to build from the base and invest on the future.

“Indeed we couldn’t organize a 15s a side women competition because number of players was just not sufficient. So we decided to build a very strong and attractive yearly Sevens competition in which the 10 best African teams compete for the African Champion and from time to time to qualify to Sevens Rugby World Cup or even to the Olympics.”

Bougja noted that with the structures they have been able to introduce the sport to more women players and soon, the standard and number of the competition within the continent will increase.

“The ‘Get Into Rugby’ is a mass participation program dedicated to kids and it is the key elements of our strategy to develop women’ s rugby. With more than 400,000 participants in 2017, and 40 per cent being women, we are improving. Africa has a huge potential and I won’t be surprised to see Kenya or Tunisia beating England or New Zealand in future,” he added.

South Africa and Kenya represented Africa at the Rio Olympics and Bougja wants that number to increase by merit.

“The Olympics was a major boost as it makes the young players dream and gives them the will to become champions. It’s a great reward for our hard work. It was not easy o to get rugby to the Olympics, but I must laud the work done by me and Bernard Lapasset, then World Rugby President, to convince IOC family to give us the opportunity. Now we are starting to harvest the fruits,” he added.

Rugby Africa is also working in partnership with 38 African unions to develop the game in each country and Bougja is banking on good governance to attain more success.

“The very strength of our sport is its network of volunteers. Good governance is definitely the first step to develop our sport. We are looking into the possibility of creating high performance academies to assist with talent detection and development,” he said.

In the future, Bougja believes Africa will be the force to reckon with in the sport rivaling giants Australia, Argentina, New Zealand and England.

“It’s really important for Rugby in Africa not to forget its core values which are solidarity, integrity, passion, discipline, family and respect. We have more than one million players. Our objective is to reach 1.5 million in five years. We have the potential to beat the best team in the world. So I would like to see more African teams on the 7s circuit and our African teams delivering great performance at the rugby World Cup,” he said.


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