- Celestine Karoney. By
- BBC Sport Africa, Nairobic
African rugby’s governing body, Rugby Afrique, is accused of ignoring the interests of the sport on the continent following a controversial decision to stage its 2023 World Cup qualifiers in France.
In July, eight African teams will compete for an automatic ticket to the final stage in a tournament in two French cities, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, to be hosted by France next September.
It will be the first time in African rugby history that a World Cup qualifier will be held outside the continent’s borders, and the move has been met with outrage in Africa.
One of the claimants, Namibia, spoke out against the decision, saying it was “unhappy” with the decision.
“We have asked Rugby Africa to reconsider their decision,” says Namibian Rugby President Cori Mensah.
But “the result is the maintenance of France as hosts”, he laments.
Kenya and Zimbabwe submitted bids which the continental body described as “strong”, but decided to give the rights to the event to France.
“Our main objective is to continue to grow, make progress and regain our rightful place on the international stage,” Rugby Africa said in a statement.
“With the cooperation of our members and our partners, Rugby Africa must invent new ways and create new opportunities to increase its income and redistribute it in African rugby”, declares the African sports body.
Former Ugandan women’s international Helen Butme told the BBC that Rugby Africa “does not take the interests of African rugby to heart”.
“There is no justification for moving our biggest tournament to a European country. Africa needs this tournament while France doesn’t need it,” he said.
Namibia are looking for a seventh consecutive participation in the world tournament, having made their debut in 1999.
Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Ivory Coast are the other teams participating in the qualifiers to be held from 1 to 10 July.
The finalists will have a second chance to advance to the World Cup in the final four-team global qualifying tournament to be held in November.
not in the interest of african rugby
The BBC has learned that the World Cup-hosting committee of France will oversee the African qualifiers, but why France decided to bid for the event is unclear.
The French Rugby Federation (FFR) was surprised by France’s choice to organize the Rugby Africa qualifiers, but Laurent Latour, director in charge of communications, denied the claim, the BBC learned from a senior French official.
According to Latur, the FFR does not oppose this decision in any case.
The organizing committee of France 2023 did not want to answer our questions.
In Kenya, a rugby commentator believes the move undoes the work done to develop the game from the ground up.
“This move by Rugby Africa goes against the trend of expanding the game to grassroots across the continent,” says Daudi Vere.
“Rugby Africa is trying to undo all the good work of rugby development workers across the continent by hosting our most important tournament overseas,” said Vere.
An official Rugby Africa sponsor, APO, has added its voice to the criticism. “We believe the decision is not in the best interest of African rugby. One can only wonder whether other interests are not at stake”, worries its president and founder, Nicolas Pompigne-Mignard.
In response to the criticism, Rugby Africa told the BBC that financial reasons played a part in the decision, with some of their members struggling financially.
“This planned event in France is seen as a springboard to launch a new revenue generation dynamic, which will help us grow,” says Rugby Africa.
Concerns among supporters
While Rugby Africa seeks to attract an international fan base, some fans of the sport in Africa feel denied the opportunity to see their teams in stadiums, as traveling to Europe is expensive.
However, the governing body says that while they understand fans’ dismay, the Covid-19 pandemic may not have allowed them to attend the Games anyway. She promises that high quality broadcasts will be available during the scheduled Rugby Africa qualifiers in France.
However, Rugby Africa has 38 member associations across the continent – some of which have hosted major continental events during the pandemic, most notably Africa Cup of Nations football in Cameroon (January 9–February 6, 2022), so it It is not clear why she would not settle for a European country.
The continent has also shown that it has the capacity to host major international events in the past, including the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, as well as the under-20 athletics world.
Fans across the continent have been running a protest campaign on social media with an online petition hoping it could influence Rugby Africa’s decision, but Page has garnered just 1,387 signatures in five months.
There have been calls for World Rugby, the global federation, to reverse its decision, but the body told the BBC it could not interfere with the decisions of its regional federations, which would defeat any hopes of the tournament taking place on African soil. does less.
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