In part one of a series of features looking at the growth of rugby in Africa, we take a look at the beginning and the formation of the regional association known today as Rugby Africa.
There are dates that cannot be forgotten and 28 January, 1986 is one of those.
For some people, this day is marked by the explosion of the Challenger 73 shuttle seconds after take-off, killing seven astronauts in front of the eyes of the world. But in Africa, it was a launch of another kind as that day in Tunis representatives from Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, Kenya and the Seychelles united to create the Confederation of African Rugby Amateur (CARA), echoing the FIRA organisation that was created in 1934 in an initiative of France.
"The CARA was created on paper but with no real activity," admits Abdelaziz Bougja, current president of Rugby Africa. Regardless, it was a symbolic date. "Initially, it was clearly a political will to ensure that a Confederation could better manage rugby union."
CARA heralds the revival of rugby in Africa. However with colonisation in equal parts English and French, the sport had taken root in Africa many years earlier. Rugby in Moroccan was born in 1923, while it was much later, in 1971, that it began in Tunisia. Rugby was laying its foundations at a time when South Africa was excluded because of the apartheid regime and it was not until 1992 that the south integrated into the Confederation.
"In 1988, several countries joined the IRB for the play-offs for the Rugby World Cup because the first edition of the tournament in 1987 was by invitation only," said Bougja. "In 1994, the Francophones (French speakers) came up with the idea that Africa should organise the qualifying competition for the World Cup. This was done in 1998 in Casablanca, Morocco."
Therefore, the competitions were organised and the Africa Cup was first staged in the early 2000s between three northern teams (Morocco, Tunisia and the Ivory Coast) and three teams from the south (Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya). "There were no youths, no women, no sevens teams, not one U18 ... We started off very small," recalls Bougja.
It was in 2002 that the Confederation took on a new dimension following a slow process that began several years earlier under the guidance of then IRB Chairman Vernon Pugh. In 2002, the process of regionalisation of rugby took root worldwide. Each African nation’s rugby team had to join their region. That same year, on 2 May, Bougja was elected chairman of what is now known as Rugby Africa in Yaounde.
Budget increases tenfold
Today, Rugby Africa is experiencing an incredible boom. Adding to the six founding countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Senegal and the Ivory Coast) there are now an additional 32 countries affiliated with Rugby Africa. The numbers of employees have risen to nine and thanks to the work of Jean-Luc Barthes and his team, Rugby Africa has continued to grow.
Since 2002, Rugby Africa’s budget has increased tenfold and competitions have multiplied: a flagship competition with four teams, a second division (six teams), third division (four teams), regional tournaments in West Africa, a tournament in Central Africa and a tournament in the south, with championships for under-19 players and sevens tournaments for both men and women.
But that is only the beginning...
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