Ivory Coast currently rank 42nd in the World Rugby Men's Rankings. Despite only one participation at Rugby World Cup (1995), the country is one of many emerging rugby nations intending to one day make regular appearances on the game's biggest stage.
It has been almost a year now since the Ivory Coast rugby union took its destiny in hand. A year since President Elvis Tano sounded the recall of the troops and reorganised the union to fulfil lofty ambitions and aim for two goals: being a part of the qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, and the same for sevens at the Olympic Games, if possible, in Paris 2024.
To achieve this, a clear method has been chosen: adopt and localise the recipes that have created rugby success elsewhere in the world.
FOLLOWING THE KENYAN APPROACH
The first example to follow is that of Kenya, whose union has focused on sevens and qualification for the Olympics.
“Rugby union may have trouble breaking through in Ivory Coast because it requires a lot of technical skills and a specific environment. Here we prefer to talk about rugby in general, not 15s or sevens in particular. But if we manage to build a competitive sevens team, we will have a better chance of having one at 15s,” said Olivier Diomandé, general manager of Ivory Coast's national teams.
Considering that the sevens format can be grounded quicker and easier on Ivorian territory, Diomandé hopes to follow the Kenyan example. After all, the team was the winner of the Singapore 7s in 2016, a qualifier for the Rio 2016 Olympics, and is found between 8th and 12th place on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
UPON USA'S INFRASTRUCTURE
"The country is very large", deplores Diomandé, on the literal size of the task at hand. “This is why we have chosen to divide it into four parts, into four conferences, on the American model."
Consequently, now there is a North-East conference, a North-West conference, a South-East conference and a South-West conference in Ivory Coast. A method to better promote and implement the development of rugby locally.
WITH THE JAPANESE APPROACH TO LIFE OFF THE PITCH
Regarding the recruitment of players likely to defend the Ivorian colours at international level, the union was inspired by the Japanese model which supports its best players on and off the field, in both sporting and business terms.
"We are working on sevens championships for men and women on under 20 championships and senior championship affiliated to businesses, so that each company can take charge of a club," explains the former Ivorian international hooker. “The idea is to be able to educate the players so that they can then work in these companies.
"We must be able to offer all these young people a real professional future and keep them there longer."
CHANNELING THE FIJIAN SPIRIT
The fourth example from which the Ivorian rugby union is openly inspired by is that of Fiji, with whom it shares the conviviality and the spirit of celebration around the game.
A relatively small nation on the global stage in terms of both size and population, Fiji has reached one of the highest peaks in the rugby world by winning a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and is globally renowned for its entertaining brand of flamboyant rugby. In men's 15s, the island nation also stands out, missing only one edition of Rugby World Cup: 1995, the only participation for Ivory Coast.
AND FRENCH FOUNDATIONS
It is 25 years since Ivory Coast last played in Rugby World Cup. That time feels like an eternity that the union wants to end.
When Elvis Tano took over the reins of the federation, he wanted to launch major projects, the most emblematic of which is the future rugby academy. "The work will begin", confirms Diomandé. “It will be our Marcoussis (near Paris, ndlr)."
This national rugby centre, Ivory Coast version, will consist of two grass rugby fields, a fitness room, offices, classrooms and an accommodation structure. The project was developed thanks to the involvement of the French ambassador in Ivory Coast.
Open to young people from the age of 13, it will allow the most gifted residents – around 20 boys and girls to begin with – to finish their rugby training in a professional club in Europe and hopefully add to the players seeking selection for Ivory Coast's national side.
"If we want a player to be efficient, it goes through training," says Diomandé who hopes to begin work on the project in the first half of 2021.
The academy will be named after winger Max Brito, a former player who was part of the Rugby World Cup 1995 campaign and was tragically paralysed while playing in the tournament. “Max will be the manager. We did not want to do this only in the spirit of paying tribute to him, but because he is someone who has an excellent vision of rugby, an outside eye, a new eye," specifies Diomandé, who hopes the academy will very quickly become "a provider of talent".