Africa an untapped diamond for world rugby growth

Getty Images     04 Oct 2013     Getty Images

As Jean-Luc Barthes, the IRB’s Regional Development Manager for Africa, explains, the programme is designed not only to introduce rugby to as many people as possible but also to clear the way for participants to organise themselves into clubs and start leagues in areas where formal structures have been absent.

“We want people to try and play rugby everywhere, so we began Get Into Rugby as a pilot project last year but now it will become our main project for 2014 because the number of schools involved and countries registering is just going up and up,” said Barthes.

“It has already proved to be a huge success. This year, we had a small group of Unions involved but we’ve decided to go forward with it because there are now 18 countries registered and we expect that to go up to 25 or 26 by next year.”

Hundreds of smiling children

The programme is run through the IRB’s existing three Regional Development Officers in Africa – one based in Kenya who co-ordinates southern and eastern Africa; another based in the Ivory Coast for west Africa, and one up in north Africa for countries like Senegal and Morocco.

This year alone, the IRB is investing almost £2million in Africa through development, tournaments and strategic initiative programmes and it is forecast that a total of nearly £8million will be pumped into the game there by the IRB during the 2013-16 funding cycle, an increase of nine per cent on the previous four years.

And although the hundreds of smiling children having a whale of a time with the oval ball are the fruit of their labours – and make for the most endearing images – their targets are actually the teachers of those kids.

“The project mostly works on training instructors to work with the Regional Development Officers. It is basically training for the teachers who are in charge of the children and the main aim is to get the teachers to be able to manage themselves,” Barthes explained

“So what we teach is very simple – touch rugby, tag rugby or modified contact – so that when we leave, the school will have teachers who are still able to run the programme without our support.”

Focus on girls' and women's rugby

Girls rugby has also been one of their focus points.

“Get Into Rugby is for both boys and girls, although we have implemented specific programmes for girls. At Under 11, Under 12 level they can play with the boys but from about 12 years old they need their own section so we are implementing special programmes to fill that gap.”

Countries like Ivory Coast, Namibia, Senegal, Tunisia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Zambia have taken to Get Into Rugby with great enthusiasm and the co-ordinators have even extended their reach to non-IRB members like Sierra Leone, who want to organise rugby clubs. Even South Africa, the continental rugby powerhouses with long-standing development structures, have seen the benefits of the programme.

“South Africa are one of the bigger participants and it has been a wonderful opportunity for us to create a dynamic and share information between the Unions there. It began with Mervin Green [the South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) general manager for development] and the Stellenbosch Academy, who had a workshop with seven unions,” said Barthes.

Support of SARU is very valuable

“South Africa also receive an IRB grant every year for development and they were very interested in introducing Get Into Rugby. They have 600 schools in the area, with few people and not enough means to really get rugby going.”

“I’m quite sure this will be the beginning of new collaborations between the IRB, the Confederation of African Rugby and SARU. The IRB wants to provide more support in the schools and also train administrators, but it will be great to have the support of SARU.”

The IRB has also decided to approach the education authorities in each country in order to smooth the way.

“We recommend going through the education ministries because it is then easier if approval is coming from the top. We can then talk to schools and the organisations that work in schools and sometimes we bring in club coaches or others to assist from the rugby family,” Barthes said.

Get Into Rugby has an interactive website to further assist the teachers they have “left behind” to continue the programme. The website can be accessed here.

'Try, Play, Stay'

“Our website has all the content to manage the activities with videos and so on. Teachers can review the training there and new participants can also register there.”

The IRB is also happy to bring the Get Into Rugby programme to companies or Sevens clubs. At the moment the programme is run at three levels: Try – mass participation for as many new players as possible; Play – for those children for whom some rugby is already possible; and Stay – fostering links between schools and existing clubs.

At the moment, touch or tag rugby is used in the Try phase but, according to Barthes, they are working on a different approach because Francophone areas are more used to starting with modified contact.

Either way, there is no doubt thousands more people in Africa are going to be getting into rugby sometime soon.