Botswana will be the focal point for women’s rugby next month when, over a 10-day period, the sport will take centre stage both on and off the pitch.
Beginning with an International Working Group on Women in Sport, from 17-20 May, the Botswana capital of Gaborone will then host a two-day forum on women’s leadership in rugby, just before the Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens Championship on 26-27 May.
At the centre of the debate is the growth of women’s rugby and how that can best be managed in Africa.
While more women and girls are playing rugby than in any other region, thanks in no small part to World Rugby’s all-inclusive participation programme Get Into Rugby, there are concerns that the world’s second-largest continent is falling behind in other areas, particularly at the elite end of the game.
Africa didn't have a representative in the qualification process for Women's Rugby World Cup 2017, while South Africa claimed the region's one qualification berth for Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in July.
In May, a month dedicated to #Women’s #rugby in #Africa @RugbyAfrique @WorldRugby #AfricaLovesRugby #Sports @dominicrumbles @KatieSadleir @Springboks @OfficialKRU @Uganda_Rugby @watchkwese @kwesesports @rugbyNAM_ @rugbynationug https://t.co/AK2N2SoxlH pic.twitter.com/DVaELBO9jR— APO Group English (@APO_source) April 10, 2018
Centres of growth
With the backing of Katie Sadleir, World Rugby's General Manager of Women's Rugby, Rugby Africa intends to address this issue and plans to work with the most motivated federations to create centres of growth for women’s rugby in Africa.
Rolande Boro, president of the Burkina Faso Rugby Union, and Maha Zaoui, General Manager of the Fédération Tunisienne de Rugby, were among the inaugural recipients of World Rugby's Women's Leadership Development Scholarship and they will carry the torch for this initiative which, it is hoped, will help create more role models for the thousands of youngsters coming into the game.
Nearly half of Africa’s Get Into Rugby participants are female (46 per cent) with 412,841 youngsters registered in 2017, and Sadleir hopes that the events taking place in Botswana can drive forward their ambitions of growing the game in the region.
“The increasing involvement of women in rugby presents the single greatest opportunity for our sport in the next decade,” she said.
“It is critical to World Rugby’s vision of a ‘sport for all, true to its values’ and its mission to grow the global family … women’s rugby is experiencing unprecedented growth and participation levels are at an all-time high.
“Women’s rugby in Africa is leading the way in terms of numbers of female players registered globally. This important conference hosted by the Botswana Rugby Union will enable the leaders of the region to take the next step in accelerating the development of women in rugby in Africa.”
Meanwhile, the Women’s Sevens Championship should provide a fitting finale to the gathering in Botswana.
With one eye on preparing for next year’s Olympic Games qualifiers, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritius, Madagascar, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Uganda and hosts Botswana are expected to compete in Gaborone.
Dave Gilbert, president of the Botswana Rugby Union, is delighted that the event is being held in the country.
“It is wonderful for Botswana rugby to showcase women’s rugby and be part of the future pathway for these female athletes,” he said.
“The Botswana Rugby Union and the Botswana National Sports Commission are very excited to be organising and hosting this event which is the first of its kind in rugby in Africa.”
These events are an opportunity to develop women’s rugby in Africa and Rugby Africa President Abdelaziz Bougja sees this as a priority for the continent and the sport.
“Women’s rugby is a real challenge in terms of development and competitions,” he said. “We look forward to discussing this with the most active federations on the continent and to bringing women’s rugby up to the next level.
“Women’s rugby is without doubt top of Rugby Africa’s priorities for the years to come, since, without women, we would not be able to develop rugby, attract new fans and new players.”