In a continent known for great footballing nations, the oval ball has been Africa’s best-kept secret for decades and the love affair continues to blossom. Rugby is the fastest growing sport in Africa. The popularity of the sports discipline is booming all over the continent, and continued growth is expected.
Rugby Africa, World Rugby’s African association
In 2002 only 6 African countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Namibia and South Africa) were playing rugby regularly, and today, Rugby Africa, World Rugby’s African association, counts 38 national federations.
Registration growth In 2017
Growth in player registration in the African nations (excluding South Africa) was 66%, against an overall global increase of 27%. Countries with the quickest growth in the total number of players between 2016 and 2017 were Mauritius, Nigeria, Madagascar, Namibia and South Africa. These numbers are echoed by the real passion for rugby across the continent.
Madagascar is a perfect illustration of this passion. With rugby as their national sport, they have more rugby clubs per capita than any other country with 160 clubs in the capital Antananarivo alone. In South Africa, there are twice as many rugby clubs per capita in South Africa than in France.
Although few may know this, out of 105 countries playing rugby competitively, one-third are African countries. In Kenya, the Men’s 7s team were recently ranked as high as 7 in the world in the top ten and competes regularly near the top of the world game. Ghana is now ranked 9 in 7s rugby – and are undefeated in XVs against their traditionally stronger local rivals Togo and Benin. Rugby talents are everywhere in the continent and France is already starting to tap into the concept and have recruited and nationalized African players from former territories.
Female in Rugby
Did you know that the number of African women and girls playing rugby has increased by 50% between 2016 and 2017? In 2017, 20% of rugby players in Africa are women and girls. In Ghana, the Muslim community have embraced the game and make up over 50% of female participants. Ghana is one of the few African countries with a dedicated women’s league. 16 teams compete in a structured 7s tournament.
Rugby Australia has recently appointed their new CEO who became the first female chief executive of a major Australian Rugby code. But did you know that in Burkina Faso and Tunisia, the rugby federations are led by Mrs. Rolande Boro, and Mrs. Maha Zaoui? And the general manager of Rugby Africa is also a woman, Coralie van den Berg. Since its launch in Africa, Get Into Rugby, a World Rugby’s program aiming at growing the Game of Rugby all over the world, attracts more and more African women and girls. In 2017, Rugby Africa had the highest percentage of female participation in the programme Get Into Rugby of any other region: 46%.
Is taught in more than 22.000 schools throughout the continent in 2017, up from 18.000 in 2016 (+25%). Africa is rapidly becoming the world’s largest youth pool with 60% of the continent’s population under the age of 24 – and that number is predicted to grow. In Madagascar, crowds for their international matches can top 40 000 people, and kids play rugby in the streets, dreaming of becoming the next national hero.
The continent counts about 10 tournaments: The iconic Rugby Africa Gold Cup (6 teams), The Rugby Africa Silver Cup (4 teams), The Rugby Africa Bronze Cup (6 teams), 4 regional tournaments, 2 Sevens tournaments and the U20 tournament. For all African champions, 2018 is a pivotal year. The Rugby Africa Gold Cup doubles as a qualifier for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Up to three African countries could represent the continent at the World Cup. And the Africa Rugby 7s tournament will act as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics. One African country will represent the continent at the Olympic Games.