“Rugby Africa Cup in France, a successful venture”

Rugby Africa’s CEO, Azzouz Aïb, gives a positive assessment of the continental tournament that took place in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille from 1 to 10 July. He saw the development of African rugby there and appealed for other competitions to be organized.

RFI: This tournament brought together eight African teams (Namibia, Kenya, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso) in the south of France. Some may have regretted that the event took place off the continent. Do you still think this choice was good?

Azzouz Aib:For us, it was a unique opportunity. The goal was really to discover African rugby on European territory and in this sense it is a successful venture. This gave us great exposure, especially because the matches were broadcast on a private channel: Canal +. We were aware that some wanted this tournament to take place in Africa, but we chose to introduce African players, African technology, a certain knowledge -how, a singularity.

I repeat, but it was an excellent opportunity to exhibit on French territory. A country that represents rugby all over the world. But I can assure you that the next Rugby Africa Cup will be on the continent, it’s obvious.

Namibia won the event again, with a ninth trophy, and confirmed that it was the most competitive team on the continent behind South Africa. Have you noticed any progress from the other teams?

Honestly, we are happy with what we saw throughout the tournament, we saw a good picture of African rugby. Very good matches, good semifinals, Algeria-Kenya and Namibia-Zimbabwe, and a good winner, Namibia. Some were no doubt surprised by the general level. When I see that the so-called small teams like Burkina Faso have managed to keep up for 80 minutes in three matches, I tell myself that the nations on the continent are on the right track. We notice that more and more countries are clinging. In the beginning, Namibia scored 70 points for everyone … I think that the gaps are really starting to decrease and I think that soon Namibia will be hooked much more often.

Algeria was without a doubt the sensation in the tournament by taking 3rd place. Does this mean that the level is becoming more homogeneous on the continent?

First of all, we must emphasize the exceptional work that the Algerian Federation’s President Sofiane Ben Hassen has done with her team. I know they have been working tirelessly for a few months, knowing a little about the Federation (Azzouz Aïb is a former Algerian international and former Vice President of the Federation, NDLA), they have worked hard. It is a young federation, but today it is opening the doors to federations from other countries that follow its example.

We also see that Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso are advancing a bit at a time … Anyway, this third place for Algeria, it will consolidate a team in full bloom. Algeria must be an example and I hope that in the future it can become one of the favorites on African territory.

What needs to be done for African rugby to move forward?

Today we should try to give our teams more opportunities to gather and play more. Why not organize more frequent test matches with other countries on other continents? The weak point of African rugby is that these teams do not meet regularly enough! To develop rugby on the continent, these countries would need to be able to face other teams outside: European, American, Asian … And that is a real challenge for us!

Why has Rugby Africa not succeeded so far?

It is a matter of capital, but to do that we have to find the financial means and that is why our activities are limited at the moment … The qualifying tournaments for the World Cup and the Olympic Games (rugby sevens) are funded by World Rugby (International Federation) but in addition to these competitions we are not subsidized.

If Rugby Africa wants to organize them, it must finance them itself, but today it is not feasible. Our challenge is therefore to find private funds, a bit like for the Six Nations Tournament or other tournaments we have seen in Asia or on the American continent. We can create quality competitions. For us, it is a real way out so that our unions can move forward.

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