By Iminza Keboge and AFP Services
Published November 21, 2017
Though South Africa has lost its bid to host the 2023 World Rugby Cup to France, the profile of African rugby has never been higher.
While the number of registered rugby players across Africa has jumped from 770000 to more than a million in 2016, female rugby players in Africa has seen a 50% increase between 2016 and 2017 and numbers of fans are surging, pundits have been left wondering whether Africa is not the last frontier for the oval ball.
Madagascar, With rugby as its national sport, has more rugby clubs per capita than any other country with 160 rugby clubs in the capital city alone. Its national team, made up of amateur players, always fills the Mahamasina Municipal Stadium with passionate fans.
This surge of interest seems likely to continue with 22000 schools now including rugby in their curriculums across Africa, up from 20000 in 2016. 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.
Additionally, new teams are rapidly rising up the ranks. Algeria founded its rugby federation in 2015 and entered the Africa Bronze Cup for the first time in 2017. After a surprise performance, the Algerian national team reached the final against a Zambian team that had been undefeated since 2002. It went on to win the competition, a mere two years after its federation’s inception.
Rugby Africa, the continent’s governing body for rugby, had on November 12, 2017 partnered up with APO, Africa’s leading media relations consulting firm, in anticipation for South Africa being confirmed as the host of the World Rugby Cup in 2023.
But, in a strange twist of events, South Africa lost the bid, prompting Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, to issue a statement in which he said he was “‘bitterly disappointed’ at the decision by the World Rugby Council to overturn a recommendation that South Africa should host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and instead voted for France to host the tournament in a secret ballot.”
Apologising to the people and government of South Africa for what he termed as ‘raising their hopes’, Alexander said “We did everything in our power to bring the tournament to South Africa and we expected to have that right confirmed today.”
“We produced a compelling bid document that earned the unanimous recommendation of the Rugby World Cup Ltd board. That recommendation was questioned last week by rivals, but endorsed a second time by World Rugby last week. However, the view of the experts and World Rugby’s leadership was overturned by World Rugby Council members, who may have had other factors to take into account.”
“We cannot hide our desolation but, for the sake of rugby we wish the 2023 tournament hosts every success.”
Alexander said “World Rugby ran an exhaustive and transparent process for 15 months to identify the best host nation, only for the process to go entirely opaque for the past two weeks.”Mr. Alexander said that after a fourth successive disappointment in the Rugby World Cup bidding process it was difficult to know where South Africa would go from here. It will be for the next generation of SA Rugby leaders to decide whether to compete for the 2027 tournament or beyond.”