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Rugby Africa Managing Director Azzouz Aïb gives a positive assessment of the continental tournament that took place in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille from July 1st to 10th. There he saw the development of African rugby and advocated the organization of more competitions.
RFI: This tournament brought together eight African teams (Namibia, Kenya, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso) in southern France. Some may have regretted that the event is taking place outside of the continent. Do you still think that choice was a good one?
Azzouz Aib: For us it was a unique opportunity. The aim was really to discover African rugby on European territory and in that sense it’s a winning bet. That got us a lot of attention, especially because the matches were being broadcast on a private channel: Canal+. We were aware that some people wanted this tournament to be in Africa, but we made that choice to showcase African players, African techniques, a certain know-how, a uniqueness.
I repeat, it was a great opportunity to be exhibited on French territory. A country that represents rugby around the world. But I can assure you that the next Rugby Africa Cup will be on the continent, that’s for sure.
Namibia won the event again with a ninth trophy, confirming they were the most competitive team on the continent behind South Africa. Have you noticed any further development on the part of the other teams?
Honestly we’re delighted with what we’ve seen throughout the tournament, we’ve seen a good picture of African rugby. Very good matches, good semi-finals, Algeria-Kenya and Namibia-Zimbabwe, and a good winner, Namibia. Some were no doubt surprised at the overall level. When I see so-called small teams like Burkina Faso manage to last 80 minutes in three games, I tell myself that the continent’s nations are on the right track. We see more and more countries sticking to it. In the beginning Namibia gave everyone 70 points… I find that the gaps are really getting smaller and I think Namibia will be hooked a lot more soon.
Algeria was undoubtedly the sensation of the tournament with 3rd place. Does this mean that the level on the continent is becoming more homogeneous?
First of all, we have to highlight the extraordinary work done by the President of the Algerian Federation, Sofiane Ben Hassen, with his team. I know that they have been working tirelessly for several months and know a little about the Federation (Azzouz Aïb is a former Algerian international and former vice-president of the NDLA), they worked hard. It’s a young federation, but today it opens doors for federations from other countries to follow its example.
We also see that Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso are gradually advancing… In any case, this third place for Algeria means that it is consolidating a team in full bloom. Algeria must become a role model and I hope they can become one of the favorites on African soil in the future.
What needs to be done to keep African rugby moving forward?
Today we should try to give our teams more opportunities to come together and play more. Why not organize friendlies with other countries on other continents more often? The weak point of African rugby is that these teams don’t meet regularly enough! To develop rugby on the continent, these countries should be able to meet other teams outside: European, American, Asian… And that’s a real challenge for us!
Why hasn’t Rugby Africa succeeded so far?
It’s a capital matter but to do that we need to find the financial means and that’s why our action is limited at the moment… The qualifying tournaments for the World Cup and the Olympic Games (Rugby Sevens) are funded by World Rugby (the International Federation) but apart from these competitions we are not subsidized.
If Rugby Africa wants to organize them, they will have to finance them themselves, but today it is not feasible. So our challenge is to find private funds, a bit like the Six Nations Tournament or other tournaments we’ve seen in Asia or the Americas. We can create quality competitions. For us it is a real way out so that our federations can move forward.