In a controversial move last month, Rugby Africa, the regional association for rugby in the continent, announced that it had chosen France as the host for the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, a tournament that will double as a qualifier for African teams for the following year’s Rugby World Cup. It said it had made the decision this after issuing a call for applications to its 39 African member federations and France, which will host the eventual World Cup in 2023.
African rugby fans and other members of the sport’s fraternity in the continent called out the decision, describing it as neocolonialism and saying it will deny local fans the chance to watch their players in action due to difficulties of traveling with an African passport which have been worsened by covid-19 restrictions.
Now Rugby Africa has defended its decision to have France host the tournament, saying it’s important for the growth of African rugby.
A European country was among the candidates to host an African tournament
It’s unclear clear why France, a European country, was among the candidates to host the African qualifiers.
In a statement, Rugby Africa told Quartz that besides receiving “very strong bids” from African countries, it also got one from France that it felt “offered the greatest opportunity” for the growth of African rugby in areas including exposure, visibility, income generation, and rugby and performance improvement.
“Our main goal here is to keep growing and progressing and taking our rightful place on the international stage,” the association said.
Africa has held major global sports events
Africa has in the past hosted major global sports events such as the 2010 soccer world cup and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, both in South Africa. The move by Rugby Africa raises questions about the independence of the sport in the continent and the body’s commitment to promoting local rugby and infrastructure. It would makes the continent lose out on revenue that could develop the sport, and could hinder the growth of local fan engagement.
But in its statement, Rugby Africa said that African rugby needs more exposure and that Rugby Africa and France 2023—the two organizers of the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup—will work to create “unprecedented exposure” for the sport in the continent in media globally. Currently, it added, Rugby Africa competitions have “a “limited reach even within Africa where the market remains fragmented and it’s difficult to reach the continent outside of the immediate sub-region where a tournament is being hosted.”
“There was no doubt that African Members could have hosted an excellent tournament, but Rugby Africa felt that with France 2023 support there was a real opportunity to leverage the resources and expertise of the Rugby World Cup organizing committee to reach new heights and tap into new markets in a way that was never tried before in African Rugby,” the body said.
Africans react to decision to host Rugby Africa Cup in France
Kenya was one of the tournament’s bidders and has hosted it in the past. Thomas Odundo, the acting CEO of the Kenya Rugby Union, expressed disappointment that the country didn’t win the bid.
“That was a decision by Rugby Africa and that was it,” he told Quartz
A petition launched on change.org to reverse the move has so far gathered 1,276 signatures.
“We deserve to be accorded priority to host our own tournaments (qualifiers) before anyone else outside the continent is considered,” the petition says.
“This needs to be revised before the tournament kicks off, we as Africans deserve respect, full emancipation in especially sports corridors as this is one way to fully embrace fairness and sportsmanship at its best.”
On social media, people strongly condemned Rugby Africa’s decision.
The Rugby Africa Cup 2022 is set to take place in July. The participating countries will be Namibia, Senegal, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Kenya, and Côte d’Ivoire.
South Africa are the current holders of the Rugby World Cup, winning the tournament in 2019.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox.