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Obi calls out RA over decision to host Rugby Africa Cup in France

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Mitchell Obi, AIPS Africa President & AIPS Vice President. Courtesy Photo.

There were mixed reactions when Rugby Africa (RA) last year announced that the Rugby Africa Cup 2022, a World Cup 2023 qualification tournament for the continent will be hosted in France.

The tournament that was launched in Kampala this week will be played in Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence, France from 1 July to 10 July with the four quarterfinals as determined at the conclusion of the Rugby Africa Cup 2021.

In a statement Rugby Africa said that; “following a call for applications launched to all African member federations of World Rugby as well as to France 2023, the Rugby Africa commissions have reviewed the submissions in the light of very precise criteria to evaluate the offers and enable Rugby Africa’s Executive Committee to choose the host country of the Rugby Africa Cup 2022. Through a voting process, the candidacy of France 2023 was eventually selected,” read the statement from Rugby Africa.

However, this has not gone well with the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) Africa (www.AIPSAfrica.com) President and AIPS Vice President, Mitchell Obi who has urged Rugby Africa President, Khaled Babbou to change gear without delay and forget his provincial French fancies.

The following is a statement by Mitchell Obi:

“I believe the decision made by the president of Rugby Africa to host the African qualifiers for the Rugby World Cup in provincial France, rather than keeping it on the African continent is completely wrong, and sends a highly disturbing message to all Africans, especially the young populace and the continent’s rising rugby community.

People will rightly be asking themselves why the most prestigious rugby tournament on the continent is being moved away and played in Europe, when there are plenty of alternative locations within Africa that are perfectly well-equipped to host it.

Playing the tournament in France not only deprives African audiences of watching world-class rugby on their doorstep, it also denies local economies of much-needed income from a high-profile event that would have driven the tourism and hospitality industries, and increased international exposure and investment.

Moreover, it is not even ‘France’ as a whole that is hosting this vital African tournament. No, the Rugby Africa Cup 2022 is to be played in ‘Région Sud’, a region of France that ranks seventh-lowest in terms of population, and is the furthest away from the capital, Paris.

The games will be played in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille – a city that is the beating heart of France’s football scene, but is hardly known for its love of rugby.

The signing ceremony announcing the award of the tournament to ‘Région Sud’ was a perfect illustration of how insignificant this tournament is in the minds of the sport’s administrators.

France’s Minister of Sport was notable by his absence. So too the president of the French Rugby Federation. Instead, the main dignitaries in attendance were the president of ‘Région

Sud’ and the mayor of Aix-en-Provence – a town with a population of 143,000 football fans.

The Rugby Africa Cup has shrunk from a celebration of an entire continent, down to an unfancied provincial event in a distant sphere lacking the colour and charm of a welcoming host.

At best, it is depressing and patronizing for the players and fans of African rugby. At worst, it is an insult to the whole continent of Africa. It reinforces the stereotypical depictions that Africa still endures in Western media, so it is incredibly disappointing that Rugby Africa’s president – an African himself – has chosen to follow this path.

The main reason he has given for his decision to host the competition in France rather than Africa seems to center around ‘mediatization’ and visibility – with the argument being that events hosted in Africa are somehow less accessible to international audiences.

But one only needs to look at some of the events already being hosted in Africa to see that argument is absurd. In fact, the opposite is true. More international sporting events than ever are turning to Africa for hosting duties.

Even the International Olympic Committee is coming to Africa, with the Youth Olympics Games to be held in Senegal in 2026 – the first time any Olympic competition will hold on the continent.

Over the next five years Africa will host a wealth of prestigious international sporting events:

The 4th Summer Youth Olympic Games (Dakar, Senegal, 2026)

UCI Road Cycling World Championships (Rwanda, 2025)

Cricket World Cup (South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, 2027)

Jeux de la Francophonie (Kinshasa, DRC, 2023)

Africa Cup of Nations (Côte d’Ivoire, 2023)

Africa Games (Accra, Ghana, 2023)

African Beach Games (Tunisia, 2023)

Netball World Cup (South Africa, 2026)

The 22nd CAA African Senior Athletics Championships (Mauritius, 2022)

Mediterranean Games (Algeria, 2022)

Incidentally, 3650 athletes will take part in this year’s Mediterranean Games in Algeria, while fewer than 200 will be on show at the Rugby Africa Cup. So, this is clearly not about scale, logistics or infrastructure.

Anyone suggesting that Africa is ‘not ready’ or is in some way unsuited to hosting major global sporting events is reinforcing old colonial stereotypes of arrogance and entitlement. It is a laughable thought. The world has moved on and knows the promise which Africa holds as the choice host of events.

As the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) in Africa, we have particular concerns about the ability of African sports journalists to access and effectively cover the Rugby Africa Cup in such a remote location. We have urgently reached out to Rugby Africa and to World Rugby to ask what is being done to help them secure visas, flights, and accommodation.

As the governing body and the custodians of the game, World Rugby could and should have intervened in Rugby Africa’s decision to host an African tournament on a different continent. By 2050, a quarter of the world’s population will be African, and the sport is growing faster here than it is anywhere else. The future of world rugby is Africa. And it needs protecting – including from the President of Rugby Africa, if need be.

Sadly the decision to award hosting duties for the Rugby Africa Cup 2022 to a provincial area of France was not and never made with the best interests of African rugby at heart.

It is sincerely regrettable that the leadership of Rugby Africa made this miserable decision without deserving consultations with key Stakeholders and partners who over the years have stretched themselves to add value to the growth of the game in the continent. Here we are reminded of the lack of a vital reach and consultation with Rugby Africa’s main official sponsor (APO Group) whose Founder and Chairman, Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard is evidently at a loss with a decision entirely without merit and support even for any die-hard enthusiast.

I earnestly hope such distinguished partners won’t lose their appetite to pad and lift the game inspite of this wrong patch.

Notably, the entire family of Sports Journalists across Africa and all those who care passionately for the health and growth of Rugby in the continent insist on the need to bring and keep home the Gold Cup where it rightly belongs and finds its shine.

President Babbou must change gear without delay and forget his provincial French fancies.

Mitchell Obi
AIPS Africa President
AIPS Vice President

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