Rugby Africa competition programme and calendar for 2021 was announced last month with little information about women’s competitions. So we asked Maha Zaoui – Women’s Manager at Rugby Afrique – if she could expand on the Regional Association’s plans for 2021 and beyond.
Maha Zaoui was appointed as the first Women’s Manager at Rugby Africa a year ago – just before COVID-19 shut the game down worldwide. She has great ambitions for the women’s game on the continent, but clearly her first year has not gone as she would have hoped.
“Only because of the absence of the competitions”, Maha tells us. “Apart from that we took advantage of this pandemic to align with WR's approach in promoting the image of women's rugby on the African continent. This period allowed us to increase the presence of African women's rugby on social networks and also use all digital tools to train women in all sectors related to rugby, whether on or off the field (coaches, Strength and conditioning coaches and management)”.
The programme announced last month mentions test matches being hosted by Namibia, Kenya, Uganda and Tunisia but not who the likely opponents would be. Can you tell us more about what the plans are for this year?
“For the test matches, the idea is to take advantage of the men’s matches in Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Tunisia to have the women play curtain risers. So we should do at least one game the men's Africa Cup rugby repechage tournament [scheduled for west Africa in May] and one per pool in the men's RAC [July 1-18 in Windhoek, Nairobi, Tunis and Kampala] as well. That is 5 matches and 10 teams tested.
“It’s important to note that the matches are not qualifying games for any future tournament, but are to allow us to make an inventory of women's rugby XV.
Are there any other nations nearing a point when they can play tests?
“Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso are working to have a women XVs selection. I hope they get there despite this difficult situation…. Cameroon in particular have a very high quality of women in playing XVs rugby.
There was also no mention of sevens in the programme - do you anticipate this returning any time before 2022?
“For the 7s we are proposing a pre-qualifying tournaments for the 2022 Sevens World Cup this year that would be open to all our federations, but due to financial pressure and traveling challenges with the pandemic this is likely to be pushed back to first quarter of 2022. So for 2021 we will focus on supporting the teams competing in the Olympic Repêchage.”
How is women's rugby in Africa coping with the COVID pandemic - we hear very little news about what is happening in Africa outside South Africa.
“In terms of Rugby, several French-speaking unions have resumed the championships even if the Virus is still there (Tunisia, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Burkina, Togo, Benin, DRC, Madagascar, Cameroon etc ...)”
Beyond COVID it would be interesting to know what your priorities for development might be - and what are the challenges?
“What is good has been the creation of the Women's Rugby Advisory Committee at Rugby Afrique and its 4 sub-committees. We will have a global vision of women's rugby in Africa. We are no longer talking about priorities but about a global project that will affect all related sectors in women's rugby, even if the formats are likely to change depending on the funding granted by world rugby and the pandemic.”