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African Rugby is Big Business, Let’s Stop Pretending it is not!

Nothing is more demonstrative of this sentiment, than the very view that World Rugby, the sport's global governing body, has of African sports

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa, March 18, 2023/ — African Rugby needs to respect itself and behave in a “world-class” fashion before it can be respected by the rest of the world.

African sports have been forgotten by the world.

More so, it seems that African sports have been forgotten by Africans. In the world of rugby, in particular, there are countries across the continent that haven’t had active rugby leagues in more than three years!

Nothing is more demonstrative of this sentiment, than the very view that World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, has of African sports. Last year, World Rugby awarded just $2 million to promote the sport across the whole African continent. This is an absurdly small amount for a whole Continent, but what is more telling is the way it undervalues the African continent more than anything else. We see evidence of this when this same organization is willing to award $5 million, or $6 million dollars per year, to a Rugby Europe country while leaving the entire African continent with scraps to promote Rugby to a population of over 1.2 billion.

This fact alone is telling of how little respect is given to African rugby by the world and it is inevitable that we ask ourselves, if that respect shouldn’t first come from us, Africans. We have the same governing bodies that rich Western nations have, the associations, the managers, the boards, the board meetings, but what is it all for if they are mostly populated by “friends of friends in high places” and if they have no monetary support to act on any of the decisions they might take?

We need to remind ourselves of the power and the value of Sports. It is Big Business ergo Rugby, is Big Business!

I’ve dedicated my life to running various businesses in and outside Africa and if there is one thing that drives any business, it is money. We cannot continue to act like African sport is a charity case in need of aid. I profoundly believe in H.E. The President of Ghana, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo’s vision of an Africa Post-Aid, and Post-charity!

That is my vision for African rugby, rugby post-aid.

The path to achieve that is no mystery. We all know it, even if most times we are unwilling to admit it. Rugby is Big Business, and it needs to be run like a business. It is that simple. That is the only way there will be capital to promote the sport and make it grow. Capital generates capital. We need to improve our governance track-record across the board, get better managers that will drive the business forward, and raise capital to give them the tools to do their jobs right.

The world of rugby sees Africa as one big poor country. This must end.  The diversity of the continent’s nations is manifested equally in its sports cultures. We need to adjust our tactics to the specificities of each market and each region. We need to brand ourselves and promote ourselves to the world, make ourselves worthy of notice and respect. Only then will we be able to demand from global organizations the respect and capital we deserve.

That starts with changing our practices, with implementing World-standards to what we do, rather than African standards. We have forgotten the positive impact sports, and sports events, can generate. Sports competitions are not about entertainment and physical prowess. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry that generates advertising revenue, tourism inflows, infrastructure development, and investment in a myriad of different economic sectors. It promotes social growth, and on top of it, showcases a country to the world. Sports helps to elevate nations, drawing the spotlight on a country worthy of investment, worthy of visiting, worthy of doing business with. Sports actively contribute to elevating a nation’s economic development and the lives of its citizens.

This is the true potential value of Rugby, and the potential value of treating it as the Big Business that it is.

We need to change the way the world looks at African rugby, by changing the way we operate, and showing our value and potential for growth. The change must start with us! We cannot go begging to rich countries to borrow money to start generating money. We need to lobby, we need to organize, we need to engage the political leadership of each nation and region to engage the continental institutions that can help finance these developments. We need to engage the African Union, Ecowas, African-owned Banks, African Development Bank and the like.

Once we have professionalized the world of rugby and managed to finance ourselves within ourselves, then, and only then, can we look at demanding more from World Rugby, from global advertisers and sponsors, competing side-by-side to bring major international competitions to Africa.

Treating Rugby as Big Business is not reinventing the wheel. Understanding that image, perception, branding, is everything when we want to attract capital and visitors is nothing new, and yet it has never been done for African rugby. This has meant a loss of hundreds of millions of Dollars, and the direct and indirect benefits that could positively affect hundreds of millions of people across the continent.

That is the vision that I will bring to Rugby Africa if my candidacy for its presidency is successful.

This is the first time that there is competition in the election for the Presidency of Rugby Africa.

Let’s make things differently, let’s make it count.

Let’s Make Rugby Africa Big Business, for the benefit of all.

By Herbert Mensah
Herbert Mensah is President of the Ghana Rugby Football Union, Candidate to the presidency of World Rugby’s African association, Rugby Africa

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