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Speech By Rugby Africa Pres...

Speech By Rugby Africa President To Launch 2024 Rugby Africa Cup – Kampala


Herbert Mensah, President of Rugby Africa

The 2024 Rugby Africa Cup will be staged in Kampala. This launch at the Kings Park Arena is something truly historic and it is a great honour to have been asked to be present today. I am sorry I can’t be there live but from all the way in West Africa, I’m there with you in spirit.

Getting on to the more serious side, I must admit that I unashamedly was there at the Africa Games supporting Uganda. I was lulled in by the extraordinary carnival-themed activities that were going on from Edward who was with the Nile beer guys in the stands. The songs, the rhythm, etc was something to behold! Plus, you even brought your own DJ a young lady, I don’t know her name, but it certainly captured our imagination. It really did. So I’m here as a convert yet, I have to be a convert with impartiality, if I can call it like that.

Please, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to mention the rarefied air in which I find myself present. That, I say because I believe that, even though I’m far away, today I sense that amongst the VVIPs, maybe I should add an extra V to it, is the Chief Whip of the Government of Uganda, The Honourable Dennis Hampson Obua. The Honorable Chief Whip, I believe I met in Ghana and it was a great honor to meet a man with such a huge knowledge of sports who really understood what it is all about.

And I say, Honorable Obua, thank you for allowing me to speak today. I’d like to also acknowledge the whole of the Ugandan Rugby Union, EXCOM, as well as the trustees. I believe they include the Honorable Dan Kidega, Prince David Kintu Wasaja, and Mr. Ian Walker.

We should not also forget the MD of the Nile Breweries and his team. The marketing leader, I believe, is Mr. Amu Majok. Overall, I need to say a big hello to my brother, Godwin. I have such tremendous respect for what Godwin is doing. We shouldn’t forget that the process started a while ago. You know, since taking office, the challenges are quite clear.

For me, the focus has been obvious. What are we about? Sport is big business and we’re on this extraordinary continent of 1.4 billion people. We receive a budget of barely two and a quarter million dollars for the whole continent to play tournaments and to try and grow the game in a manner that is not impossible but you have to put a plan together and I mention this because part of the plan is beginning to unfold now in Uganda.

A lot of what we try to do involves a marriage between government and capital on the one side and then we the players and the unions on the other. It’s so important that the Presidents of the various unions across Africa have the gravitas, the gravitas to speak with the Honourable Minister, whom I’m lucky enough to have spoken and to whom I have great love, respect, and affection with the same for the heavyweights who I see here today.

Because, what is the difference between rugby, football, and other sports? After all, I was the President of one of the greatest football clubs in the world, Kumasi Asante Kotoko. World!!!! And yes, there are political ramifications in football, but the money is also bigger. So we do ask governments for involvement. So when this idea was mooted and we all said that we could not continue the way that we have been in the past, the first person to be up-standing and be counted on was Godwin. But he would not have been able to do it without the involvement of his Minister and of his Government.

The bid was put in in November last year with the support of the Government of Uganda and the Sports Council. The winner was then declared by the Rugby Committee of Rugby Africa in January 2024 and ratified by World Rugby thereafter.

Uganda’s commitment is to host a top-eight African rugby competition for the Rugby Africa Cup for 11 days in Kampala. We know it’s going to be a festival of rugby. We know it’s going to exhibit the wonders of Uganda. But it’s also something that they bid for two years so they’ve got it for 2024 and for 2025. And it means that we are now going to have access to a refurbished stadium. I believe the Mandela National Stadium will be ready. It’s going to give a chance for you in Uganda to welcome the fans from across the whole of Africa to the Pearl. Let’s see what your hospitality is really like, whether the weather is upstanding, and whether we’d all want to come back to Uganda for holidays thereafter. But I am grateful, really I am grateful to the people in Rugby Africa who understand the program that Sport, after all, is very big business.

Uganda is hosting but look at the other seven countries. We have the mighty Namibia who have been to all the previous World Cups. We have Kenya who clearly have closed in on Namibia and I can’t say who’s going to get there next time round. We have Zimbabwe with its youthful team and structures which are improving all the time. We have the gigantic, the enormous Algerians. We have Uganda, of course. I know from the small country that I come from that we got quite a beating at the hands of Uganda so we get it. We have La Cote D’Ivoire who have been to the World Cup before and of which I have great affinity and love for. La Cote D’Ivoire borders my own country. We have Senegal which has been at the top of African rugby for many years. And then we have the emerging giants in Burkina Faso. I say emerging because, over the last few years, we’ve seen them, especially in the sevens games, improve. They now have the chance against the big boys to really show what it takes.

This competition will see all eight teams playing in two groups on a promotion-relegation basis in one country in Africa for the first time and I say that is fantastic. It goes to buttress what my own philosophy is. Listen, you receive two and a quarter million, you need five to seven million to provide rugby for all. There are some who are saying, oh, you are not providing rugby for every nation, but that is not true. That is our plan. Our plan clearly is to do that and we can only do it with the Ugandas of this world. Uganda is the first country to embrace the philosophy, that marriage with government, which means that the hosting rights are being paid for by Uganda for the first time, has enabled us to spend more money on air tickets to bring more countries in.

It has enabled me to go back to World Rugby and negotiate for additional funding so that we have a repechage from 9 to 16 in Morocco in November this year. Yes, we’re still tweaking the budget but that additional six-figure sum from World Rugby is what makes that competition possible. Yes, World Rugby is interested in its full members and that means that there may not be enough money for all the rest, but it does not mean that we give up. It means that this year for the first time, in two locations, we have 16 of Africa’s best playing on a promotion-relegation basis, so that next year we look at qualification for the World Cup off the back of these tournaments, releasing resources for other related matters. And ladies and gentlemen, I really would like to talk about what a year it’s been.

The African Games may not have World Rugby or Rugby Africa significance but was organized by the African Union, their technical partners, UCSA and not all countries were represented, and yet, there were strong enough teams, strong enough for Uganda to triumph in both the men and the women….. most people’s judgment extremely well organized it.

Then we went off to Harare for the under-20s. Quite a competition. Four teams went for the tournament, which we know next year we need to increase to six or to eight teams. It’s what we’ve inherited, but it’s what we’re going to develop going forward. Then it is we went through to Madagascar for probably the greatest tournament that Rugby Africa has put together to date, an absolutely extraordinary tournament. Yes, next year we shall have more than the four teams on a promotion-relegation basis, but what a spectacle. There were huge crowds. It was the first time our rugby tournament has been on Rugby Pass and on Super Sports simultaneously. It forms the basis for the future to say to the corporate world, this is what we’re planning, this is where we’re at, come invest in us.

After that, we then go to the wonderful island of Mauritius. For the first time, we’re doing a sevens tournament over two weekends. So we’ve upped the game, we’ve upped the quality, we’ve upped the standard. The top 12 teams go. So even though my country, although I’m no longer President would have been the 13th team, South Africa is not going so there are 12 nations and the host nation will have to go and I have to be impartial about it. Kevin Venkiah (President Mauritius Rugby) is doing an absolutely extraordinary job and I know that that is going to be a Seven’s tournament like we’ve never had before so we can see the progress before we go up and come down here to Kampala for what I know will be the greatest show on earth and I’m so looking forward to it.

After which we then move up to Monastir, Tunisia for the Lady Sevens. Aref, the President, is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary team. They’ve hosted it for the last two or three times running and I know it’s going to be an extraordinary tournament this time around before we go through to Morocco. Critically though, as it is that we now raise the standard of the image of what is rugby Africa on the playing field, we have to win off the field. Better governance, better controls, etc etc and ultimately we need to see more of what we’ve already started seeing this year. Cross-border play, Botswana, Eswatini, and Lesotho have already started. They have planned another one for later this year, which they’ve communicated directly back to me and I’m looking forward to that.

We have seen Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania with their plans for the second part of this year which we fully endorse. We are seeing discussions happening between some of the West African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin, and a few others to say we would also like to do some sort of cross-border activity. We have to compile all of these actions and bring everybody together. But ladies and gentlemen, this would not be possible without the efforts of Countries like Uganda. If we get four or five more countries like Uganda then we’ll find more funds being released for everybody to play. I say congratulations. I am so excited about this tournament. I have meetings with UNESCO and I’ll fly straight from there into Kampala for the Rugby Africa Cup 2024. Thank you so much.