Six months ago, in the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rugby Africa announced that the 2022 edition of the Rugby Africa Cup was going to be hosted outside the continent – in France.

Social media and the African rugby news space were awash with shock and outrage against the decision but all fell on deaf ears and eventually, the dust settled. Until Rugby Africa invited media for the 2022 African Rugby season launch in Kampala City, Uganda.

Speaking at the media event, Rugby Africa President Khaled Babbou said that France’s candidacy was a surprise to the selection committee who held an open and transparent process.

“The process selecting France as the host country for the final tournament qualifying for the Rugby World Cup 2023 was completely transparent and open. As soon as late July when we knew who are the qualified countries, we started the process to select the host country for the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup,” Khaled Babbou said.

Khaled Babbou

At the end of this bidding process, France beat Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Namibia to earn the rights to host the event. The French bid promised better media exposure to the event, a Rugby World Cup-like experience, and a neutral ground for all the teams to compete fairly.

Babbou believes this is an opportunity for Rugby Africa to develop African Rugby to a new standard.

“I think we will learn from that for the next editions of the Africa Cup to be at the same level. For the past fifteen years, the Africa Cup has been growing in front of fans. Now we are reaching, hopefully next July, the best worldwide standards. That’s an opportunity for us to learn and also to make sure that when we reach this level, we never go under that standard,” he said.

He added that there was excitement among the players to market themselves to the French clubs.

“The second point, I think, widely in Africa, all the players in all the teams are happy to play in France. Why? They all think that the biggest rugby economy in the world is the French regular championship. So they want to go there to show their talents and capacity to the French clubs. For us, it is important to know that the players and coaches are happy to play in France.”

Sports journalists present at the media launch, from national publications Vision Group and Nation Media to digital media houses including Kawowo Sports, probed this decision and the justification shared by Khaled Babbou and his deputy Andrew Owor. Questions arose on the sustainability and justification of this decision, citing suitable hosts, service providers, and partners within the African continent for this major continental championship.

The journalists were visibly not satisfied with the responses to their questions as the media launch event ended on a rather charged note.

However, the Rugby Africa Cup will still go on in the cities of Marseille and Aix-en-Provence in France from July 1-10. Eight nations will contest for one slot at the Rugby World Cup 2023.

Other Rugby Africa events on the calendar

The Rugby Africa Men’s U20 Championship, known as the Barthés Trophy, is the first event on the 2022 African Rugby calendar. Kenya will host seven other nations for the event from April 9-17 at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi City.

A week after the Barthés Trophy, all roads will lead to Kyadondo Rugby Club in Kampala City for the Rugby Africa Men’s Sevens. Fourteen nations will, from April 23-24, play not only for the African championship but also tickets to the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The women’s edition, Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens, will be hosted by Tunisia on the next weekend from April 29-30. Similar to the men’s, nine nations will also be eyeing tickets to the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, for which only one slot is available.

Ernest Akorebirungi is an amateur rugby player and a keen follower of local Ugandan rugby.

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