Less popular than football or handball, the women’s rugby community is taking up more and more space in the world of sports in Côte d’Ivoire.
Inter-school competitions and the inter-professional league that have just launched in Abidjan — where 23 men’s clubs and 14 women’s clubs play, contribute greatly to this growing trend.
Despite the limited resources available to the clubs and the national federation, nothing appears to deter Sekongo Aichata — the captain of the National Women’s Rugby Team, from her ambition to compete against other countries on the international scene.
Aichata shares how she came about her passion.
“I discovered this sport at school through my teacher Mr Ouattara Léguissongui at the modern high school of Ouangolo in class 6.
“It is not easy financially with the clubs but we also want to play internationally to show that Côte d’Ivoire has great potential in women’s rugby.”
Deemed dangerous, rugby as a strong passion seems to have taken over the lives of these young girls — who are sometimes forced to find pretexts or secretly escape to training.
The young athletes do everything they can to succeed in order to convince those around them of the value of their chosen sport.
Traoré Bintou, a player on the TBO team, gives some insight into the hurdles of sexism she has faced in the pursuit of her sports passion.
“In the beginning, my parents did not want me to play rugby because it is a man’s sport. Sometimes we hid to go and play or we found excuses to say we were going to gym class at school and we were, in fact, going to play rugby.”
Leaders and former players are hard at work to meet the challenge of establishing women’s rugby in the country and setting up a strong international women’s team.
Yeboua Isabelle, a female rugby coach is ready to take the sport to the next level in the country.
“Today the challenge is to set up a national women’s rugby team and to ensure that rugby is played throughout Côte d’Ivoire.”
Paul Ella GuéÏ, a player and also a referee for the sport of rugby, airs her frustrations with the narrow view surrounding the athletic game rooted in questionable gender roles.
“Rugby is not just a man’s sport. Do you see? We are women, we are not boys. I’m standing in front of you, there is nothing about me that is masculine.
“I am a woman and I play rugby to say that rugby is also a women’s sport and that women also have their place in rugby. And these are the values that we want to imbibe in young girls.
The special correspondent on the ground for Africanews M’ma Camara, sums up the current state of athletic affairs — as far as rugby is concerned, “Increasingly in the spotlight, rugby is seen by many young girls as a means of emancipation. Today, there are more than 300 licensed female rugby players in Côte d’Ivoire.”