Promoting Peace and Empowering Youth Through Rugby in Africa
I have personally experienced the power of sport and suffered the harmful effects of not practicing sport. I was 13 years old when my coach forbade me to play matches. As I had built all my childhood on the values of rugby, my world fell apart. I was then out of school and my lousy company led me to commit petty crime. At the age of 15, an educator from the Catholic college where I resumed my studies trusted me. Meeting him allowed me to reconnect with the practice of rugby and to be recruited by the Stade Toulousain. Thanks to the educational virtues of rugby, I was able to come out and move forward: from this experience, my vocation for education through sport was born. This guiding idea subsequently led to the creation of the four Terres en Mêlées associations.
Our flagship project in West Africa, ALAFIA, starts from a simple observation: it was absolutely fundamental to form a bulwark against the trivialization of violence among young people and to give prospects to aimless youth lacking of opportunities. Developing a common approach, pooling resources and disseminating the idea of living together and non-violence in the media makes it possible to fight directly against the upsurge in recruiting young people into armed groups. Sport transmits to young people a base of shared values, and it prevents discriminatory behaviors and conflicts.
Our experience in the field has shown us that rugby is an excellent tool for combating gender-based and sexual violence and achieving the objectives of promoting and defending gender equality, a prerequisite for building peaceful societies. The journey of young Marcelia, whom I met in Madagascar, is symbolic as it illustrates the transformative power of rugby for young girls. Muse of the company Société Générale during the Rugby World Cup in Japan and protagonist of the documentary film broadcasted on France Télévisions “The girl and the oval ball”, Marcelia transformed her life thanks to the practice of rugby. Marginalized of the school system and mother of a baby at the age of 13, Marcelia says that “every try scored gives (her) the strength to exist.” Thanks to rugby, Marcelia has emancipated herself, she has become an icon for all community members.
In rugby, challenge is combined with tactical and mental finesse. The playground is a safe space where young girls free themselves from the patriarchal yoke, and it becomes a space conducive to the construction of positive masculinities. In Madagascar, we launched the first national school rugby Championship and created the first State diploma in Development Education through Sport specializing in gender equality. Ultimately, we would like to create Terres en Mêlées academies; spaces dedicated to educational innovation through sport that contribute to the emancipation of young girls and aim to train young leaders.
Training the future champions of African sustainable development thanks to the oval ball is our leitmotif and our ambition. Empowering youth through human capital formation can transform life courses and put in place effective advocacy strategies. Appointing young ambassadors who represent their territory and who know its issues can act as a powerful leverage effect with institutions and donors.
On the occasion of the Rugby World Cup, which will take place in France in 2023, we want to bring young educators to demonstrate that African territories also carry skills and innovative solutions. In the years to come, and in particular alongside Peace and Sport as part of the implementation of the Peacemakers Project, we will continue to focus on the empowerment and engagement of African youth through the practice of rugby to build peaceful territories.