By Phil Caplan, Date:26/2/13
The first rugby league matches have taken place in Ghana, as part of a UK Sport International leadership symposium in Accra.
Three of six clubs already formed and in regular training took part in the festival. University of Ghana (UG), Nima and Monprobie (wearing a brand new kit donated by Widnes Vikings Foundation) all impressed the on looking dignitaries and hundreds of local school children in three full blooded 40-minute encounters played in 30 degrees heat.
The symposium saw project leaders from a number of sub-Saharan African countries assemble alongside leading officials from UK Sport International and affiliated organisations such as the Youth Sport Trust.
The festival was organised by the graduates of the leadership programme and refereed by Ghana Rugby League development manager Sylvester Wellington.
â€œEverything has been going great,â€ said Wellington, who alongside UG rugby league coordinator Alfred Attieku, has been looking to establish the sport in the Greater Accra region. â€œWeâ€™ve been able to form six local clubs. We have about 20 schools on board and weâ€™ll be starting our championship in June.â€
Another team from Nima, and sides from Greater Accra towns Lapaz and Kaneshie will constitute the first club competition, with a potentially large schools programme underneath. RLEF General Manager Danny Kazandjian accompanied Wellington to a few training sessions, and had the opportunity to gauge the potential.
â€œI saw the enthusiastic reception the schoolboys gave the sport,â€ he commented. â€œThe internal â€˜houseâ€™ system employed in Ghana coupled with the willingness of the schools to include rugby league in their stable of sports means that some will have 10 teams playing in-house competitions before they even select a school team. Having an average of 60 boys playing per class means that the numbers could be remarkable.â€
Following the qualification of 28 Level 1 coaches in December, Wellington and Attieku – who are part funded through sponsorship by Sara Giwa-McNeill, London Skolarsâ€™ chief Hector McNeillâ€™s wife and a Ghanaian national – have worked tirelessly on developing a footprint for the sport. â€œThe surprising thing has been that, although weâ€™re working with people who didnâ€™t know rugby league six-months ago, all of a sudden they are tackling and playing,â€ continued Wellington, who undertook a month long placement to London in August. â€œIt seems as though theyâ€™ve been in the game for so long, itâ€™s amazing.â€
Wellington, Kazandjian and UG Director of Sports Dr Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, who has played a major supporting role in the sportâ€™s initial steps on Ghanaian soil, paid an official visit to the National Sports Authority, based at the national stadium, to discuss government recognition of a Ghana rugby league federation.
â€œThe meeting was as encouraging as it could possibly have been,â€ said Kazandjian. â€œThe Director Generalâ€™s office is aware of our ongoing development work, has a good relationship with our local partners and pledged to recognise the federation upon receipt of our application, which will be completed within a fortnight.â€
Further growth in the African development project will take place in Sierra Leone, with the Welsh Assembly-backed NGO, Wales-Africa Community Links, investing in the expansion, alongside UK Sport International.