Women’s rugby in Namibia defunct

By Michael Uugwanga

WOMEN’S rugby has not been prioritised as highly as male rug by the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU) for many years, despite efforts by the union between 2005 and 2013 to develop the game through its FNB Get Into Rugby program, which aimed to identify talent among male and female players.

Every year, NRU receives a reported N$23 million from World Rugby for the development of local rugby, which includes women’s rugby, while government gives the union about N$1.5 million a year.

Namibia Breweries Limited (NBL) also contributes about N$2 million per year and First National Bank (FNB) gives the union unconfirmed amounts every year but the money goes mostly to funding senior men’s rugby, men’s junior rugby and men’s sevens rugby, as well as the hosting of international events, paying the salaries of staff and maintaining NRU facilities, including the High Performance Centre).

A founder of women’s rugby in Namibia, Robert Thompson expressed disappointment in the NRU leadership for failing to take women’s rugby seriously, as in other African countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tunisia, Madagascar and Senegal, despite Namibia’s men’s senior rugby team being ever present at Rugby World Cup competitions since 1999 up until and including the contest in Japan last year.

The last time the NRU hosted an international female test match was when Namibia’s senior women’s team played against their Botswanan counterparts on 13 October 2013, which was also the only test match for Namibia.

“It was in 2005 that myself and my other fellow colleagues started women rugby in the country. We used to have a team from Keetmanshoop, Pandas, Phoenix, Kudus Bokkies, Wanderers and Western Suburbs. In 2014 there was a regional rugby tournament, which includes both male and female rugby for both Sevens and 15 Rugby, which was co-hosted with the Namibia Women in Sport Association (Nawisa) under the leadership of Carol Garoes.

“For me personally the reason why women’s rugby is dead is due to poor management, misunderstanding and unwillingness from top leadership. Not that I have any personal agenda against the union but that is the reality. We used to have the women club championship and Ashanti Gold Cup for women,” said Thompson.

One man who is working to revive women’s rugby is Patrick van Wyk, who has been working tirelessly without the assistance of the NRU. Van Wyk is a rugby educator and holds a Level 2 coaching qualification from World Rugby.

In years gone by, Namibia had some formidable female rugby players, such as Mara Hepito (prop), Selma Shilongo (wing), Martina Tjauha (wing and now a professional boxer), Yanneke Lawrence (flyhalf), Sade Eiman (centre), Nessi Jansen (wing), Geraldine Lo (No 8), Christel Kotze (flyhalf), Smiley Mouton (flanker), Aunty Nancy van Wyk (flanker), Ursula Titus (prop), Shanay Kearns (centre), Mieta Rios (centre), Fulchen Bock (scrumhalf), Chucky Christians (flyhalf) and Leonora Eberenz (wing), to mention a few.

Before the lockdown in March, Western Suburbs Rugby Club hosted a two-day rugby sevens tournament, which included a women sevens rugby contest that was won by the University of Namibia (Unam) women sevens team when they beat their Rehoboth rivals.

“Currently Unam has about 13 players … [but] some players do not come to training on a regular basis due to other commitments. Ella Du Plessis Secondary School has over 20 players; at the coast we have more than 20 players; Pandas have about 20 players; Okahandja has more than 25 players, while a club like Phoenix so far has none, although they are busy starting up a female club once again.”

Dawid Bezuidenhout High School in Khomasdal, Dr Lemmer High School in Rehoboth and Windhoek Technical High School are also working on forming female rugby teams, said van Wyk.