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Ghana looks to convert grassroots rugby into global success

Accra, Ghana | AFP | Some of the girls wear hijabs, others are barefoot and the sandy pitch is marked out in charcoal. But the 14 players could be Ghana’s rugby stars of the future.

One of them, Maimuna Dawda, used to watch matches on television before she got the chance to hold the oval ball for herself in 2016.

Now, the 14-year-old plays three games of short-format seven-a-side every week at the Kanda Cluster of Schools that she attends in the capital, Accra.

In places like Ghana, where society is still overwhelmingly male-dominated and gender roles remain traditionally assigned, rugby — where it’s played — is seen as a man’s game.

But Dawda wants to prove otherwise and represent her country at the highest level.

“I want to play in a national team and be the best rugby player for Ghana,” she told AFP on the sidelines of a schools sevens tournament.

– Increasing participation –

Watching the students from the touchline is Rafatu Inusah, who has been playing rugby since 2009 and was one of the first women in Ghana to do so.

She now works for the Ghana Rugby Football Union (GRFU) as a development officer, helping to implement global governing body World Rugby’s “Get Into Rugby” programme.

The scheme is designed to increase the number of players, coaches and referees across the world and is helping the sport to reach more countries than ever before.

Like some of the girls she trains, Inusah, 28, also wears a hijab when she plays and laughs at the idea that Muslim women can’t play the sport.

In fact, she said she specifically targets Muslim girls.

“I decided to go into the Islamic school in order to change that perception they have when you are playing rugby (that) ‘rugby is not for ladies or girls to play’,” she said.

“It’s for everybody.”

– Gutter to gutter –

Ghana is a member of Rugby Africa, one of the six regional associations of World Rugby, which organises games the length and breadth of the continent.

In 2016, nearly 400,000 African boys and girls took part in development programmes while just over 770,000 men, women and children played the sport.

At the last Olympics in 2016, established rugby giants South Africa and relative newcomers Kenya represented the continent at sevens, which was included at the Games for the first time.

The Springboks won bronze behind Great Britain who were beaten in the final by Fiji. Kenya — Africa Cup Sevens champions in 2013 and 2015 — placed 11th out of 12.

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