Though rugby League is an interesting sport, it is not popular in Ghana as compared to other sports like football, athletics, basketball, volleyball among others. But, there is one young Ghanaian man who is working hard to keep rugby league at par with the other sports and he is no other person than Mustapha Jafaru.
On the 4th of May this year, he was recognized as a rugby league coach by the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF). This is has been a very great feat for the Ghana Rugby League and the country at large. He believes that, his desire to grow the game comes from within him; it is probably a spontaneous flow. “So, going for this was a necessity than a choice” he added.
He admits that, the Rugby league is entirely new to Ghana. It was introduced in Ghana in 2012 but became active in 2019 when he assumed the reigns of affairs as manager. He thinks that, his desire to do the work had won him this recognition. He further added that: “I love the sports and I believe a path emerges when I walk on it. So it’s the same way I will get Rugby League to where God has planned for it”.
Though, the sport seem to be gaining ground already; it is not bereft of challenges. These challenges include: misconceptions, bad playing fields, funding, media presence and game opportunities.
According to Mustapha, a lot of people on first contact love to see the sports but they either did not know it was in Ghana or are afraid of its associated injuries. There are also not enough playing fields specially made rugby. There is almost no support for the sport and other administrative works. More so, there’s has not been enough media coverage to promote the sport. Most importantly, the unavailability of game opportunities is also another challenge.
Mustapha traces his encounter with the spotlight as far back as 2010 while in the University of Ghana. “I decided to try my hands on rugby after I was introduced to the sports by one Marshall Nortey and Lloyd. I tried with a club on campus before joining the school team”. While in school, he revealed that he travelled twice to Morocco after which the love of the game caught his attention. He began playing and coaching since 2015.
From 2010 to 2015 he was playing and coaching a union side. But his club was unfortunately taken out from the Union after they had issues with the administration at the time. That was when he turned to assist to train boys at the University till another form of the sports rugby league invited him to assist with managing the sports in Ghana in 2019.
So, by 2012, the Rugby League had been introduced into the country by UK sports and the Rugby League International Federation.
From 2012 to 2019, he asserts that, the activities of his organization has been on and off, so in 2019 he was appointed as Manager of the Federation. “In 2019, I was called upon like I said, to manage the Federation from the grassroots, so what we did was quickly organize the university games among 6 halls and they played the Thirteens Tournament. After that tournament, we organized a four-team national league, that is; a standard league and it run for 2 rounds; first and second round”.
So, currently there are four clubs in Ghana. They are: the Ghana Skolars, Bulls, Accra Panthers and Pirates Ghana. Among these four clubs as well as other players who play outside the country, a national team was raised to represent Ghana in Nigeria last year October, from 1st to 5th in a tournament called the Middle East African Championship and the team placed 3rd after losing to Nigeria and winning narrowly against Cameroon. The Middle East African (MEA) Championship is the biggest rugby league in Africa currently. Ghana is placed 3rd in the MEA region ranking and is placed 33rd in the World ranking. Though the team has no trophy yet, Mustapha is confident that, the team is yet to sweep a number of them, if afforded the opportunity to participate in more competitions.
According to Mustapha, the new administration is done with a strategic plan which was meant to be operative from 2015 through to 2025. The plan is to get Ghana Rugby to the World Cup in 2025. In 2023, there is a World Cup Qualifier and that is what the focus is on at the moment. So, he intends to organize local games and enough play time as part of preparation plans just before the COVID-19 pandemic came in. “What we are trying to do is to get the boys to play more themselves locally, so we are having a local tournament; before the COVID we were also looking at playing in our championship, that is the Thirteens Tournament” he explained.
He continued; “But as it stands now, we don’t know the situation with the COVID but let’s see what is going to happen from now to 2023 where we select a team to represent the nation”. He points out that, there are some Ghanaians playing outside the country and he’s been monitoring them as he prepares the team to qualify for the World Cup.
He further plans to get the sport to the other regions of the country since they are only locked up in Accra so, preparations are underway to their activities nationwide.
So, the plan for 2021 through to 2023 is to get all four clubs having made of female teams and also having juvenile teams. “If we are able to do this, we know at least four clubs are well-structured” he stated. In explaining further his plans, he intimated that, they are going to move to other regions, that notwithstanding the fact that they would not test the waters in other regions to see what comes out of it until the team is ready to swing fully into action.
He emphatically stated that, there is no government intervention as he speaks now and has no cause to blame government because, their outfit started work just 2019.
He also explained that, a board meeting has been to elect interim executives and board of directors. There has been executive team but they had reconstitute it, since most of them are dormant. He is of the view that, the current interim executives and board as well as their Constitution they have started working on their affiliation status with International Rugby League. As observers of the International Rugby League the board is working on it’s affiliation status and going forward by 2025, the team should be full members. What is happening now is that, the team is getting intervention mostly from volunteers, philanthropists and the international body of the Rugby League itself.
All the same, he believes that, the sport will soon be recognized, especially with the men in the helm of affairs in the African countries, he is very optimistic.
Source: Felix Acquaye