Zambia are using Get Into Rugby to change attitudes and encourage young girls to give the sport a try and recently held a girls-only tag rugby tournament in Kitwe to spread the word.

The growth in popularity of women’s rugby in Zambia was highlighted earlier this month as a tag tournament was held in Kitwe in support of the International Day of the Girl.

Teams travelled to the Harmony Community School to take part in the girls-only competition, which was organised by the Zambia Rugby Union (ZRU) in partnership with the Tag Rugby Trust (TRT).

According to a ZRU press release, the tournament proved popular with those in the surrounding community as “scores of spectators” turned out to watch matches officiated exclusively by female referees.

The tag competition is the latest initiative designed to promote girls’ rugby in the African country.

Reaching Zambia's young

Last month, Get Into Rugby Zambia partnered with the Bhubesi Pride Foundation and DieHardRugby Academy to put on a three-day training workshop for local female teachers.

Tom Chaloba, Get Into Rugby Zambia manager and DieHardRugby Academy founder, has worked with almost 600 girls aged between 10-15 in Kabwe – a town located around two hours’ drive north of the capital, Lusaka – alone since he began coaching in 2014.

“Having played at (an international) level I interacted with a number of personalities from across the globe. Hearing their stories, hearing their points of view of what they’ve been doing in their own countries I thought Zambia could also replicate that and see how it goes,” the former Zambia national team player said.

“Prior to (2014) there was women’s rugby in Kabwe, but most of it was reserved for the older girls.

“The young ones were not catered for, so I thought ‘why wait to capture them when they’re old instead of trying to capture them when they’re still young?’ So, I tried to cover that gap.”

Overcoming stereotypes

Chaloba admitted he has faced a number of challenges in his work. Although he has managed to get the sport into local schools – it is played in seven Kabwe schools, while 11 teachers attended the recent workshop – it is hard to retain female players once they leave high school.

One reason for that is that rugby is not seen as a suitable sport for women to play.

“That barrier is still very much existent,” he said.

“I remember a few months ago, it would have been early this year, I was on a live phone-in programme on the national television broadcaster and one of the callers blatantly told me ‘why do you want to start endangering the lives of our kids?’

“(He said) ’If the rest of you don’t have anything else to do, you stick with your rugby and leave our kids with other sporting disciplines which are safer and more balanced’.

“So, you know we still get that backlash, if you will, from members of the society.”

Hunger for rugby

Despite such hostility from some sections, rugby is growing in popularity in the country thanks in no small part to the men’s sevens team’s first appearance at the Commonwealth Games in Australia earlier this year and more recently their plate success at the Rugby Africa Sevens Championship and promotion to the Rugby Africa Gold Cup next year.

Chaloba is a busy man, combining his work with Get Into Rugby and his academy with his duties as the ZRU’s communications manager.

His trio of jobs have allowed him to make a lot of noise about rugby, and it seems to be having an impact. Chaloba says that the sport is currently played in seven of the country’s 10 regions and it was included as part of Zambia’s national sports week for the very first time this year.

“As of now the thirst is there, the hunger is there,” he said. “People want to associate themselves with the game.”

For more information on the Get Into Rugby programme, visit getintorugby.worldrugby.org.

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