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The move by Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) to introduce rugby as a sport in primary schools countrywide is a commendable, and vital idea that should not be let to wither at our watch.
The plan may seem to be just another new fun activity for the kids in the layman’s eye. But on a wider scale, if ‘watered’ properly, the plan can blossom to carry Kenya right to the Rugby World Cup doorsteps.
The blueprints to the plan have already started to take shape, with the foremost being a partnership deal between KRU and Damu Pevu Development Society.
The partnership deal will see Damu Pevu spearhead the implementation of this program anchored on World Rugby training modules. It will also be anchored upon World Rugby’s Get-into-Rugby Programme.
On the other hand, KRU shall retain primary responsibility for quality assurance and program oversight, working through the network of Regional Development Officers (RDOs). KRU and Damu Pevu will collaborate in mobilizing resources for the programme, from both public and private sector partners.
The growth of rugby in Kenya has been evident in both local and international set; from the shorter version of the game to the longer version.
But, in as much as we laud the progress and milestone we have achieved across the ages as a nation, to be identified as a rugby powerhouse internationally, new creative, and technical ideas should be employed. The plan to introduce primary school rugby is a good start.
The foremost reason is that a significant number of our local rugby players who play in the two top tier leagues, Kenya Cup and Championship, start playing rugby while in high school (14-16 years old, approximately).
This number can be further trimmed down, as some of them do not immediately get introduced to the game after joining high school. They have to wait another one or two years before being incorporated into their respective school teams.
Before these players start trading professional rugby, age will be fast catching up on them. This is because a huge chunk of time is further required in moulding these players into mature, qualified and professional rugby players.
The introduction of rugby in primary schools will help counter this minor, yet impactful setback perfectly. Instilling the essential rugby skills and dynamics to kids as young as ten years old will help reduce the gap and time these players take in becoming professionals.
These will in turn see the quality of the game rise to significant heights, owing to the fact that by the time these kids join high school, their understanding and experience in rugby will be considerably better, as compared to when they are introduced to the game while in high school.
A good case study is former World Rugby champions New Zealand. In New Zealand, rugby is the most famous sport. Here it is reported that kids as young as five years of age can recite the entire rules of the game.
It has also been said that it is a norm in this country, to see kids playing with rugby balls, on their way to, and from school. In fact, a famous saying in the country goes, “The first lessons of a Kiwi kid is to pass, catch and kick”.
This has helped New Zealand maintain a good cycle of producing quality rugby players, from when they are introduced to the game at a young age, to their point of retirement.
Another noble objective associated with the birth of primary school rugby will be the increase in the number of rugby talents in the country.
Bestowing rugby qualities to young kids will see the feature of rugby talents increase in folds. This will in turn inject a healthy competition in the game locally, thus creating a wider pool of players for national team coaches to pick from.
For instance, as of 2019, New Zealand with just a population of 5 million people had over 140,000 rugby union registered players, compared to Kenya, which has slightly over 40,000 registered rugby players, from a population of 53 million people according to the World Rugby index.
Of the 140,000 New Zealand registered players, only 30,000 were listed as adults (20 years old and above). This translates to just 5% of the total registered rugby players. The remaining 95% is players below the age of 20, including kids.
The numbers can only be credited to the rich rugby culture in New Zealand due to ingraining the game to their young population.
Lastly, with the plan leading to the quality of rugby going up few scales, investors, recruiters, and scouts will flock to the country, creating yet another platform for rugby development in Kenya.
This will be a big morale boost to our local players, and fans at large. The income obtained from the investors and sponsors can be used to erect rugby stadiums across the country and also towards helping sustain the game.
The large number of recruiters and scouts will see more and more players getting a chance of plying their skills abroad.
This, among others, makes the long list of positives associated with introducing rugby in Primary schools. The partnership deal between KRU and Damu Pevu is just but the tip of the skeleton. Much support from the government and other stakeholders will be needed in realizing the plan to a reality. Introducing primary school rugby should not just be seen as a development program of the game, it is more than that; it should be considered as the future of rugby in Kenya
Featured image: Coach Patrick Mwika training Mubao Primary school in Nyandarua County. Photo Courtesy/Patrick Mwika