Photo credit: Emily Wirtz/NFL


The NFL Casts A Wide Net Across Africa

Photo credit: Emily Wirtz/NFL

The NFL has big plans for the continent, but potential stumbling blocks need to be addressed. 

By Kingsley Kobo

April 2024

In Africa, football is widely known as the sport played with a round leather ball using mostly the legs, between two goalposts, with a median line separating the opposing teams. In the United States, this sport is called soccer and not football, which is played mostly using the hands over an oval ball, with helmets, mouthguard, padded pants and shoulders protecting players from injuries.


It’s a rare discipline in Africa and needs introduction even to many sport fans. The sport that appears closest to American football in Africa is rugby. Rugby is not a dream sport to many youths and remains a dormant activity on most of the continent except in South Africa.


Soccer remains the king of sports in Africa. It opens doors, brings wealth and makes you a national hero. It is the utmost wish of most families to bear a talented boy, who can kick a soccer ball, and move it to a professional level.


Basketball has been gaining traction thanks to the NBA’s aggressive grooming programs across Africa. It boasts domestic leagues and local governing bodies in most countries like soccer. It is played in schools and on the streets. However, role models and success stories are still not abundant enough to spark a swoon.


The century-old National Football League (NFL) is finally taking a leaf out of NBA’s book by spreading the message about its beautiful sport to the world, in quest of talents, popularity and adoption. Africa has been one of the destinations, fortunately.


“Although it appears to be coming too late, I think NFL is taking a good step. American football ought to have been integrated in African sports culture two decades ago. Not everybody can play soccer. African youths have the strength, stamina, stature and height to succeed in the NFL, so what have we been waiting for,” Kenyan sports journalist of The Standard, Denis Onyango, tells STATEMENT. 


“It could play a role as an alternative sport to soccer. Look at what is happening in Senegal. They have developed wrestling to the point that it attracts fans more than soccer and brings in lots of money. Senegalese wrestlers live in mansions, drive big cars and are cult heroes – the typical dreams of our sports-oriented youths.”


NFL threw caution to the wind and launched the International Pathways Program (IPP) in 2017 as a pilot program to help expand its player pool to the rest of the world. The IPP provides professional-level football training to youths, most of them novice in the sport.


The IPP Program made its way into Africa in 2022, with the setting up of a training camp in Ghana, officially known as NFL Africa Touchdown camp, which attracted hundreds of youths across the region. 


“I heard about the program through a friend who is a taekwondo athlete. He told me that American football people are in town to pick players to the US. Hearing that I got motivated and decided to attend,” says 22-year-old Evans Gyebi, who works at the Tema seasport.


“I used to be an aspiring soccer player. I wanted to go to Europe to play professional football and help my family. I come from a poor background. My mum is a widow, catering for eight kids. However, two of my coaches told me I was too huge for soccer and that it would affect my pace and spontaneity. American football could be my thing. We had a good training period but I am still waiting for a call. I keep training with my people in Accra and studying the rules of the sport.”


Gyebi added that youths were coming to make enquiries everyday weather they were fit enough to play. “Is it for the sport or because of the rumours in town that NFL wants to take people to the US, I really can’t tell.”


Buoyed by its breakthrough in Ghana, the IPP Program expanded to Kenya and South Africa the following year (2023). The objectives remained the same: selling the sport, digging up new talents and honing raw skills, according to NFL’s lead ambassador in Africa, Osi Umenyiora.


The Two-time Super Bowl champion (XLII and XLVI) is upbeat about the future of American football in Africa. He is the best person to tell us following his experience so far through The Uprise program he co-founded in 2020 with fellow Nigerian and former basketball star Ejike Ugboaja. The Uprise is a recruiting program focused on discovering potential American football talents in Africa. 


“The experience from the camps so far is encouraging. We see progress and keen interest from many youths across the regions we have camped in,” Umenyiora tells STATEMENT.


“We are not trying to catch up with the pace of soccer or basketball in Africa. We want to move at our own pace because many people still don’t know this sport. The first question to tackle is whether there are available and interested talents for NFL in Africa. I can confirm that they are abundant,” he says.


According to NFL, there are currently 127 African players in the league – born in Africa or children born to African immigrants. Although the number is still too few to serve as role models and sources of inspiration for local youths on the continent, Umenyiora believes the ongoing NFL efforts would change the narrative in few years.


“Our objective is to get enough young talents who can survive the league. Not everybody definitely but the successful ones becomes role models for other, and so the chain continues,” he says.


However, the journey could be long and difficult, says Jonathan Luhende, technical director at Tanzania ministry of sports, owing to the current sporting landscape in Africa.


“The problem I foresee for NFL’s push in Africa is simple. Beside the fact that the discipline is not popular, its adoption could be difficult and expensive. American football is not like soccer that can be played anywhere even at your backyard. It requires a special pitch, special kits and special instructors. Who is going to finance those?


“No sports ministry has a budget for that discipline in Africa. I have never heard of it. If the NFL’s sole objective is coming to Africa to pick talents and taking them back to the United States that could work but it could backfire if they don’t invest in the sport on the continent.”


Soccer consumes more than half of the budget of sports ministries in Africa, according to statistics, due to its popularity and adoption. It has become a significant political weapon for the authorities owing to the huge number of followers.


Track and field, basketball and other minor disciplines gulp the remainder of the budget. America football is almost unheard of. However, things could change if NFL goes aggressive by starting from the grassroots, according to Ambrose Ajayi, former adviser at Nigerian Sports Commission. 


“Every successful mainstream sports began on the streets or in schools. That is where NFL needs to start from in Africa. They need to lobby hard to get football into school programs, with enticing incentives. Then take it to the streets. Invest in pitches and provide kits for kids to learn and play,” Ajayi says.


“That was how soccer succeeded. You cannot just come in, pick talents and go away. What about those behind? You need to build and nurture the culture of the sport so that it becomes part of the society,” he says.


Another obstacle the NFL programs could face in Africa is the concern of parents and guardians about injuries, according Richard Miezan, director of youth sports at the ministry of sports in Cote D’Ivoire. The sport is widely seen as dangerous in Africa.


“From my 35 years of experience in grass roots sports, I think parents are more concerned about the safety of their children in any type of sporting discipline they choose to practice. Many frown at rugby because they feel it’s too physical. American football is uncommon to their knowledge but those who know the sport have the same cold sentiment towards it as with rugby,” he says.


“Some few years back, we hosted a group of former NFL players – who included Africans and Americans. They wanted information on how to sell the sport to locals. We gave them our statistics. They promised to come back but never did. Personally, I am happy about the news that NFL is officially turning its focus to the world, with Africa included. It’s a very popular sport and Africa can’t be left out,” Miezan adds.


The NFL is growing its fan base, with nearly 18 million viewers per game this season. Almost 115 million people watched the Super Bowl LVII (February 2023) clash between Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. While Super Bowl LVIII (February 2014) between Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers broke the records, as the most-watched telecast of all time, reaching 123.7 million viewers, according to NFL.


“Imagine that! Africa can’t be left out of this. These are strong arguments that NFL officials could take with them to African authorities and lobby for the inclusion of American football in school and college programs,” Miezan said.


Is American football the most injury-prone sporting discipline in the world? A former South African rugby technical director, Pascal Monyane, sheds some light.


“I don’t think so. It’s almost the same case with rugby. Folks are scared because they see hefty players running and jamming each other. Soccer records more injuries per season than America football. Football players are even more protected than their soccer counterparts. So, the injury myth is unnecessary,” Monyane says. 


“In soccer, almost every part of the body is engaged, which exposes them to hits and injuries. Your feet, head, chest, arms, chin, back, belly, etc. We have seen soccer players being hit in their private parts, needing surgical intervention.”


Regardless of the potential barriers, the IPP Program is expected to proceed with its activities in Africa, in the hope of unearthing suitable candidates for the league back in the United States. The successful ones could become future role models for aspiring African athletes.       


After Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, NFL will host camp in Nigeria sometime this year, according to Umenyiora.


“The only way for us is moving forward until NFL finds its footing on the beautiful continent,” he says.

Photo Credit: CAF


AFCON 2023 Showcased Passion Beyond Football

Photo Credit: CAF

Over a decade after intra-nation conflict, the AFCON tournament solidifies Côte D’Ivoire’s political stability and economic progress

By Kingsley Kobo

March 2024

Africa’s biggest football (soccer) event climaxed on February 11, with host nation Côte D’Ivoire clinching the ultimate after defeating Nigeria 2-1.


The final game of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, which took place at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium, a newly-built 60,000-seater complex in the nation’s commercial hub, Abidjan, attracted more than one billion TV and online viewers across Africa and beyond, according to the media department of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). 


“This is one of the reasons why countries push to place their bids to host the event. It provides huge publicity. It highlights the potential of the country before the rest of the world, in terms of investment, tourism, stability, security, workforce, etc,” said Koffi P. Armand, senior fellow at the Ivorian Center for Economic and Social Research of the Félix-Houphouët-Boigny University, the country’s largest academic institute.


“I cannot imagine a better opportunity for an African country to sell its good image to the rest of the world. Football does it better than anything else.”


It was the second time Côte D’Ivoire was selected to host the competition following their first successful bid in 1984. Initially scheduled to hold in mid-2023, the 34th edition was moved to January 2024 due to weather concerns, but retained its original 2023 branding.


The Ivorian government spent over $1 billion to build four new stadiums and renovate two others. Training facilities, new roads, flyovers, hotels and other amenities were put in place for the month-long tournament, which kicked off on January 13th.


“Come to think of it. One billion dollars for entertainment when the country is facing high unemployment rate, housing shortages, inadequate roads, lack of water supply, poor medical facilities in rural areas and some urban centers. But, football overshadowed those challenges and emerged as top priority,” according to Dr Stanislas Beugré of Initiatives Côte D’Ivoire, an Ivorian think tank which tackles political, economic and social issues.


“Nobody complained because we love football. We wanted the world to see that everything is fine in our beautiful country, which suffered a senseless and bloody war some years back. I think that objective was largely met,” he said.


In 2011, Côte D’Ivoire, the world’s top cocoa producer, made headlines when a post-election crisis degenerated into an armed conflict that claimed 3000 lives and displaced more than 250,000 people, according to the United Nations.


Foreign investors fled the West African country, while several ongoing macro projects were abandoned. However, the country of 29 million people has laudably recovered from the crisis, holding two successful presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections since then. The bulk of displaced families are back in their homes, the majority of political prisoners have been set free, and investors are now flocking back to Abidjan.   


The tournament has offered the continent the opportunity to once again recognize the potential of Côte D’Ivoire.


The prize money for the winner of the AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations) is $7 million, a fraction of the investment made by Cote D’Ivoire to host the competition.  


Football and tourism


While visitors came mainly to support their teams, they also had the opportunity to visit several tourist attractions in the country, as well as several host cities besides Abidjan, like San Pedro, Korhogo, Bouake and, of course, Yamoussoukro, home to the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace Built in the 1990’s, Basilica is one of the largest Catholic Church buildings in the world with the capacity to hold 18,000 worshipers. Built at a mouth-watering cost of $300 million the famous structure  attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year.


“I mainly spent my time in Yamoussoukro because I wanted to see the church. After watching games I take my kids to the huge campus. It was fun. Football mixed with tourism. Football fans were visiting everyday. Some even came before the start of games,” said Italian visitor Mauela Dragoni from Parma.


The biennial tournament is a chance for the African diaspora to maintain ties to their respective roots. 


“I’m a Nigerian based in New York. I came with my 16-year-old son who was visiting Africa for the first time. I wanted him to see Africa and its people. I wanted to let him make that connection. It’s very important for us, culturally. We watched the game between Nigeria and Cameroon and traveled to other cities in Côte D’Ivoire. At the end, he was very happy and asked me, ‘when is the next edition?,” said Gabriel Okechukwu. 


A Ghanaian based in Sweden came with his white wife to watch and support the Black Stars of Ghana. She was beautifully dressed in Ghanaian traditional textile known as Kente, which she said she would take back home as a souvenir.


“We married in Europe and never had the opportunity to visit Africa until now. My husband said to me that the AFCON was our best chance to make it. And so, we traveled down. ” said Maria Vinberg Kodjo.  


“I ate their food, wore their traditional clothes, and even learnt some phrases in the local Twi language. We really had a good time. What I noticed and cherished mostly is that Africans really have time for each other. I really love that culture,” she said.


More than one million people visited the country during the AFCON tournament, according to the Ivorian interior ministry.


AFCON business


The tournament provided a boost in business for everyone from airport taxis, to restaurants, to merchants selling jerseys. While official figures are yet to be released, it’s obvious that local businesses stand to benefit from the influx of tourists. 


“I’m a dealer in car rentals. Before the tournament, I used to rent my vehicles for 45,000 CFA ($90) per day but during the AFCON we raised it to 100,000 ($200) per day minimum. Clients were even offering to pay more for reservations because almost all the rentals in Abidjan and beyond were exhausted, just like hotels,” said Dorgeles Yoboué.   


“Every business person made money during the AFCON, from taxi drivers, guides, translators, to TV set dealers and cable TV companies. We wished it could last forever.”


Media success


The tournament also set an unprecedented record in the media sector, with the participation of more than 5000 journalists. CAF media department had revealed that demands for coverage increased over 90% more than the previous edition held in Cameroon in 2022.


“One of the reasons for this attraction was the massive publicity the Ivorian authorities made in the build up to the competition. They were practically appealing for everyone to come and visit the ‘country of hospitality’. I think this worked out,” said Koffi. 


“Secondly, the electronic visa option facilitated paperwork for travelers, including journalists. You only need to apply for a visa online and fly down. It made life easier for everyone.”


Togolese group New World TV acquired the exclusive broadcasting rights for the 2023 AFCON for $1.7 million, with retransmission covering 46 African countries. 


Other rights-holding broadcasters included Sky (United Kingdom), BBC (United Kingdom), LaLiga+ (Spain), SportItalia (Italy), Sport Digital (Germany and Switzerland), SportTV (Portugal), Viaplay (Nordic countries), Band TV (Brazil), BeIN Sport (Qatar) and CANAL+ (France). This made it possible for the competition to be broadcast in 180 countries.


Moreover, for the first time, the AFCON was broadcast by private televisions in French-speaking Africa, notably by Canal 2 in Cameroon and NCI in Côte D’Ivoire.


Consequently, CAF’s broadcast revenue increased significantly, according to local experts, cementing  the development and growth of football on the continent.


While Ivorians are still savoring their ultimate win and hosting the ‘best AFCON tournament so far’ – in the words of CAF president Patrice Motsepe – Morocco is watching and hoping to take a leaf out of the Ivorian book, as they prepare to host the next edition in the summer of 2025.


“We came with a special team to monitor what the Ivorian authorities were doing. They were simply phenomenal. We will strive to emulate those efforts to keep as high as possible the standard of the competition,” said Fouzi Lekjaa, president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation.

Photo credit: AP Images


Counting the Legends: African Sportswomen Keep Forging Ahead

Photo credit: AP Images

Female athletes spearhead Africa’s foray into professional women’s leagues

By Kingsley Kobo

December 2023

Long gone are the days when sporting activities in Africa were largely regarded as men’s affairs. The few women at sporting events were mere spectators, cheering boys and men as they performed. However, things are changing fast, as male spectators now purchase tickets to watch women athletes take the center stage.


“Before, there was no interest or reason. Parents didn’t allow their girls to take part in sports because they felt it was a waste of time and that there was no future in it. We understand their position because there were no systems and structures for women’s sports in most African countries,” Bestine Kazadi told STATEMENT. She was the first woman elected president of a football club (Vita Club) in the DR Congo.


“However, it has gradually evolved from just a sporting activity to a full career, with grassroots interest soaring by the day thanks to the African women who have paved the way for others. I was honored to attend a ceremony in Cameroon where a female footballer based in Europe was handing the keys of a new house (a duplex) and a brand new SUV car to her father. It was talk of the town. Every little girl wanted to go into sports in the hope of succeeding and giving back to their families and communities,” she said. 


Over the years, state authorities and sports governing bodies across the continent have been investing in infrastructure, programs and campaigns to elevate women’s sports. In most countries, every established institution designated for men’s sports now has a women’s equivalent. For example, football (soccer), basketball and volleyball now have women’s leagues, with professional clubs competing under a seasonal calendar.


Budgets and incentives have improved to allow female teams to attend regional and international competitions like the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, CAF Women’s Champions League, FIFA Women’s World Cup, AfroBasket Women, the Olympic Games, etc.


Those efforts are gradually paying off, as Africa now boasts a growing list of professional sportswomen, who play their trades in Europe, North America and in Asia, with some already achieving club and country legendary status, like Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala.


Asisat Oshoala


The 29-year-old, who plays as a striker for Barcelona and the Nigeria women’s national team, has scored 83 goals in 89 appearances for her club and 31 goals for the Super Falcons, her impressive record only barely surpassed by former Nigerian captain Perpetua Nkwocha, who holds the top scorer record with 80 goals.


Oshoala has won the UEFA Women’s Champions League twice with Barcelona, becoming the first African woman to win the prestigious competition in 2021. She has been named as African Women’s Footballer of the Year five times and  is on track to grab a sixth. The NIKE Ambassador was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2021.


Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu


While the NBA is quite popular in Africa thanks to a substantial TV coverage and the presence of African players in the league, the WNBA, is relatively unknown. Cameroonian-born Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, who plays for Seattle Storm, is helping draw some well deserved attention to the championship. 


The 2017 AfroBasket Women tournament became a launchpad for her WNBA career when she representedCameroon. The 24-year-old made an impression on the Indomitable Lionesses captain, Ramses Lonlack, who smoothed the path for Mendjiadeu’s move to the United States, and ascension to the WNBA. She is currently one of two African-born players in the WNBA, alongside Malian-born Sika Koné of Chicago Sky.


Sifan Hassan


The 30-year-old still brings pride to Africa despite competing for the Netherlands, her adopted country. Sifan Hassan was born in Ethiopia, but left for Europe as a refugee in 2008 and became a Dutch citizen in 2013. She is a two-time Olympic gold medallist (5000 and 10,000 meters) and two-time world champion gold medallist (1,500 and 10,000 meters).


This year, she won the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, stunning the world with an unofficial record of 2:13:44, to best the 2019 record of 2:14:04 set by Brigid Kosgei, becoming also the second-fastest women’s marathon runner of all time. When she clinched gold in the 1,500 and 10,000 meters at the World Athletics Championships in 2019, she became the only athlete (male or female) in history to win both titles at a single event.


Zandile Ndhlovu


Historians and experts have claimed investment and interest in water sports remains low on the continent because “black people are afraid of water,” but Zandile Ndhlovu is breaking down the stereotype and creating a new narrative.


When she completed a scuba diving course and received her certification, she became the first black South African free-diving instructor (male and female). Ndhlovu says she wanted to teach and share her knowledge with the world. The impact is already being felt in her homeland. “I’ve seen an increase in representation and ocean-related experiences,” she has acknowledged.


Fatma Samoura


Beyond the field, African women are also visible in sports administration, serving as CEOs of top-tier clubs, as presidents and vice presidents of football associations, as members of the CAF executive committee and others. Fatma Samoura of Senegal is one of those illustrious sports administrators, who has raised the bar with her achievements in the male-dominated sphere. 


The 61-year-old former diplomat has been serving as the first female Secretary General of FIFA since June 2016. The role had been occupied by white men for 100 years prior to her appointment. Although she will step down in December 2023, she remains an icon in the football world. Forbes ranked her Number 1 in their 2018 Most Powerful Women in International Sports list, while the BBC named her in their 100 Women.    


Isha Johansen 


No list is complete without this vibrant and indefatigable sports personality. Isha Johansen was elected as the president of the Sierra Leone Football Association in 2013, becoming the third woman in Africa to hold that position after Lydia Nsekera of Burundi Football Association (2004-2013) and Izetta Sombo Wesley of Liberia FA (2004-2010). 


In 2015, Johansen became the first woman to be appointed as a member of FIFA’s Integrity and Security Committee. She was also an executive committee member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) from 2017–2021. In 2004, she founded her own football club, F.C. Johansen, in Sierra Leone.


We used to call them “Men in Black”, but today we have “Women in Black” and the list is expanding. We are referring to sport referees. African women are getting involved and most of the women’s tournaments in the world, and in Africa, are currently officiated by women. We even have a few officiating as linesmen and match commissioners in men’s tournaments. 


Latre-Kayi Edzoma Lawson-Hogban


The Togolese is the first woman to join CAF’s referee committee in 2017. She is also head of the refereeing committee of Togo FA,  professor of the laws of football at the National Institute of Youth and Sports of Togo, and has been doubling as a CAF / FIFA referee instructor since 2006.


While most pundits claim that opportunities offered to women in mainstream sports remain insignificant, other experts believe that massive involvement and support from the female fans is lacking and sorely needed.


“We keep blaming stakeholders for neglecting women’s sports, but we forget that women themselves are not supporting women’s sports enough. When you attend women’s competitions in Africa, most of the spectators are men,” Fatou Camara told STATEMENT. Fatou was the president for the central committee and CAF’s match commissioner. 


“The involvement of fans lures sponsors and attracts investment. If women don’t stand up to patronize their sports, men will always win.”  


“Most women in Africa are reluctant to visit sports arenas even when women are playing. They feel that it’s a waste of time and that only idle men should do that. That is a wrong perception. Sports arenas are for everybody, men and women. The more women become visible in sporting activities the more the pressure would be on the authorities to get things right,” said Mariam Dao Gabala, former president of the normalization committee of Cote D’Ivoire football federation. She became the first woman in the country to hold that position when she was appointed by FIFA in January 2021.    

Photo credit: Julian Finney - World Rugby via Getty Images


Siya Kolisi: A Stellar Symbol of Strength and Social Change

Photo credit: Julian Finney - World Rugby via Getty Images

Siya Kolisi led the Springboks to Rugby World Cup victory, helping to unite South Africa and inspire change thirty years post-apartheid

By Karin Johansson

November 2023

From the dusty streets of an Eastern Cape township to the pinnacle of international rugby, Siya Kolisi embodies the indomitable spirit of overcoming adversity required to achieve greatness against all odds. As the first Black captain of the South African rugby team, the Springboks, Kolisi has not only become a beloved figure in his home country, but has also garnered respect on the global stage for his integrity, resilience, and unwavering commitment.


“Siya is such an incredible human being, and he has taken these opportunities to become probably the best South African captain in the history of South African rugby. Incredible how he plays, how he talks and how much he cares for rugby and for the people, and for South Africa,” lauded former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar at the World Rugby awards last Sunday. 


Just 24 hours prior to Pienaar’s comments, Kolisi solidified his legacy, capturing the hearts of millions worldwide as he led the Springboks to a nail-biting one-point victory over New Zealand in Paris, securing back-to-back Rugby World Cup titles. With this victory, South Africa has etched its name in history as the only nation to clinch the tournament four times: in 1995 (when Pienaar was captain), 2007, 2019, and now in 2023. The Springboks remain the only team undefeated in a World Cup final, with Kolisi joining the elite ranks of captains who have successfully defended their country’s title, a feat previously achieved by New Zealand’s Richie McCaw in 2011 and 2015.


“Our country goes through a lot…we are just children from a third-world country who fight over and over for people who need hope. And this team shows just what diversity can do for our country. We just showed what we can do, and I’m so grateful for this team. I’m so proud of it,” Kolisi shared following their World Cup win. 


From rural farming communities to townships and affluent neighborhoods in major cities, South Africa’s rugby team represents players from all walks of life. The majority have been teammates for more than five years, fostering a strong sense of camaraderie and unity reminiscent of the values upheld by former President Nelson Mandela. 


Mandela, a staunch advocate of the unifying power of sports, famously stated at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards in 2000: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”  


Nearly three decades post-apartheid, South Africa continues to grapple with extreme inequality. A third of its population lives below the poverty line, unemployment rates have soared above 32%, and stark disparities in healthcare, education, and basic services persist, predominantly affecting Black citizens.


To counteract these imbalances, the government has initiated major transformation drives across all societal spheres. In the realm of rugby, progress towards diversity is evident; the apartheid era banned black players from national representation, but in the 1995 World Cup, Chester Williams broke the barrier. This year, players of color constituted around 40% of the 33-man squad. 


Director of South African Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, who appointed Kolisi as captain back in 2018 and has played a major role in the transformation of the sport, envisions further progress through initiatives such as the Elite Player Development Program, aiming for 60% black representation in the national team by 2030.


“If you talk about transformation in any other country in the world, in any other place, it means change,” Erasmus recently told Supersport in an interview.


Erasmus, along with many South Africans, acknowledges that the impact of Kolisi’s leadership and the Springboks’ double World Cup triumph transcends the rugby field. 


“For me, it’s a sense of pride, motivation for the country to work together, and for my little boys to take inspiration from the Springboks that you can become anything if you put in the work. For my wife, who is a super fan, it means more to her than anything else,” says Rajan Govender from Wellington, who was one of thousands of South Africans who greeted the team at the Cape Town International Airport on Thursday as they embarked on a national victory tour.  


Kolisi and the Springboks have heralded a new era of inclusivity and serve as a poignant reminder of what can be achieved with determination, resilience, and belief in oneself and others. Kolisi is more than just a rugby player; he is a beacon of hope and an icon, proving that with passion and perseverance, anything is possible.