Written by Stuart McLennan
Photo by Laurent Maget
Rugby league has a reputation across the globe for being an inclusive sport.
Cameroon Rugby League’s latest initiative ensures it continues with the First Nations (Pygmy tribe) taking up the greatest game of all.
It (rugby league) will be the first sport played by the Pygmies in Cameroon.
The Pygmies have long lived without any contact with the outside world, living among themselves and protected by the forest, which was at the same time their habitat, their spiritual mother and their source of food.
However, for the past forty years, intense logging has been implemented in the Bipindi region, sinking deeper and deeper into the forest. This industrial logging is a threat to the life and survival of the Pygmy population.
Orient XIII, a new rugby league club in Cameroon, based in Bertoua (East Cameroon) will have a section dedicated to the First Nation peoples in Cameroon “Pygmies.”
Inspired by Indigenous involvement with rugby league in Australia in the NRL and other competitions, the Cameroon Rugby League (CRL) is taking an inclusive approach with their own First Nations peoples.
“For many years, the NRL has been a good platform where Australian Indigenous players can proudly promote their culture and more,” explained CRL General Manager, Carol Manga, who had a two season stint with the Cooma Stallions in the NSW Group 16 competition in 2009-10.
“CRL XIII would like to support the same approach for our First Nations peoples called the Pygmies, we are proud to be part of this concept, using rugby league as a tool to address the issues facing the first nations peoples in Cameroon.”
Cameroon National Head Coach Khalil Njoya has thrown his support behind the initiative pointing out the importance of inclusive activities in developing rugby league in the African country.
“Throughout the world there are many Indigenous people playing sports but here in Africa there are none.
“We have many ethnic groups but the most Indigenous and first inhabitants of Cameroon are the Pygmies.
“These are an amazing group of people who have managed to hold onto their culture and way of life and now they have accepted to welcome the greatest game of all in their midst.
“In Cameroon rugby league will be the very first sport to be played among the Pygmies and this is something extremely important to the development of the sport and shows that rugby league really is the most inclusive sport there is,” Njoya said.
The Cameroon Rugby League XIII competition recommenced recently, launching an inaugural women’s competition involving six clubs along with a three region men’s competition comprising seven sides, and the beginning of youth activity in two areas.
Cameroon has maintained a good relationship with the Cooma Stallions that has seen the Snowy Mountains club offering two young Cameroon players the chance to join them on a two-year training program.
Carol Manga has built plenty of interest in rugby league development in the African country leading to NSW Origin Coach Brad Fittler inviting him into camp in Canberra for a week when he was preparing Lebanon for the 2017 World Cup.