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Raising the flag of rugby high in Namibia and across the African continent, Rugby Africa’s (www.RugbyAfrique.com) Unstoppable Christel Janet (CJ) Kotze is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Handpicked as one of 12 leading women in rugby on the African continent as part of Rugby Africa’s #Unstoppables, the Absolute Rugby producer and coach is certainly a beacon of inspiration to women in the game.
Twenty-seven-year-old Kotze was born with the game in her blood, having watched former Namibia international wing and her dad Jaco Kotze during his training sessions. Joining the sport back in 2013, she formed part of a historic moment for Namibian ladies in 2014, when she made the cut for the country’s first ever national women’s rugby team. With lots of learnings coming off the team’s first play in the 2014 Africa Women’s Sevens in Kenya, Kotze grabbed 2015 with gust as she led her team and tasted a win in the Africa Women’s Sevens tournament held in South Africa.
‘The 2015 tournament in South Africa had a different energy around it. The squad felt stronger, the belief in the team was bigger. Something was telling us that this tournament was going to be better than the previous year. It was in game two of day one where everything just came together. I was in the right place at the right time. I got the ball on the right wing and just did what was expected of me. I found the gap and I ran as if my life depended on it, scoring the try under the post. Just moments later I managed to convert the try. It was only after the game that I realised what had happened and how big it was!’
Noting that it has been a struggle to get the game back on its feet, Kotze said that it only started picking up in 2019 when a group of people who passionately believed in women’s rugby, pushed forward resulting in the formation of regional teams. By the start of 2020, there were three distinctive teams in the central area of Namibia. Today there are currently six senior women’s rugby teams countrywide.
‘The future of the game in Namibia seems to be bright once again, with more schoolgirls taking an interest in the game, meaning on a grassroots level the game is growing. This in turns feeds into clubs and eventually the national side is growing. Hopefully with this the Namibian national women’s team can once again step up and become a contender at African cups and not just as a participant in the next two years.’
With aspirations to become the first national coach of the women’s national team, Kotze is currently coaching on both Club and high school level, following an ACL injury that led her to trade in her rugby boots for a rugby whistle. As the first woman in Namibia to attain her 7’s level 2 coaching certificate in 2019, Kotze admitted that the biggest challenge that women’s rugby is faced with is the stigma surrounding women in the sport.
‘While coaching the boys at Orban, it is safe to say that it did not come easy. In the beginning it was hard trying to convince fathers – who are experts in the game in their own right- that two ladies could coach their boys. However, we stuck through it and yes at first, we did not win but the skill level and understanding of the game the boys had was clear and with each passing year the wins started rolling in. In the last two years, as the boys approached a big tour, a few fathers joined us to help hold tackle bags and just generally help where needed. Slowly their perspective changed about women coaching boys. I think the biggest lesson I learned through coaching the boys is to keep believing in your vision even if others do not see it or believe it. Keep believing in yourself.’
Rugby Africa General Manager, Coralie van den Berg, said that Kotze epitomised what an Unstoppable stood for. ‘Through the Unstoppable project, Rugby Africa is raising the profile and promoting women in rugby for a sustained change in the perception and diversity of the sport. An area that needs a special focus is the representation of female coaches and match officials as this is very low. Kotze is truly aiding in this focus area and is excelling in her coaching expertise. Her found love for coaching and her stance to give young boys and girls a real shot at a good rugby future is remarkable.’
Rugby Africa Women’s Rugby Manager, Maha Zaoui said that Kotze was a shining example of leading women in rugby within Africa. ‘CJ truly stands heads and shoulders with her male peers. Through her contribution and determination, we certainly could see a future national coach taking her team all the way to the Rugby World Cup. It is exactly her passion and deep love for the game that we need to light the path for future women in rugby.’
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Rugby Africa.
N: Lerato Chiyangwa
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Women’s Ruby in Africa:
On the African continent, women’s rugby has seen tremendous growth. In the last decade it increased from 50 000 female players in 2012, to over 260 000 in 2018 and 350 000 in 2020.
For this tremendous growth to continue, strong leadership in women’s rugby needs to continue, the Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship is one of the tools that will enable this.
Africa will also be well represented when South Africa participates in the next rugby World Cup women in New Zealand in 2021 and Kenya in the Olympic Games.
About Rugby Africa:
Created in 1986, Rugby Africa, previously the African Confederation of Rugby (Confédération Africaine de Rugby – CAR), is one of the six regional associations composing World Rugby (www.WorldRugby.org), the international organization responsible for the governing of Rugby Union and Rugby Sevens. Rugby Africa unites all African countries which play rugby union, rugby sevens, and women’s rugby. Rugby Africa organizes the qualifying competition for the Rugby World Cup, and Africa Sevens, a qualifying competition for the Olympic Games. Rugby Africa has 39 members.