Africa can be a powerhouse region for women's rugby league
Hilaria Wuaku is studying for her masters’ degree in Communications Studies at the University of Ghana, Legon in Accra, Ghana. She is a photographer, graphic designer, videographer, writer, and doubles as the communication manager for the Rugby League Federation Ghana (RLFG) – she also plays rugby league and loves it.
Hilaria took up the game in 2019 when she freely admits that she didn’t know that rugby league existed. She was taking photographs of matches and admiring the athletes playing the game. She couldn’t understand how they could play with so much energy and still manage to chase down the pitch – so she decided to have a go herself and that is where she takes up the story:
“I was amazed at what the players were doing in the games, I could only imagine what it was like so I decided that I should try it for myself. If nothing else, it would help with fitness and keep me healthy and strong.
“We recruited several women and set about learning this game. We knew that the contact would be a problem due to the perception that women would get hurt so we developed our activities through touch, then tag and eventually to grip tackles. It was then that player power came in. The coaches were happy to leave us at that level but, increasingly the players wanted to play contact and to learn the full game. Now, you couldn’t stop them from playing – they love it.
“We are growing all the time, at present, it is 9 aside, but we are moving quickly towards 13 aside.”
RLF Ghana became an affiliate member of the International Rugby League in November 2020, and they are motoring on. The women’s competition includes four clubs and when the men organised a representative series, they invited the women to play a “curtain-raiser”.
Hilaria continues the story, “That quickly got upgraded, due to popular demand, to full-contact matches in the three-game series. This has been a great journey so far and we are set to continue. We have to take time to develop the sport but that builds confidence in the women and just as importantly, it empowers them to the point where they are making decisions and demanding to make progress.”
Rugby League is growing quickly across the Middle East Africa Region (MEA) and international competition for the women looks likely if they can get the funding in place to support travel.
“Cameroon is the leader in this part of the world, but we and Nigeria are not far behind. We are all looking at the qualification process for Rugby League World Cup 2025 and that is a realistic target for Ghana, but we know that we face stiff opposition.”
We face plenty of obstacles – rugby league is not well known here, and it is difficult sometimes to get women to take participation in sport seriously, however, we take our time, we build confidence and challenge perceptions, and we will be a strong rugby league nation and MEA will be a powerhouse region.”
The final round of the Ghana Origin Series took place 100 years and 2 days after the first-ever game played in Sydney. Those pioneers in Sydney would be proud.