On a grass covered pitch in the Nkol Anga town in Yaoundé Cameroon, rugby players are training. Cameroon isn’t a region many would associate with this sport.
Despite the odds, Alvine Kuekam Mache fell in love with rugby. Jumping into the fray and pushing forward in the all-girl pack is nothing new, the athlete has devoted her time to this sport for the past 4 years.
Off the pitch, the 26-year-old fights the negative perception Cameroonians have on this sport.
“Every time, even in my own family, people say, ‘no, Alvine, you’ve been playing rugby for years, but it’s not paying off for you’. I tell them that it’s my passion, even though I didn’t start playing at an early age, I love rugby, I love my sport, I love what I do“, Alvine insists.
Gender and compensation bias
Despite her hard work and her international player status, she cannot earn a living thanks to her sports. She only receives bonuses. In the football nation where the likes of Samuel Etoo or Roger Mila are admired, other ball sports especially when women players are involved still suffer a gender and compensation bias.
“The young women who come to train are very motivated, but we lack financing,” Landry Bissou Boaz the coach at the Nfon Dreams Academy lamented. “We have chosen to focus on women’s rugby, to promote women in a so-called male activity, but it is very difficult.”
One game at a time, Alvine and her teammates of the Nfon Dreams Academy players fight prejudice against their sports. “There is a reluctance at first. Families are really reluctant but as players progress, they begin to accept it, despite themselves“, Coach Landry analyses. Larger audiences are attending more and more fixtures.
“Usually it’s the men we’re used to seeing doing this sport, Ornella Abolo a student who came to attend the matchgranted.It’s really encouraging because it shuts down the idea that rugby is a sport reserved for boys only. And that everyone can practice it.”
Women or men if an athlete wants to perform, injuries just like successes will be part of his career history. This fear of is one of the factors which prevented Alvine’s mother from giving her blessing at first.
“I get scared when she playsMarie-Claire Nyondzo explains. When she plays she comes back here with injured feet. She goes and sleeps over there, and nobody can help her.”
Alvine is not discouraged or afraid, like 119 other female rugby license-holders in Cameroon who give her all to her sports. Thanks to their efforts, Cameroon was ranked 2nd on the continent and 26th on the world stage in the latest World Rugby women’s rankings.