As the world celebrates International Women’s Day and the dynamic women who have and continue to excel in their fields in all sectors, it is fitting that we celebrate one of Rugby Africa’s women leaders (www.RugbyAfrique. com), Paula Lanco – a Member of Rugby Africa Exco and Chair of the newly formed Women’s Rugby Advisory Committee (WRAC).
In this Q&A, Paula takes us on a journey to where she is today and gives other women who aspire to follow in her footsteps advice on what it takes to become a true leader.
As an Executive Member of Rugby Africa and Chair of the Women’s Rugby Advisory Committee (WRAC), how important is International Women’s Day to you?
It is a very important day, especially for women leaders. Now is the time to take stock of our progress, review what is working, and restructure for better and stronger performance in the future.
It is also the time to celebrate those who have and continue to do so much for our game, including the men who support us, and in our case, being led by our President Khaled Babbou and Vice President Andrew Awor, among others. members of Rugby Africa EXCO and management.
It is a day to renew its commitment, embrace, support and defend the agenda of women on and off the field.
What inspires and drives you in the roles you currently occupy in rugby?
I believe in the power of action, especially when it seems like the odds are stacked against us. This is amply demonstrated by the impact that the benefactors of our Women in Leadership Scholarships have and continue to have at the local level, and even more so by the growing number of women Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Union in Africa. .
I believe in the power of sport to change and improve lives, and it shows in the many ‘Beyond Sports’ initiatives we are rolling out this year, especially through our women’s rugby ambassadors, the Unstoppables.
Equally important, I believe in the power of women to engage and their ability to rise to the occasion when called upon, and as such, in the excitement of co-opting more. women in rugby leadership on our WRAC committee and subcommittees.
This aspect drives and inspires me to do and want more for our women in rugby and my quest continues to push for a better future for our girls and women on and off the pitch.
How long have you been involved in rugby and give us a brief description of your journey up to this point?
I was first co-opted as a member of the very first Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) Women’s Committee in 2011, then I was co-opted as the Director of the KRU Board of Directors and responsible for women’s rugby in Kenya.
In 2013 we made history as a union when I was named the first woman to be duly elected and as such I broke the glass ceiling, paving the way for more women to join. ex officio as duly elected members.
I also chaired the community rugby committee and sat on the finance and administration committee during my time at KRU.
I finished my term in 2017 and upon leaving the KRU Board of Directors, I started RUCKiT Girls Rugby Kenya in 2017 in order to be continually involved in the growth and development of women’s football at the local level.
I continue to do this, and this year we launched the RUCKiT Queens Women’s Rugby Team which made their first appearance at the recently launched KRU Women’s Festival on Sunday February 28th.
In 2019 I was duly elected as a member of Rugby Africa and in August 2020 I was elected by Rugby Africa EXCO to form and chair the very first Women’s Rugby Advisory Board.
It was a humbling journey filled with many life lessons, great learnings and also great memories.
We have traveled the world to represent our sport and fly our country’s flag with pride.
What no one sees though is the blood, tears and sweat it took to build the brand that proudly presents itself today as Kenya Lionesses, and this creates a special bond between me and players to date.
While you are leading and being judged by the public in matters of rugby, I have learned to manage in private – which on many occasions has greatly misunderstood me.
This strategy, however, kept me focused, and like when I was released, we were participating in international invitational games; launched the historic Girls of 7 tournament in our public high schools; had over 2,000 girls and women playing rugby; formed ten women’s clubs and teams and launched our local women’s league. We also hosted the very first African Women’s Rugby Confederation (RCA) tournament in the EA region, and by the grace of God our daughters competed in the first Olympics in 2016.
To top it off, in 2014 and 2015 Rugby Africa (then RCA) and World Rugby recognized Kenya Women’s Rugby as the best race in the region. This was confirmed by the Women’s SOYA Awards 1 and 2 won in 2013 and 2014.
I can really say that while the trip might not be easy, it is definitely worth it.
What do you love most about rugby?
Our ability to use sport, especially when you start early, as an entry into communities and to touch and impact life for the better.
Just like music, sport is a universal language and rugby in particular, and what a great tool to present rugby as a way to build confidence and help shape our next generation of players, while also building character.
What advice would you give to women aspiring to enter rugby as players or in management positions?
In fact, you will be misunderstood.
There will be many who will tell you it’s a man’s game.
There will be many who will tell you that it cannot be done.
There will be many who will use your choice to join rugby leadership to tarnish your name, reputation and tear you apart.
But despite this and looking at the road traveled in women’s rugby, I tell you, look at those who have come before you and attract courage.
Stay true to your intentions, your calling, your game and be counted because you can and because you have the right to be here.
What is your vision of women in rugby in the next 10 years?
In the words of Maggie Alphonsi, “Rugby is a sport, not a genre”.
As such, my vision is to see African rugby women compete against each other on the world stage and, just as important, that our girls and boys benefit from equal pay, preparation and opportunity – at the both on and off the field.
Short Link: https://wp.me/pcj2iU-3ydS
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