Sports have the ability to bring together people from different backgrounds. Total strangers with nothing else in common are drawn together under the banner of a club crest and a passion and commitment to their respective teams. And while each sport has its fan base, Zambian rugby supporters are among the most passionate of all.
It was therefore, no surprise to see many from the rugby community turn up in high numbers for the unveiling of the new national rugby team jersey. It was an opportunity for rugby fans to connect, drawn together by a shared love of the game.
Patrons were unfazed by the cold weather as they enjoyed their Windhoek Draught, supplied by event and national team sponsors Namibia Breweries Limited. As Diamond Sponsors of the Zambia Rugby Union (ZRU), Namibia Breweries, through their distributors, Kazuma Enterprises, have been key in the resurgence of the national team in recent years
While performance on the rugby field is usually the catalyst for fan engagement, the availability of replica jerseys for fans matters as well. Being able to show up to a game in a national team jersey brings a real and tangible boost to morale. Noble Chisanga, a fan and the head of the ZRU secretariat braved the chilly weather to get his hands on the new jersey. “For the past couple of years we’ve not had replica jerseys on the market. Namibia Breweries coming on board has allowed for jerseys to enter the market and spread across the country. It’s something we are proud of,” Noble said.
The kit launch held at The Arena, attracted a sizeable crowd. Many who were active players, whether professional or casual. Many, like myself, who evidently hadn’t stepped on a sports field in several years. Many, like fan and administrator Henry Shikopa, who has been a fan of the local game for almost three decades were happy to attend the upbeat event and celebrate the growth of rugby in Zambia.
Those who have followed the fortunes of Zambian teams will recall that at the turn of the century there was a period of relative strength. However, due to various economic challenges affecting the nation sponsorship became scarce for the sport, negatively affecting the performance of the national team and local clubs.
Henry told me: “Lately the trajectory has been on the up, compared to the mid-2000s. We’ve started winning tournaments. We are now hosting tournaments that we had stopped hosting, especially in 7s. This is mainly due to Namibia Breweries’ sponsorship. We’re becoming more competitive against our African opponents.”
Zambia recently qualified for the Gold Cup. Africa, at 15s level, is divided into gold, silver and bronze categories. Zambia had for many years languished in the Bronze Cup. The upswing in performance has seen a rise through the ranks. The national teams can now legitimately count the likes of Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia as genuine rivals. The milestones don’t just stop there. Brigadier-General Clement Sinkamba, the ZRU president was quick to shine a light on Zambia’s qualification for the most recent Commonwealth Games.
For this reason, everyone was in good cheer at the kit launch. As the music played through the speakers the excited chatter of fans and sponsors could be heard. Some analysed the performance of their teams while others made predictions for upcoming matches.
One of the first to the podium was Namibia Breweries Managing Director Hendrik van der Westhuizen. As a Diamond Sponsor of ZRU, Namibia Breweries have done a lot to support the national teams. In their third year of sponsorship Hendrik is happy to see the game develop to higher levels. Namibia Breweries, as well as being sponsors, have used their connections and experience in the game to help facilitate skills development as well as organising the tours of various teams from the region. The tests to the local lads has helped sharpen their skills and prepare them for competitions.
“Last year we had a combined team between the Tafel Lager Griquas and a Namibian team. This year we will have both. And then there is an opportunity for us to hold clinics, for people to meet at these platforms, specifically coaches and administrators. We’re looking at making opportunities available to Zambian players in Namibia and South Africa. At the end of the day it goes beyond visibility of the brand. We want to promote rugby. Cape Town 7s
has been attended by 40,000 people over the years. We want to see Zambian 7s grow over the years. Then over time we want to see us hit 10,000 to 15,000 spectators, providing a bigger platform for the athletes.”
The kit boldly displays the Zambian national colours. The green, black and copper orange is unmistakably and proudly Zambian.
“It was a break from the traditional retro designs,” explained Ronnel of Fortress Sports Gear, the jersey manufacturers. Made with high-tech polyester and using modern sublimation printing, the Windhoek Draught-bearing jersey is impressive. “The design strongly embraces our bold Zambian colours, presenting them in a contemporary manner. We hope our fans will love it as much as we do.”
These are optimistic times for Zambian rugby. The potential is enormous and our local teams are aiming high and have the support of Namibian Breweries and a committed fan base. The support was evidenced by those who turned out for the launch of the new jersey – kindred spirits with a common love for the game.