Jacques Burger has launched a withering attack on the self-interests holding back the development of Namibia rugby. The celebrated former Saracens back row was capped 36 times and played in three World Cup for his country.
However, having moved back to the African countryside following his retirement from playing in England, the 36-year-old has grown increasingly furious with the lack in initiative shown by the Namibian Rugby Union in laying proper foundations for the long-term growth of the sport.
Speaking from his farm in the Kalahari desert, Burger used an appearance on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series fronted by Jim Hamilton, to unload his grievances with Namibia rugby authorities.
“It’s been tough,” he said about how his trenchant views have been received by local administrators after a stellar career in the Premiership. “I have been a bit outspoken since getting back just because I’m retired now and I have got free range to say what I want to say, what is wrong and what is right.
“I believe we have so much talent. It’s in our DNA. We love playing rugby. There are only 2.5million people in the country but we have got rugby in us and not enough is being done to grow the game. There is a vast country, there is a lot of towns far apart.
“There are townships, nothing is being done to get those less fortunate, kids who grow up on the street or kids who haven’t been exposed to the game of rugby, who don’t own TVs and stuff like that. Nobody goes out there and puts back in these kids and gets them involved in the game.
“I worked in Kenya two or three years ago and that was amazing,” continued Burger, contrasting his dismay with Namibia rugby’s lax attitude and the progress in another African country. “Where we were in Nairobi, it was the poorest of the poor. You drive by and a goat’s head is being cut off right next to you in the street and it’s vultures all over, very, very quirky. Kids come to school and most of their clothes are ripped.
“We basically put in a training week and got a couple of kids involved, just testing them in rugby. They had never seen it in their lives and within a week I saw how many kids loved it, how they enjoyed the game. For me that is what rugby is, the values of it, specifically respect, and you teach them to listen, to respect each other and work hard, all those things that you can take into life. Especially in poorer areas.
“That is what I would like to do in Namibia as well, go into areas like that and before you open your eyes, in ten, 20 years there will be some amazing stories, guys coming out of the poorest of townships wherever they grew up and becoming superstars just because something stuck. Somebody put something into them. Rugby has the power to do that.
“The frustrating thing for me is nothing is being done. The union don’t make good appointments. When Phil Davies joined us things changed massively. Phil was really good for us. He has a professional view on things and you need those guys – we [Namibia] haven’t got the know-how to do it.
“It’s one thing to say you have got a level three coaching certificate but if you haven’t been involved in the set-up in a professional team, played professional matches or been to World Cups, if you haven’t got that experience it doesn’t mean much.”
Burger wants Namibia rugby officials to start laying better foundations. “Development-wise is where it needs to start. World Rugby does give us an opportunity and they are fed up. They have been giving us funds for years now and rugby is going backwards. I look at teams like Georgia, they are a different level.
“We have got people willing to give money but they don’t want to give it to the NRU so it has been frustrating, I want to get involved wherever I can get involved but I’m not willing to work with people who are selfish, who want to do it for themselves, who want to go on the next trip and get the glory of getting kit or whatever the case may be, or just saying ‘I’m a coach’ or ‘I’m a president’, whatever.
“I want guys who believe Namibian rugby can win a game at the World Cup, or go through to the next round, make top 15 in the world which is possible. There are good rugby players. They just need to be invested in and they need someone with a vision who can go out there, grow the game and believe in it.
“For too long people have been quiet and afraid of their name getting tainted. What I have done in rugby, it’s done. Now I need to use that to make a difference over here. I can’t do it if there are not enough selfless people around me who want to see Namibia flourish out in the world.
“That’s the tough part that we have to cross. I won’t be quiet. We will get the right people eventually. I’m just afraid it’s going to take its toll on rugby in Namibia. Hopefully, positive things happen and we will move in the right direction.”
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