Footy 9s set to launch in Cameroon25 May 2023
It was a pleasure to sit down with Carol Manga and have a chat about his plans for Footy 9s in Cameroon. Carol’s sporting background is very impressive, becoming the first man to captain his country in rugby league, rugby union and rugby sevens.
“I was lucky to be born in Cameroon and represent my country as captain of the Indomitable Lions of Rugby! With years of experience and a career in Rugby Union, a sport I enjoyed in my childhood, my dream emerged making history as the youngest ever player to captain a Rugby Union National Team and the first African (excluding South Africa) to be granted a Sport Rugby Visa to Australia in 2008.”
It began, as so many football journeys do, with a jersey. Manga was 14 and like so many children growing up in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, he loved soccer.
“My mum bought me a rugby jersey, she just liked the colour because it was yellow and green, and it was an Australian jersey,” Manga says.
“My mum says she thinks it was fate. She knew there was something in my future, in my life, with Australia.
“That’s all I can say, it was fate. She believes that this is something I was born to do, because it was so easy for me to play football and understand.”
So, at 14, Manga took up a new sport and was immediately thrown into the fire, but he took on his new game quickly.
“I started playing rugby at 14, then when I was 16, I was the baby in the Cameroon national team. My first game was against Zambia.
My mum had to sign a paper so I would be allowed to play, and they had to have a doctor confirming that I could play with adults. But that was how we grew up. You just have to be a man.”
Moving to Australia
In 2008 at age 21, after securing a sporting visa, Manga landed in Canberra and was keen to continue playing, but struggled to acclimatise so far from home.
He’d never heard of rugby league before he watched the Canberra Raiders on TV soon after arriving, and shortly thereafter he decided to give it a go with the Cooma Stallions.
It’s difficult to imagine a more different place than Manga’s home. Yaounde is a bustling metropolis of almost three million people where the temperature rarely dips below 25C.
Cooma’s population is about 7000 strong and it’s as cold as you’d expect for a town that’s the gateway to the Snowy Mountains. Apart from its role in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme, it’s an easy place to miss on a map. But Manga loves Cooma, because the people there wrapped their arms around him the way country towns can do. It became a second home – he started playing first grade and reserve grade every week for the Stallions, and the team, the town and the game he found there changed his life forever.
“I struggled a lot and had a very hard time settling in Australia. But the club, the town – I don’t know if I would be the person I am today if they were not there for me,” Manga says.
“I am so grateful for the town and for the club, because they were amazing people who cared about me and showed me love and accepted me for who I am. That’s why I stayed in Australia.”
From there, Manga landed a deal with the Ipswich Jets in Queensland and went on to further stints with Gungahlin and Belconnen.
For the most part, local rugby was enough for Manga. Playing professionally was never his dream. All he wanted was to take this new sport he loved so much back to his home, which he did in 2012 when he helped form the Cameroon Rugby League XIII.
Manga has helped rugby league come a long way in Cameroon in a short time. Where once there was nothing, there are now eight men’s teams, with names like Yaounde Pandas, Air Garoua and Douala Gorillas.
There’s a women’s competition as well, which is five teams strong, as well as four youth teams. They’ve been promoted from observer status in 2017 to affiliate member status in 2019 by the IRL.
Manga also established rugby league in Cote D’Ivoire, they are now an observer of the IRL since 2020.
“Being in Australia has never changed my love for Cameroon, and the love for Australia has given me is something I want to take back to Cameroon. How I can connect both countries.”
Footy 9s in Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire
“As a proud Australian-African, my dream is to see Australia replicating their successful work established within the Asia Pacific region to Africa through sport. Now, I am about to add a new chapter in my legacy, introducing Footy 9s to Cameroon and Cote D’Ivoire.
Why Footy in Africa? Footy 9s is the game to play anywhere, anytime for everyone! So much fun with speed, strength, skill and agility in equal measure it is the most thrilling game to watch. It can also be played in the backyard. Footy 9s has huge potential and is perfect for Africa for us to play a huge part in shaping Australia’s national identity, a sense of national pride and serve as a bridge between nations.
I will never stop believing in Cameroon, or Australia or sport, my work will be off the field and for my people. I want to give them something, a gift I found so far from home, and I want them to find the things I found there. My work can never end. It is my cause. It is my fate and legacy for my children.”