The 1.82m young woman with broad, square shoulders and long braids trains several times a week with the men on a small rutted piece of land littered with holes in Nkol Anga, a poor neighborhood in the capital Yaoundé.
She does not hesitate to go into contact and take blows, to multiply the tackles. “It allows me to work a little more physically”, smiles Alvine, selected this year in the women’s national team of Cameroon. The rugbywoman is also a player in the Nfon Dreams Academy, one of the four Cameroonian women’s rugby clubs.
But in the land of the round ball which extolls Samuel Eto’o and Rigobert Song, the oval ball, even more so among women, struggles to exist. According to the Cameroon Rugby Federation, only 120 women are licensed.
“The young women who come to train are very motivated, but we lack the means”laments to AFP Landry Bissou Boaz, coach at the Nfon Dreams Academy. “We have chosen to focus on women’s rugby, to promote women in a so-called masculine activity, but it is very difficult”.
“Even my own family tells me that playing rugby does not bring me anything. But I tell them that it is my passion. I love rugby, I love my sport, I love what I do”supports Alvine Kuekam Maché, who alternates positions in the first, second and third row.
Obviously the young woman does not live from her passion. Even international, Alvine receives no salary, just a few bonuses. She lives with her mother, who sells grilled corn in the markets, with her three brothers and sisters in a small terracotta hut in Nkomo, a working-class district of Yaoundé.
The player had to face many reluctances from her mother in her practice of ovality. “I’m scared when she plays. If she ever gets hurt, no one helps her to heal herself”declares Marie-Claire Nyondzo, before conceding: “But I like to see her play.”
“My family considered it a very tough sport at first, but over time they ended up accepting that I practice it”says Marlyse Endalle, captain of the Red Dragon Rugby Club in Douala, the economic capital.
“Some parents consider it a violent sport that exposes their daughters to serious injuries”says Joseph Ndé, manager of the national women’s rugby team.
They also face received ideas. “I do not immediately tell a man about the sport I practice, it is still frowned upon in society and we are victims of prejudice”says Alvine Kuekam Maché, holding in her hands an aged oval ball, covered with earth.
In 2019, Cameroon, a country of around 30 million inhabitants, was ranked 141st out of 189 countries in terms of gender equality, according to a United Nations report. Women are only 6% in the government of President Paul Biya, 89, in power without sharing since 1982, and are only 8% at the head of the communes.
The players are counting on the next African Rugby Championship in Cameroon precisely to highlight their discipline. According to World Rugby, the governing body of world rugby, Cameroonians rank 26th out of 61 nations. Their male counterparts are in 104th place, out of 109.
At the beginning of July, a match for the account of the national championship opposed the Nfon Dreams Academy to the Red Dragon Rugby Club of Douala. Alvine’s team finally lost, conceding three tries. Several dozen spectators attended the confrontation, providing visibility to the discipline.
“It’s interesting to see women doing this sport. It’s really encouraging because it already takes away the idea that it’s a sport reserved for boys, that anyone can do it”enthuses Ornella Abolo, a student in Yaoundé.