I have on my desk a press cutting about an organization called ‘Les Enfants de l’Ovale-Maroc’ – EDOM – and it’s such a wonderful story that I shall do little more than repeat it here. Moroccan rugger has not really impinged on my consciousness these last four years, though there’s a field of waist-high buttercups in the Hilton Forest with posts at each end on which intrepid teams sometimes go out. Rugby was introduced of course by the French under the Protectorat, and has been intimately linked with France and Spain, where most of the best Moroccans play for league teams and quite a few – like the great second-row forward Abdelatif Benazzi, capped 78 times (below) – have played for France. But Morocco itself was a founder member of the African League in 1986, and has won it twice in the past decade, inserting itself into that other sphere of post-French rugby, francophone West Africa.
Anyway, I need little convincing that rugger is a sport that breeds virtues of determination, courage, teamwork and so on, as well as being enormous fun. EDOM was set up ten years ago at Mers El Kheir, near Temara, one of the ten poorest communes in Morocco, to harness those virtues to bettering the lot of the town’s children. The president of EDOM, Dr Mohammed Missoum, says that it is “un bel example d’ingénierie sociale dans l’action de lutte contre la précarité. Nous menons des actions dans le soutien scolaire, les activités artistiques, les practiques sportifs … surtout le rugby.” I should say that “un bel example” is exactly what it is.
EDOM has seen 4,000 children pass through its tutelage, and raised 7,000,000 dirhams in a decade. It has seen its boys and girls (it is committed to girls’ education and opportunity) go on to further education and medical school. Just as important, half the national rugby team are EDOM graduates, and all benefit from the “solidarité, respect, ésprit d’équipe et courage” which EDOM and rugger inculcate. Several African countries are looking to franchise this brilliant concept. A week ago, EDOM won the 11th Crown Prince Moulay Al Hassan championship.
A few weeks ago I was in Oxford, and watched my son walk out onto the pitch for the first time in a Blue jersey, for the University Under-20s. Like every father on the touchline I was bursting with ridiculously exaggerated pride. But I think after reading this piece in L’Economiste, I’d be just as proud to have seen my son running out onto the field at EDOM.