Intuitive, human and confident… These three characteristics perfectly define Emmanuel Henao, 45, entrepreneur, coach and rugby enthusiast. This team sport’s fundamentals and positive values are in the blood of this husband and father of four children.
He started playing rugby union when he was still a little boy. “I was quiet and thoughtful, but I think I’ve always liked this team spirit and collective battle. I’m not a fighter”, he says. However, he’s always really enjoyed tackling players, supporting his teammates and pushing with them. Emmanuel Henao then played at boarding school and university. “Having moved homes so many times, I was never able to play this sport for any length of time in the same place. Where I played the most was in Senegal with the SenfoutleScore club for 6 seasons”, he adds.
Indeed it was in that country that he developed a genuine club spirit, with a community of rugby enthusiasts, a rugby school, a senior team, a veteran team, events and tournaments. In other words everything that makes a club. “One of the moments I like the most in sport is when, at the final whistle, the players who have fought each other hard during 80 minutes all congratulate each other and acknowledge the efforts everyone has put in”.
Based in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) since January 2015, Emmanuel created the CRAC (Cocody Rugby Abidjan Club) to pass on his passion to his own and other people’s children. He coaches young people between the ages of 6 and 18. Their parents aren’t necessarily rugby fans, but attracting new players is generally done by word of mouth.
“I got here in January 2015, I looked for a field to play on, and in April that year we organised the first training session with two fathers as coaches and 6 children. By the start of the 2017-2018 season, we had signed up more than 140 children”. The training sessions take place at the Lycée Classique secondary school in Cocody on Fridays from 5 to 6.30 pm.
A strong value that I like is the reality of relationships with others. You cannot cheat or hide on a rugby pitch.
After 7 years in Senegal and after having launched his startup, Côte d’Ivoire was an obvious choice for Emmanuel Henao: an open market, a growing economy, a culture of diversity and a vibrant society. “It seemed to me to be a pivotal step. In just a few weeks I was established and working”.
His ability to easily adapt comes no doubt from his rather eclectic professional background. “I’ve worked in media and communication in England and around the world. I’ve been an international consultant for firms such as PWC and organisations like the European Commission. I’ve worked in the humanitarian sector in Africa”.
Emmanuel has also created a startup, a professional social network, and developed the Jokkolabs initiative in Côte d’Ivoire, and today he heads and is developing two businesses: NoosAfrica, a public relations firm, and Smart Metrix, a strategic coaching and consulting firm.
You can see that Emmanuel Henao works in areas where human contact and the development of others are an integral part of the system. The wonderful values embodied by rugby – cohesion, solidarity, courage, respect, friendship, commitment, willpower and determination – are the same as those that govern the professional activities in which he operates.
With his rugby club, the CRAC, Emmanuel has a very clear vision. He wants to develop an associative spirit because he firmly believes in virtues like commitment and service. “The children have to deal with domestic and school education systems… education through commitment and membership of a community, through a club, complements this.
The relationship between adults and children is fuelled by a common practice, a shared interest in rugby in a spirit of volunteering and charity. The modern world is highly ‘monetised’, and this has a significant effect on relations between each other. Moreover, top-level sport around the world relies first and foremost on amateur sport, training, a club spirit and volunteer work. Creating a club for children is investing in top-level sport in Côte d’Ivoire and throughout Africa”.
Emmanuel can already be proud of what he has achieved with his club over the last few years. “More than trophies, our greatest success is having helped revive the rugby school training and competition momentum in Côte d’Ivoire”, he says with a smile.
This year, he organised the third CRAC Tournament involving 650 children from all around Côte d’Ivoire. It is the only national tournament for rugby schools.
To play rugby you need technical equipment (balls, cones, rucking shields, etc.) and a field where players can tackle and roll around. Emmanuel Henao says that the biggest challenge in Côte d’Ivoire is the pitch infrastructure. It’s a genuine topic of public policy.
“Rugby in Côte d’Ivoire is experiencing a virtuous cycle. The level is still relatively weak in terms of this sport’s quality of play, training and management, but efforts have been undertaken. Unless policy makers give sport the resources it needs to develop via adequate and equipped playing areas, we will fail to make the most of our immense potential”.
Despite this rather grim assessment, Emmanuel Henao confirms that relations with the FIR (Fédération Ivoirienne de Rugby, the country’s rugby federation) are good. “Unfortunately, we don’t have as much time to meet other clubs and other coaches as we’d like”.
Emmanuel Henao has big ambitions. Amongst the projects he intends to launch this year is the Smart Sports Agency, whose purpose will be to support projects that encourage people do become involved in sport, whether amateur or topflight, and to coach those involved in sport (executives, managers and sportspeople) to help them perform better. “The Smart Sports Agency will also look at the sports value chain in Africa and the notion of entrepreneurship in sport”, he states.
To end, he wants to develop a digital platform called “Les Faiseurs de Sport” (kingmakers in sport), which will identify all those actively involved in organising sport, in the shape of testimony and portraits. “We want to show policy makers that, if they’re truly intent on it, the human resources and enthusiasts are there to advance the cause of sport”, he concludes.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”: Emmanuel Henao, this entrepreneur and rugby player, has definitively made this Gandhi quote his own.