Les Bleus legend Serge Betsen was capped 63 times for France, played 172 games for Biarritz Olympique and a further 79 for London Wasps. As well as running his own charity, Serge Betsen Academy, Serge heads up the RBN in France. Below, he answers our questions on his love of rugby and his new passion.
What led you to become a professional rugby player?
I started playing in 1983 when I was 12 and the sport was still fully amateur. What hit me immediately was the values of the community, where people would often take time to share their passion with me and that really drew me into the sport.
I enjoyed that social aspect and after several months learning the rules of the game and the spirit of team work I started to fall in love with the game. I relished the challenge and the fact I could share it with my friends, so I made a commitment to myself to play the sport at the highest level I possibly could.
What inspired you to create Serge Betsen Academy?
After 14 years of marriage, I returned to Cameroon to show my wife the place where I grew up. I realized that rugby had brought many benefits to my life and it was time for me to give something back to the community where I started my journey. On the way back I decided to create a charity.
The idea was to use rugby as a vehicle to help kids go to school and get medical care.
Could you give me an insight into the various initiatives organized for the communities in Cameroon?
We have areas in Cameroon where children don’t have easy access to schools. The reality of life for these kids is that they have to walk hours to reach their school and often work in the fields before and after school to earn their food.
What we try to do is give them opportunities. We pay their scholarship or help them with teachers to guide them through their subjects. We also provide food to allow them to concentrate on their studies.
Alongside the educational assistance, we inspire them to take up rugby to get them active and to help with issues like confidence and social skills.
Do you have any inspiring stories about the lives you’ve influenced through the organization?
A youngster at our academy, Philip, who contracted meningitis at a very young age leaving him deaf and mute, has managed to get a degree in artisanal work thanks to the support of Serge Betsen Academy. With our help we hope he should have successfully established his business by the start of 2017.
We’ve been with him since he was six and it’s been incredibly rewarding to see his progress. His story is an inspiration to us all and gives us the motivation we need to continue to do our best for these kids.
How has your involvement with the RBN benefited your organization?
I’ve been involved with RBN since the time it began and it’s a great way for rugby players to help businesses and organizations, and vice versa. My charity has benefited from its exposure to and relationships with senior business people who we would not otherwise have met. The RBN helps promote our causes and several members have made telling contributions.
The growth potential for the RBN and rugby as a whole is massive and we will continue to work closely with the network.
What advice would you give to the current generation of aspiring rugby players?
Firstly, I would like to congratulate each and every one of them on being passionate about the best sport in the world. Secondly, they need to do everything possible to understand the game and its values to make the most of their potential.
I wasn’t the tallest; I wasn’t the fastest; I wasn’t the strongest; but I did believe in myself.