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Serge Betsen talks to FranceinLondon about his Foundation : 'I owed it to myself to do something'
A 20-year brilliant career, 63 caps with the XV de France, 3 French championship titles and 3 VI Nations Tournaments including 2 Grand Slams won. Figures speak for themselves : Serge Betsen is definitely a rugby sensation. But la Faucheuse (the Grim Reaper), the nickname he was given as he is renowned as one of the most fearless tacklers, is also the founder of a charity which provides school and medical facilities to Cameroonian children. And on 25 February 2011, the Serge Betsen Academy will host a charity dinner at the Hilton Park Lane in aid of his foundation. As a great fan of violent tackles, virile scrums, broken noses, black eyes, but also charity ambitious projects, Franceinlondon was only too happy to perform its journalistic duties and interview this 'Grand Monsieur'.
Click here to get more information about this exceptional Charity Dinner to Support Serge Betsen's Charities
A 20-year brilliant career
Born in 1974 in Kumba, Cameroon, Serge Betsen spent 9 years of his childhood there before moving to France. He then went on to become a professional player with Biarritz in 1996, where he played for 12 seasons. 'In Biarritz I became a professional rugby player, but also a man : I got married, I became a father...' he says, providing some explanation towards his passionate love-story with the Basque city. At the same time, he also became a regular starter on the national team, having a key role in all of the French team's successful campaigns in the VI Nations Tournament. In 2002, 2004, and 2005, he distinguished himself with great performances against English superstar Johnny Wilkinson, relentlessly chasing him in each part of the field. But matches against England are not a good memory for Betsen : in the 2003 and 2007 World Cup semi-finals, England and its golden-footed Wilko defeated Betsen's France. Surprisingly enough, these two losses made him want to discover English rugby, 'to understand why we lost'. Thus, Serge Betsen crossed La Manche to be signed by the London Wasps in 2008. 'It was completely new for me. Although we had a very intensive physical preparation in Biarritz, I could hardly believe what I did in London. The priority here is to be in a good shape. And this is why the game is physically so taxing'. And ironically, in London he plays with some of his most redoubtable opponents : Phil Vickery and Simon Show for instance. 'Of course my English team-mates tease me a lot, but we also have a lot of respect for each other'.
But Serge Betsen's great achievements are not just confined to the turf. In 2004, Serge Betsen created his own academy for Cameroonian children. And he is definitely not one of these sportsmen who pretend to get involved in charities by contenting themselves with a role of prestigious figurehead. His involvement has really paid off, as his foundation is now providing 200 Cameroon children with education and life skills through rugby. And Serge Betsen's next project is undoubtedly as ambitious as winning a World Cup : hosting 'an exceptional gastronomic feast' at the Hilton Park Lane, designed by 2 Michelin Starred Chef Michel Roux Jr, to raise funds to support the 4 centres of his foundation. This is why, whether he retires at the end of the season or not, 36-year old Serge Betsen will undoubtedly remain as a highly respectable and exemplary player.
The Charity Involvement
Could you give us more details about the charity dinner you will be hosting on 25th February 2011 ?
'The Committee and I want to associate the best of French and English foods during an exceptional gastronomic feast designed by 2 Michelin Starred Chef, Michel Roux Jr. It will be held at the Hilton Park Lane on 25 February 2011, one day before the International Rugby Match England-France, part of the VI Nations Tournament.
Why did you decided to organize such a big event ?
We will celebrate the best moments of my 20-year rugby career, including the numerous matches I played against England. My London Wasps team-mates will attend the diner, as well as former great rugby players Phil Vickery MBE, Raphael Ibanez, Fabien Galthié, Lawrence Dallaglio OBE, Frank Mesnel, and Thomas Castaignede. And, last but not least : my main goal is to raise funds to Support my charities.
Can you introduce the charities you are supporting ?
The Committee supports two charities through their work:
Fight for Sight : it fights against blindness and eye disease by providing treatments. The goal is to make people live better with their disease.
Serge Betsen Academy : it provides 200 Cameroon children with education and life skills through rugby. Since it was created in 2004, children from deprived areas have been enjoying this educational sport. Thanks to the values of rugby, they are more likely to become responsible adults, and more able to face their problems. This is crucial to me. And now 4 structures are owned by the Serge Betsen Academy:
- Yaoundé: the academy's heart with 70 children aged between 6 and 20
- The Rosy Centre : providing tutorial to 16 children
- «L’Eau Claire» Centre : with 70 children
- The orphanage Zana, hosting 18 children
Why and when did you decide to be so involved ?
My cousin told me that young Cameroonian people were playing rugby. When I heard about it I decided to help them by sending shirts and balls. As I had not gone back to Cameroon since I was 9, I was really deeply moved when I finally went back to Yaoundé in 2001. And then I saw these teenagers playing rugby : I could hardly believe it. I did not remember anything like that, as football was the main sport in my area of Biemassy when I was a child. This is why I decided to get involved. And my goal is now to make my charity durable and to develop it.
Click here to get more information about this exceptional Charity Dinner to Support Serge Betsen's Charities and for further details about the Serge Betsen Academy visit its wesbite.
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