Lack of focus by federations cost us medals, says Mitali
Just weeks ago, two Rwandan delegations to the summer games held in London— the 2012 Olympics and the Paralympics Games— returned to the country, once again, empty-handed. Bonnie Mugabe, The New Times’ Senior Sports Reporter, interviewed Sports and Culture Minister, Protais Mitali, who takes us through the plan to revamp the sports sector.
Below are the excerpts.
For the first time, Rwanda managed to have seven athletes qualify for the London Olympic Games in different categories. What is your impression on the national team?
The impression on the participation of Rwanda in the 2012 London Olympic Games is positive because, for the first time, this is when we had the biggest number of athletes (4/7) that qualified to participate in the Games.
The other three athletes participated on wild cards, which is different from the previous Olympic Games, where all the athletes participated on invitation.
How do you rate their participation in the Games? Are you satisfied with their performance?
We are not satisfied by the performance but we are happy they did participate on merit. Happy because their participation helped the athletes gain experience, learn from their mistakes, and prepare to improve their performance in the future. It is also good for us all to see where things went wrong and reposition ourselves to go beyond just participation but also win medals and we believe this is possible. We are investing in their development to achieve that but we call upon all partners to support us as we move forward.
Rwanda has been perennial underachievers in the history of the Olympics, while countries like Kenya and Uganda with whom we share the same altitude (which is said to always steer their athletes to success) have won medals on different international arenas, why has Rwanda always failed?
It is true that Rwanda has not yet won any medal in Olympic Games. This is due to a number of factors but the major one has always been lack of a clear focus, especially on the part of the federations. In some cases they want to just participate in international tournaments without even preparing their athletes; this cannot help us.
What measures will you employ to enable Rwanda end her medal drought during 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro?
We are working with federations to make sure that they have proper planning to identify young talents and nurture them into professional athletes ready to compete, both locally and internationally.
We have undertaken a process to review sports policy to ensure that different areas identified with gaps are filled i.e. management capacity of federations, put in place a system of identifying talents and develop them, increasing competitions for athletes to gain experience and training of our coaches.
We are working very closely with the Ministry of Education and other partners to ensure that sport in schools gets more attention. Because of resource limitation, we are trying to identify the areas where we have competitive advantages and focus more energy on them. So, there are many strategies being implemented to close the identified gaps and the ministry will work with all partners to make sure they are implemented.
How far have you gone to implement them?
Implementation is at different levels, some are just starting and others are at advanced stages. For example, the systems of talent identification has started in most sports disciplines and this goes with development of those named talents, development of coaches, strengthening of management capacity of federations to be able to implement sports development programmes and enhance accountability, to mention but a few.
Should we focus on one sporting discipline as a way of creating a niche to be able to win medals at international competitions?
As a ministry, we are looking at promoting all sports disciplines to give opportunity to Rwandans to participate in sports of their choice. But for professional sports, we want to concentrate on those we think we have competitive advantage over others such as football, basketball, volleyball, cycling, tennis and sport for persons with disabilities.
Sport is a marketing tool and countries like Jamaica, Cuba, even neighbours Uganda and Kenya have benefited a lot from it. What is sport to you?
I agree that sport is a marketing tool for the country. Sport is also an excellent tool in social mobilisation and community cohesion as well as a contributor to economic development. Our plan is to make sure that Rwanda’s sport is promoted to help achieve all the goals we have stated here and those that are not mentioned.
Our country has achieved a lot over the past 18 years in different sectors and I am with no doubt that we will reach where we want to be in sports.
With government’s support to clubs and national teams and yet no tangible results have been realised, what plans do you have to revamp the sport sector?
Although we still have much to do, some tangible results have been achieved: World Cup in seat ball, gold medals in Francophone Games and All Africa Games medals, Gold medal in Junior African Beach Volley Championship, participation of Rwanda U17 football team in the final competition FIFA World Cup 2011, etc. Development is a process and the strategies mentioned above are aimed at enhancing what has already been achieved. Strategies such as; enhancing collaboration with different partners, strengthening governance system of federations, setting up a systematic talent detection and development, system increasing competitions for athletes, capacity development of technical staff like coaches, proper planning and implementation of plans, are all aimed at maximizing results and increasing our level of performance.
Where do you see Rwanda in the next six years as far as sports is concerned?
In the next six years, Rwanda will be one of the recognised African nations with strong clubs and national teams. Significant progress of professionalism will have been achieved in different sport disciplines.
What problems do you face in the development of sports in Rwanda?
We face many challenges in the development of sport in Rwanda including poor planning, limited expertise in the area of sports management, limited sport facilities, weakness in the administration of sports bodies and limited financial capacity. The strategies mentioned above are aimed at minimizing these challenges and take advantage of the available opportunities such as the political will to support the development of sports.
The volleyball federation was reported to have been involved in illegal transfer of foreign players from Kenya and given fake ITCs to compete in the local league. FIVB is set to send a team to Rwanda to investigate this act. If found guilty, Rwanda may face a long ban. What is the government’s stand on this issue since it may affect the vision of the country as far as developing that game is concerned?
We have heard rumors about this issue but we have not found evidence pinning the federation for engaging in such unprofessional acts. As far as we know, nobody has complained to CAVB regarding the matter.
Contact email: Bonnie.mugabe[at]newtimes.co.rw