The sports bonanza that was the London Summer Olympics followed by the Paralympics has just come to an end. The medal winners are now probably keeping their treasures safely tucked away only.
The focus is now back to the highly commercialised football season that seems to be getting more addictive with each passing year. If you doubt this then you have clearly not heard about the sports betting craze that is fast gaining ground.
Closer to home, Burundi hosted this year’s East Africa post-primary games under the umbrella body of Federation of East African Secondary School Association, which brings together interschool champions in various games from each East African state including South Sudan.
The games came to a close recently and Rwanda’s performance left a lot to be desired as we left empty handed with Kenya and Uganda ruling the day. Although Rwanda had 19 schools represented at the games in fields such as football, basketball, volleyball, rugby, handball and athletics, our performance was worse than Burundi and South Sudan.
The New Times quoted Fr. Innocent Gatete, the Director of Rwandan schools sports federation refusing to criticise the teams that took part in the games for the eighth time. According to him Rwanda put on a better show than last year and it was never going to be easy competing with Uganda and Kenya, which fielded more teams and took part in more games.
I really do not think Fr. Gatete hit the nail on the head with his explanation of Rwanda’s performance. I personally think that at the school level sports and games is still considered more of a luxury than a necessity. Look around, how many times do you hear of schools competing for a football trophy or even having friendly games?
I know the topography of the country may not allow each school the luxury of a good sports ground but still we can do better in that area. There is no way we can expect to reap from sports and games without making them a tradition that churns out talented fellows.
The reason why Kenya and Uganda performed better than us is largely because over a long time schools in these countries have taken sports and games very serious. In western Kenya for example the rivalry when it comes to rugby has helped the country to identify talented players from schools like Kakamega at an early stage.
The long distance runners who now rule the world are a result of an elaborate effort to encourage, train and identify future world beaters from the high altitude rift valley areas.
In Uganda which I am more familiar with, schools like Kololo were known for producing boxers, while Kibuli and Lubiri majored in football with rugby and cricket going to Namilyango and Mwiri respectively.
For all these games the rivalry between competing schools has always been so intense that a sportsman switching schools was considered betrayal comparing to one moving from Barcelona to Real Madrid or from Arsenal to Manchester United.
It is not too late for Rwanda to also get to this level. All we need is to gradually ensure that some schools have sports facilities that children can utilise and then we start organising regular sports competitions to develop a competitive culture and nurture talents.
We can have some of the big corporate companies sponsoring annual competition in football, basketball, and rugby for instance. The Ministry of Education should also start seriously thinking about sports scholarships so that students who are talented can be encouraged to continue combining sports and academics.
We can also make it a requirement for each school to have a certain number of chess boards for example. Gradually we can turn our students into more healthy and competitive fellows. At the end of the day we shall not have to defend our shortcomings at regional games again. And we can count on future Olympians as well.