Sports in 2009 at a glance

.....why 2010 promises to be a little better, but just As we say goodbye to 2009, a year that promised so much in terms of progress in Rwandan sports but produced little, let’s remind ourselves of what made top news and what didn’t and why; and also look at what 2010 could have in store. THE last 12 months have seen sports in Rwanda go through quite a number of highs and lows. It started on the highest with Rwanda hosting the 16th edition of the Africa U-20 Youth Championship; then the senior national team failed to qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup, which cost the coach his job, while the mysterious Ferwafa elections flopped and no convincing reason was given.
CAF president Issa Hayatou (L) hailed Rwanda for hosting a memorable championship. On the right is Ferwafa boss Brig. Gen Jean Kazura, who is seeking a second term of office. (File photo)
CAF president Issa Hayatou (L) hailed Rwanda for hosting a memorable championship. On the right is Ferwafa boss Brig. Gen Jean Kazura, who is seeking a second term of office. (File photo)

.....why 2010 promises to be a little better, but just

As we say goodbye to 2009, a year that promised so much in terms of progress in Rwandan sports but produced little, let’s remind ourselves of what made top news and what didn’t and why; and also look at what 2010 could have in store.

THE last 12 months have seen sports in Rwanda go through quite a number of highs and lows. It started on the highest with Rwanda hosting the 16th edition of the Africa U-20 Youth Championship; then the senior national team failed to qualify for the 2010 Nations Cup, which cost the coach his job, while the mysterious Ferwafa elections flopped and no convincing reason was given.

The high points

Hosting the African U-20 Youth Championship at the start of the year was the highlight of what later turned out to be a year of near misses and disappointments for local football.

Seven of Africa’s top footballing nations; Ghana (eventual champions), Cameroon, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mali and Nigeria descended on Kigali for the two-week long tournament, which CAF officials, including it’s head Issa Hayatou described as “the best organized tournament in years.”

Because of that unprecedented success in terms of organisation for a small nation like Rwanda, CAF chose Rwanda to host the 2011 Africa U-17 Youth Championship as a reward for a job well done.

The only downside part of what is likely in CAF history books as a memorable tournament, was that the hosts failed to progress from the group stage, having been pooled in the same group as the two eventual finalists Ghana and Cameroon. Mali was the other team in the group.

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Debutants, Atraco shocked the region by winning the Cecafa/Kagame Cup club championship in Sudan, after defeating hosts and pre-tournament favourites El Merreikh in the final.

Having lost the first two group games, the Rwandan league champions only reached the quarterfinals as the best third placed team but they never looked back, winning the next three matches including the final and became the third Rwandan club to win the regional title after Rayon Sport (1) and APR (2), but only the second to win it on foreign territory.

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Basketball had probably it’s greatest year in history as the both the men and women national sides qualified and participated in African championships and also, APR hosted and finished third in the continental club championship.

The performance of the men’s team in Libya as well as APR’s incredible display in the Fiba Africa Club Championship must have surely alerted the continent’s big boys of Rwanda’s potential to mix it well at the highest level.

Rwanda finished 9th in the 16-nation tournament, climbing three slots from their 2007 performance in Angola.

APR, who were making a third appearance, made the most of home advantage as they took third. It was a huge step forward for the army side, who finished 9th on their debut in 2007 (Angola) and 8th last year (Tunisia).

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In Cricket, the local game which has struggled for recognition was boosted by the visit of West Indies legend Brian Lara.

If the ‘gentleman’s game in this country needed a voice to push its case to the powers that be, then there isn’t many and better than the former West Indies captain, who held talks with the sports minister Joseph Habineza, who a few years back dismissed the game as not being in his ministry’s priorities.

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Rally also had a relatively good year after Rwanda’s flag bearer Olivier Costa secured an unprecedented third place finish in the 2009 FIA Africa Rally Championship for any Rwandan driver.

Credit to Rwanda Automobile Club for finally managing to secure sponsorship for the Mountain Gorilla Rally, which is the biggest on their calendar. By luring KCB on board, the rally also returned to the FIA ARC calendar after a two year absence.

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However, my pick for the best up of the year will surely be cycling. These guys should be the yardstick for measuring how a sports institution (federation) ought to run its activities.
Without being overconfident in their day-to-day activities like their other counterparts, the cycling federation have had a smooth 2009 in terms of their calendar year both local and on the continent. They organized the best Tour of Rwanda in years.
But the best kudos goes to the country’s top rider Adrien Niyonshuti, who on top of being signed to South Africa professional team MTN Energrade, he competed against some of the best riders not only in Africa but also  in the world, among them the great Lance Armstrong of the United States (of America) in the Tour of Ireland.
Not so long ago, not very many in this country knew about professional cycling by a Rwandan but 2009 has changed all that and now cycling is one of the most talked about sport in the country.
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The low points
Surely, there weren’t very many low points in 2009 as compared to yester years, but even the few that came along left an indelible mark on the country’s sporting image.
I had trouble choosing between the public feud between Minister Habineza and former RNOC boss Ignace Beraho and Amavubi Stars failure to qualify for CAN 2010, which one ranked higher than the other.
But for purposes of majority interest, I’ll go for Amavubi’s disastrous qualifying campaign, which despite the Ferwafa and Minispoc’s efforts which included recruiting all sort of mercenaries, yielded two points out of a possible 18 and only two goals!
And as is always the case in such situations, it’s the coach Tucak Branko who paid the price for the team’s demise even though he had little say on who plays and who doesn’t despite being the coach. He was forced to field players no other Rwandan had heard of before. Every after the other qualifier, new players were brought in (reportedly by minister Habineza), something that never allowed the coach to plan well enough for the next game.
Despite a poor campaign, Rwanda needed to beat Zambia 2-0 in the final qualifier in Kigali but that was the closest they got to booking their ticket to Angola.
Only the team that played in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Nairobi under interim coach Eric Nshimiyimana came close to erasing those bad memories but also fell short when it lost the final against archrivals Uganda.
Therefore, when Nshimiyimana’s experimental team lost the Cecafa final, it was a case of so near yet so far for the national team in a year that promised too much but produced so little if not nothing.
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Sports minister Habineza may have won the battle against Beraho, but in the true sense of a year that we all expected more from the leaders, that period (when their disagreement went very public) was probably the lowest in recent history of Rwanda’s sports management.
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As the year ticked away, there were the mystery Ferwafa elections, which initially were supposed to be held on December 27 but were pushed ahead because, according to the federation CEO Jules Kalisa, “some aspiring candidates had not fulfilled the requirements.”
But the low point in all this was not that the elections were postponed but that no one in the federation was willing to reveal the names of the so called aspiring candidates in all the posts being contested.
Somewhere else, such an exercise is for the public interest and so everything connected to it is supposed to be open but don’t tell that to the guys at Ferwafa. The exercise was pushed to January 2, 2010 yet by midday of December 31; no name of the aspiring candidates had been made public. That’s low.

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Nonetheless, despite some of the dark moments that characterised 2009, there is little optimism for football in 2010, but only if the leaders are willing to accept that they made mistakes in yester years and are willing to learn from them.

Pointing fingers and shifting blame is not the way forward for the development of not only football but Rwanda’s sports in general. We all agree that mistakes were made with the national team especially when it came to recruiting players, so as we enter a new year, let’s make a resolution that the future of Rwandan football solely lays in the hands (or legs) of the young Rwandan players and not strange old mercenaries, who are not good enough to play for their own countries.

The team that played in Cecafa, is proof that even our own players, when trusted and given the chance to play for their country, they can produce the goods but those goods can not come overnight. It takes time to build a real good team capable of challenging at the highest level.

Happy New Year 2010

nku78@yahoo.com

 

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