Events that shaped 2016/17 Azam Rwanda football league season

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APR FC celebrate after beating Espoir 1-0 in the final to win the 2017 Peace Cup. Courtesy

The 2016/17 football league season officially concluded on July 4 with the Peace Cup final between APR FC and Espoir. APR won and were crowned champions for a record ninth time after a 1-0 win.

Meanwhile, after four years of waiting, Rayon Sports finally dethroned their traditional archrivals APR as the Azam Rwanda Premier League champions following an outstanding campaign in which they lost just once in 30 league matches—that defeat came against APR.

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APR FC celebrate after beating Espoir 1-0 in the final to win the 2017 Peace Cup. Courtesy

It was a year of mixed fortunes full of disappointments and excitement as some giants lost ground. As clubs now head in the season break and look at a busy transfer window ahead, Saturday Sport takes a look at the 10 major events that shaped the just concluded season.

1 FERWAFA’s controversial banning of grounds

Before the start of the 2016/17 season in October, FERWAFA Executive Committee carried out a country wide inspection of all the football grounds that would host the league matches.

At first, among the grounds that were barred from hosting league games included Nyagatare ground in Eastern Province, which is the training ground for Sunrise FC, Gicumbi FC’s Stade de Gicumbi in Northern Province as well as Nyamagabe-based Amagaju FC’s home ground in  Nyagisenyi, Southern Province.

FERWAFA’s adhoc committee which was established to assess match venues, found the three pitches short of the minimum standards.

In the meantime, Amagaju FC were hosting their home games at Huye Stadium, which is the home of Mukura Victory Sports, while Gicumbi FC and Sunrise FC will be hosting their matches in Kigali.

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FERWAFA president Vincent Nzamwita. File photo

Two months later, following rehabilitations, the three clubs were given a green light to host home matches at their respective grounds.

2 Debutants Pepiniere FC pulls out of league, only to return and later relegated

It was a dramatic season for the newly promoted Pepiniere FC, who amidst the season, withdrew from the league before returning a few weeks later and eventually were relegated back to the second division.

It all started with the Ruyenzi-based side also facing issues of a poor ground. Despite FERWAFA’s initial decision not to ban their ground, they rescinded their decision and barred the club from hosting their home games at Ruyenzi ground.

Following this ban, Pepiniere quickly protested FERWAFA’s decision and threatened to pull out from the league over what they described as an ‘unfair treatment.’

Two days after threatening to withdraw from competing in their first ever topflight campaign, Pepiniere FC walked the talk and withdrew from the league.

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Djuma Masudi Courtesy

Three weeks later, the club returned after complying with FERWAFA’s recommendations of rehabilitating the pitch but unfortunately, they ended even getting relegated after finishing at the bottom of the league with 17 points from 30 games managing only three wins, eight draws and 19 loses.

3 Witchcraft (Juju) saga

This was definitely the most popular story of the 2016/17 football league season. The use of juju (witchcraft) is very much part of African football to the extent that sometimes you feel that technical expertise, discipline and tactics have been made almost secondary.

In Rwandan football, there have been claims and counter-claims of the use of witchcraft right from the top club to the one at the very bottom and this finally surfaced to the whole world in December.

The incident that went viral around the world happened during league champions Rayon Sports visit to Mukura Victory Sports for the league first round clash at Huye stadium.

During the game, Mukura took an early lead but before kickoff, their goalkeeper was captured by the Azam cameras, ‘planting some stuff’ on his goal line, and while the game was going on, Rayon Sports players were alerted by their bench and they went to uproot the alleged ‘juju.’

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Rayon Sports’ Kwizera was named Player of the Year for 2nd time. Courtesy

This happened twice during the game, which forced the referee to stop the match twice, to deal with the running battles and one or two fans were arrested by the Police.

Ironically, after the alleged juju was removed by forward Moussa Camara, the Malian went on net the equalizer on the stroke of half time. The matched ended 1-1 but whether juju had anything to do with Rayon Sports’ equalizing goal, is still debatable..

4 FERWAFA sets tough measures to curb juju

Following unfortunate incident in Huye, the local football governing body, FERWAFA, called an emergency meeting with all first division club presidents to discuss the problem.

Tough measures were adopted and these included; any coach found guilty of using witchcraft, will be banned for four matches on top of paying a fine of Rwf200,000.

A player found guilty of using witchcraft will receive a three-match suspension on top of a fine of Rwf100,000 and for the team found guilty of engaging in witchcraft, it will lose three points and pay a fine of Rwf500,000.

5 Defending champions APR FC lose ground

The just concluded campaign was probably the season to forget for the record 16-time league winners APR FC, who finished in a disappointing third place for the first time since 2008.

The military side began the season seeking for a fourth consecutive league title and appointed former Amavubi striker Jimmy Mulisa as the head coach.

However, they were outcompeted by their sworn enemies Rayon Sports whom they finished 16 points behind and four points behind second-placed Police FC.

However,  Mulisa made sure his team at least ended the season with some silverware by guiding them to the Peace Cup title after defeating Espoir 1-0 and will represent Rwanda in next year’s CAF Confederation Cup.

The last time that APR finished in the third place was during the 2007/8 season, behind champions Atraco FC (now defunct) and Rayon Sports.

6 Rayon Sports dominance

While Rwanda’s most successful club, APR, were struggling for consistence. It was a different story for their bitter rivals, Rayon Sports, who were unstoppable under their former captain, Djuma Masudi.

The Blues were in irresistible form as they won the league title with four games to spare.

Led by their key players, Pierrot Kwizera, Savio Dominique Nshuti and Shassir Nahimana, Rayon Sports claimed the title with 73 points, from 22 wins, seven draws and one loss.

For winning the league, Rayon Sports walked away with Rwf25m plus Rwf3m for finishing in the top two, Rwf2m for finishing in the top four, Rwf2m for finishing in the top eight and Rwf10m meant for each of the 16 league teams, which took their total cash prize to Rwf42m.

7 SC Kiyovu relegated after 53 years

The other big story that made big headlines last season was the relegation of one of the oldest and biggest football clubs in the country, SC Kiyovu, for the first time in their 53-year history.

The Mumena-based three-time league champions were relegated from the topflight league after losing 1-2 in the final match of the league against old rivals Rayon Sports.

They struggled to put together a string of good results throughout the season as they only managed six wins, nine draws and 15 losses to finish 15th in the 16-team league table, with 27 points.

Even the decision by head coach Aloys Kanamugire to step aside with four matches remaining did not save their dire situation—the club ended the season with former players Djabir Mutarambirwa and Ashraf Kadubiri in charge of the team.

8 Rayon, FERWAFA disagree on trophy-awarding ceremony

Despite winning the league title with four games to spare, Rayon Sports had to wait another week following the end of the season to be officially presented the trophy.

The Blues knew they were league champions on May 18 after a 2-1 win over Mukura, but they requested FERWAFA that their wish was to receive the trophy after their final home game on May 28 against APR FC.

However, FERWAFA turned down their request insisting that the ceremony will be conducted after the final match of the season on June 15 – the day they beat and relegated SC Kiyovu.

But Rayon Sports were quick to protest the decision and even threatened to boycott the remaining two games if FERWAFA did not rescind their decision.

They later wrote to FERWAFA asking them to organise a friendly game at the end of the season specifically meant for trophy-presentation ceremony.

The two parties agreed on that and invited CECAFA/Kagame Cup title holders Tanzanian outfit Azam FC and the event was held on July 8.

9 Masudi’s dramatic resignation

As Rayon Sport fans were still celebrating their eighth league title, their fête was cut short by news of the resignation of head coach Djuma Masudi, who cited personal reasons for walking away from his three-year contract.

His resignation came three months after the club suspended him in April for a week following Rayon Sports’ exit from this season’s CAF Confederation Cup at the hands of Nigeria’s Rivers United. Masudi was voted the Coach of the Year for the second season running.

10 Burundian Kwizera named Player of the Year for second time

For the second, successive season, Rayon Sports star Pierrot Kwizera was named the Azam Rwanda Premier League Player of the Year.

The Burundi international won the award after beating off competition from Musanze FC striker, Wai Yeka and Police FC forward Danny Usengimana. Kwizera walked away with a trophy and Rwf1 million in cash prize.

Rayon Sports dominated the event as they had several category winners with their coach Masudi winning the Coach of the Year, while goal keeper Eric ‘Bakame’ Ndayishimiye won the Golden Gloves after beating off competition from Marcel Nzarora (Police FC), Olivier Kwizera (Bugesera FC) and Jean de Dieu Nsabimana (Pepiniere FC).