The riddle that lingers over Rwandan soccer
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Last weekend, a friend posted on social media a rather thought-provoking question that ignited debate from even people who were not known to be sports enthusiasts.
The question went; “If you were put in charge of FERWAFA (Rwanda’s football governing body), what would you do to save our football?”
He dropped this question shortly after the dismal performance of Amavubi in Morocco at the ongoing African Nations Championship (CHAN), a tournament that brings together locally based players representing their respective nations.
Amavubi, which won one game, drew once and lost another, were eliminated through a stoppage time goal by Libya, in a game in which they played defensive right from kick-off to the end.
Amavubi stars quietly returned home three days after the triumphant homecoming of the cycling team that received a hero’s welcome from Libreville, Gabon where reigning Tour of Rwanda champion, Joseph Areruya, had just won the coveted elite competition, La Tropicale Amissa Bongo.
The homecoming of both teams did not go unnoticed to commentators in social media, who drew comparisons of how the sportsmen were welcomed.
One group got a reception that befitted monarch, from live coverage by local media, thousands of supporters straddling the road from the airport, a fleet of identical high-end black SUVs in which the teammates were transported, and a glamorous reception organized for them at Amahoro stadium.
On the other hand, the Amavubi quietly sneaked into the country, and they could have passed unnoticed had it not been for the curious onlookers who snapped the youngsters almost stranded, with no waiting party to welcome them, and had to make do with the airport taxi service to make it to their respective homes.
Of course the boys did their best and I do not want to be misunderstood here, but many think that little is being done to develop and get the best out of our soccer talent and I share this viewpoint.
This brings me back to the question asked by my acquaintance, to which one particular response got me thinking;
The person’s reply on what he would do to save football was thus; Invest in young talent (not only soccer)...we need a “Kimisagara youth/game centre” model in every sector instead of districts pumping taxpayers’ money in senior teams without ‘nurseries.
According to this commentator, once infrastructure and well groomed talent are in place, the clubs will come from the private sector. I could not agree more with this line of argument.
I found myself reflecting on the support from local government entities offered to teams in the top flight league, where almost all of them get support from at least one government-affiliated entity.
My random survey established that only the reigning champions Rayon Sports currently receive no financial support from a government entity but even them were just recently affiliated to Nyanza District before the latter bowed out.
Most of the teams are affiliated to local government entities, mainly districts which forms the crux of my main argument today. Not for the support, no, but the way that support is disbursed.
First of all, this kind of support seems to be at the discretion of the mayor or the district leadership of the day, meaning that at any time, they choose when to pick a team to support and when not to.
The current practice is, if Mayor X is a soccer fanatic, he or she will just pick a team from the topflight to get district support and the day that mayor goes and the successor is not passionate about soccer, the team will most likely lose that support.
A couple of years ago, one district-backed senior league club imported a “truck-load” of Nigerian players and a coach, most of whom turned out to be sham, including the coach himself.
But this was not until a number of games into the league. As I write this, I am told the team still has two players left on it and I am told this team has been taken over by the province, having previously been tossed between two districts in this same province.
I know there have been fundraising drives by the private sector and other individuals born, living or working in these districts to support such clubs but the undeniable fact is that they draw their largest support from local government entities, especially districts.
From the above, two questions come to mind; why are such initiatives on which millions of taxpayers’ money is spent not institutionalized, rather than being at the mercy of individuals?
Two; where is accountability in all this? Is parliament involved in the appropriation of these funds? Does the auditor general deeply interrogate the value for this money?
I want to go back to the suggestion by the social media friend above; such investment should be going towards development of talent rather than wasting it on topflight clubs that end up disintegrating once the district leadership changes.
Most importantly, where is the Sports Development Policy in all this? It was not until when I was conducting research for this article that I stumbled onto this document, buried somewhere on the Sports and Culture ministry website. It was authored in 2012.
It has very impressive ambitions but I believe there are necessary steps that must be taken to implement it. In my view, that policy should be the one to determine the investments into sports – not just football – by the districts.
The writer is an editor with The New Times.