Aimable Bayingana, who has led the cycling federation for the last 11 years was recently elected for a 3rd four year term unopposed but despite the overwhelming confidence in his abilities, he is adamant that he won’t rest on his laurels but work harder to develop the sport in the country.
Bayingana was elected alongside four other Executive Committee members of the federation that include; Benoit Munyankindi (first Vice President) and Francois Karangwa (second Vice Presidents), Toussaint Nosisi Gahitsi is the Secretary General while Thierry Rwabusaza is the Treasurer.
The 47 year-old talked to Times Sport’s Richard Bishumba about his passion for cycling, priorities, challenges and key milestones to achieve in the 2018 – 2021 term.
Below are the excerpts
When did you discover the cycling passion in you and what has been the journey like for you?
I am a longtime fan of the sport, I have been following cycling since I was a child. Even when I was very young, I could not miss watching Tour de France when I was a student in Togo.
When I started following and getting involved in local cycling in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was very shaky and lacked proper organization, but I could still see great potential and promising talents. At that time, even the cycling federation did not have an office.
In 2004, the members of the federation appointed me to be their advisor and that was my first formal role in Rwandan cycling. Three years later, I was nominated to be President of the federation for a transition period of three years before we held the first elections in 2010.
It has been a challenging and fulfilling eleven-year journey so far as Ferwacy president, we have been able to achieve a lot locally and on the continent, almost from scratch. Cycling and cyclists in the country are famous and Rwanda is respected on the continent as a cycling powerhouse.
Currently, Rwanda ranks second in Africa after Eritrea while Rwanda’s Joseph Areruya is the top ranked individual on the continent. Ten years ago, Rwanda was nowhere to be seen on the cycling map. No Rwandan cyclist was even recognized in the International Cycling Union – UCI.
The UCI World Road Championships have never been to Africa, is it still too early for that?
One of my main targets in the 2018-2021 term is to bid for the World Championships. We already have support from the UCI and the Confederation of African Cycling (CAC) and we hope when we finally bid, we will get it and bring the cycling world to Rwanda.
The world championships convenes over 20,000 people and at times the number can double or triple up. We are not ready to host the event this year or the next one but we will definitely soon be. We are considering to bid for the 2025 World Championships.
After being associated with cycling for over fifteen years, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
The biggest challenge to Rwandan cycling is lack of the right mindset about cycling. Lack of financial means is not really the main challenge, we lack mental shift about cycling first. For example, some districts invest huge sums of money into football clubs but will not even care about cycling clubs in their territory.
Most people tend to point fingers at the Ministry of Sports, but I would say that’s not where the problem is. We have a healthy relationship with the Ministry, and much as I would like to see more support from there, the private sector and local government authorities have a much bigger role to play in the development of cycling.
We have made strong strides over the past ten years, but, the journey ahead is even more grueling and requires much more efforts. With the right mindset, everything else will follow suit.
At the moment Rwanda has only five professional cyclists, what strategies are you putting in place to increase the number of pro riders?
Not having many cyclists abroad does not necessarily mean we don’t have cyclists who deserve to be there. The few we have, got professional clubs through international competitions they have raced in and attracted interest of professional clubs.
The strategy is to take part in as many international cycling events as possible and giving our riders great exposure to impress on international scene. Also, the better and more competitive local cycling gets, the more the professional riders will be produced and they will attract attention of professional clubs.
We will also closely follow and work with the five we have to be good advocates for their colleagues back home.
Last month, you were unanimously re-elected to lead Ferwacy, what is your agenda for the new term?
There is a lot planned in Ferwacy for the next four years. I will tirelessly work with the Executive Committee to ensure the progress we have made in the previous mandate is sustained and more achievements are realized.
One of the key areas we intend to focus on, is to advocate, market and look for support to our cycling clubs. Currently, Rwanda has less than a hundred licensed cyclists. By 2021, we have set four hundred as the minimum number of licensed cyclists we need to have.
Compared to other sports in Rwanda, cycling attracts little financial support yet it is the most performing, and Rwandans have shown it is one of their favourites. If affiliated districts supported cycling like they do for football and other disciplines, cycling would reach a whole new level.
The primary job for Ferwacy’s first Vice President this term is to follow and closely work with cycling clubs to ensure they are supported and enabled to nurture and produce competent cyclists.
The development of women’s cycling
Women’s cycling is not as developed compared to their male colleagues. In the next four years, we have to ensure more female cyclists are produced and more women competitions are established for them to enjoy and explore the sport to maximum.
We will encourage and offer all possible support for all local cycling clubs to also initiate women’s cycling clubs. Narrowing the gender gap in cycling will be taken seriously in this mandate.
The federation’s second Vice President will specifically be responsible for the development of women’s cycling in Rwanda.
Improvement of competitions
A lot more efforts will be invested in improving the existing cycling competitions, domestic and international. Rwanda Cycling Cup will keep being upgraded, and get more exciting for fans and more competitive for cyclists.
Clubs will be inspired to organize local cycling events in their own home districts and regions. The federation will work with organizers to land sponsors.
From 2019, Tour du Rwanda will be upgraded from a 2.2 to 2.1 UCI category, hence making it bigger and more competitive, attracting professional clubs and cyclists from all over the world, which will automically make Rwandan riders to be better.
Bayingana further adds that he will also do more advocacy and lobbying for the Africa Rising Cycling Center (ARCC) to be recognized and regularly supported by the UCI, like other centers of excellence elsewhere, something that he hopes will see more experts and equipment sent to the center.
“I will also strive to see the center being an avenue for cycling tourism and earning for self-sustainability. ARCC will also be helpful to train coaches, mechanics and physiotherapists.”