Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) cadres have committed to turning the sports industry into an economic engine in line with the party's revolutionary ideology for sports promotion.
In a one-day cadreship training held on Sunday bringing together RPF delegates from different sports federations, senior government officials who addressed them promised to put the effort in promoting sport as a major income earner.
The training which brought together over 80 representatives from different sports disciplines and National Olympics Committee, was held at the party headquarters in Rusororo.
During an interview, Assumpta Uwamariya, the RPF Commissioner in charge of Politics and Mobilization told The New Times that sports promotion is an important part of the party's vision.
"RPF commits to sports because sports means welfare, it's a platform to unite Rwandans. And mostly, RPF believes that sports are a potential investment for the development of our economy,” she said after presiding over the opening of the one-day training.
Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju, the Minister of Sports said that there are plans to turn sports into a revenue-generating sector by upgrading infrastructure and deploying multi-pronged efforts to nurture talent.
"There are efforts that have been put in building sports infrastructure. We shall continue to upgrade our existing facilities to international standards in a bid to promote sports tourism in our country," said Munyangaju.
One of the efforts, the minister said is to upgrade Amahoro National Stadium to a 45,000 seat capacity so that it can host bigger international championships.
"We will initiate junior championships for under 15, launch sports academies in schools and train specialized sports teachers,” she said, adding that the budget for the sports sector shall be increased in the short-run while the aim is to make the industry self-reliant.
Investment in Sports
There are enormous opportunities for the business sector to explore in the sports industry, according to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Head of Tourism and Conservation Department.
"Despite huge opportunities available in the sector, there is, for instance, only one sportswear maker in the country," said Ariella Kageruka, adding that various incentives have been put in place to entice Made in Rwanda, which the industry can tap into.
RDB says domestic manufacturers who export over 80 percent of their products are exempted customs and value-added taxes in addition to tax-free importation of raw materials.
Concerning sports tourism, Kageruka said that benefits from the partnerships with global sports brands have exceeded expectations, proving the industry's stamina in the future.
"For instance, the media value we made from the first year of the Arsenal deal was over £33million, yet we had projected £28million.
"From the same deal, over 120 Rwandan sportsmen received training from Arsenal trainers. Many more are expected to benefit from another deal we signed with Paris Saint-Germain just a few months ago."
Addressing the participants Valens Munyabagisha, the president of Rwanda Olympic Committee said sports development is mainly limited to Kigali, thus locking out talents in rural areas.
“If you look at the infrastructure, there barely are playgrounds in rural areas. In basketball, 14 of 17 teams are all found in Kigali,” Munyabagisha observed, adding that the fact “denies us the opportunity to host more international competitions.”
A similar observation was made by the Minister of Local Government, Anastase Shyaka.
“I believe that over 60 percent of success in professional sports must depend on investment in schools and infrastructure. Unfortunately, more than 50 percent of schools don't have playgrounds,” Minister Shyaka said.
He said that local government entities will continue to promote mass sports while professional sports require standard investment, suggesting that districts should be allocated more funding to promote and decentralize sports facilities.
“REG [Rwanda Energy Group] and Rwanda Revenue Authority have a stronghold in sports and more parastatals should borrow a leaf,” said Shyaka, proposing that national institutions can have a huge impact on the promotion of professional sports.
REG currently has a basketball team that is among the top contenders of the national league, while RRA has ventured in volleyball, whose women team has not only excelled locally but also at the international level.
During discussions, it was observed that most teams lean on the local government’s budget to hold ground, which is not an ideal situation.
In football, for instance, 12 of the 17 teams in the first division depend on their districts in terms of budget and infrastructure, while only two teams in cycling are self-sponsored.