Tennis boss vows to thrive where others failed

The virtual impossibility to bring Tennis to the countryside due to lack of courts, the absence of the game development policy to convince kids that they have a future, and the lack of funds to support developmental programmes are some of the main challenger facing the game that is not very popular amongst Rwandans.
Theoneste Karenzi.
Theoneste Karenzi.

The virtual impossibility to bring Tennis to the countryside due to lack of courts, the absence of the game development policy to convince kids that they have a future, and the lack of funds to support developmental programmes are some of the main challenger facing the game that is not very popular amongst Rwandans.

While the previous Rwanda Tennis Federation leadership that resigned in February, was characterised with internal disputes over who was in control and was accused of making emotional decisions over players to represent the country in international tournaments, the current team promise to better handle the management task.

But do they have enough ammunition? Times Sport exclusively talked to the new federation president Theoneste Karenzi to find out his administration’s plans to revive the sport.

New talents detection in the whole country has been something to wonder for the Tennis federation for years, but Karenzi thinks a well-shaped policy will see the trend change.

“What we will do differently, is to show the kids what they will gain from playing Tennis whether for personal benefits or for others.

“What was missing in the past was the ability and commitment by the federation to work closely with kids’ parents about how to motivate their children,” said Karenzi, who affirms the current committee is passionate enough to take the sport to another level starting by detecting new talents.

“We are launching Junior Tennis Initiative and we are hoping to get equipment. Our target is that in the near future every club in the country will be having a youth development programme.

“In addition, we are planning to partner with schools to encourage more young boys and girls to play tennis”, added the 54-year old, an amateur player at Cercle Sportif Club in Rugunga.

Thanks to the Junior tennis initiative, kids will be given tennis materials like balls, rackets, and strings to avoid the plays to stop practicing for the lack of the materials.

The new talents will be hoping to emulate two top kids in Ernest Habiyambere and Lise Wibabara Karenzi, who set a benchmark for the juniors to follow.

While Habiyambere won the two first legs of this year’s ITF junior circuit in Burundi mid last month, Wibabara, who happens to be the daughter of the current president, made her big breakthrough when she played in Southeastern Louisiana Women’s Tennis in March, 2011 in the Texas state in the USA.

According to Karenzi, the federation is working closely with the Ministry of Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Local Government to take the game to the rural areas.

 “We have introduced a ranking system which will give us top athletes positions at the end of every year, and besides keeping the competition alive among the athletes to keep their rankings, the system will enable us to avoid sentimental selection over whom to represent the country in international tournaments.  The selection will be based on the standing”, explianed Karenzi.

In the new system point will be awarded to players for local and international competition they are involved in, and any advantage a Tennis player can get from the federation will be discussed  based on the final  standing.

While the federation concedes local coaches don’t have the required qualification to nurture players with required skills, international coaches will be brought in the country as experts.

Bringing in foreign coaches, detecting and developing new talents, finding materials, and developing infrastructure need considerable funds.

Does the federation now have the money to execute the plan? The answer is no. How will they proceed?

“My experience allows me to say that the main issue with getting money from the sponsors is that we [federations] don’t have attractive proposals. We have looked into the situation and are convinced we will be able to show them (sponsors) what they will gain from the partnership,” said Karenzi.

In addition to the “mutual benefit” the RTF boss says the federation wants to build on the success of junior players like Habiyambere to attract international sponsors like Adidas and Nike.

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