Hockey in Rwanda is played at Cercle Sportif de Kigali in Rugunga, but playing it under water, in a swimming pool, is not known locally.
Underwater hockey, also called Octopush, a globally played limited-contact sport was introduced in Rwanda two years ago by the Rwanda Underwater Club (RUWHC).
The game features two teams competing to maneuver an object across the bottom of a swimming pool into the opposing team's goal by propelling it with a pusher.
“Most people see or just hear about it and think, that is not really sports,” says Nicola Muhinzi, one of RUWHC founders and player.
“It was a friend from USA who introduced the game to me. It is a sport just like others, except that it is played under the pool, the sport is rarely played in Africa. We believe Rwanda can utilize this opportunity to win medals in the world championships,” adds Muhinzi.
Today, only one club exists in Rwanda, and this is an issue that is hindering the organisation of a national championship or to invite teams from other countries. However, Muhinze says they intend to introduce the game to other areas after purchasing more kits.
Among the challenges faced by RUWHC is lack of equipment and infrastructure to introduce the sport in other areas across the country.
Already, RUHWC is under intensive preparations for their second international match against Tanzania scheduled for April 16 at Cercle Sportif de Kigali. Last year, RUWHC played against an Italian side but lost 5-3.
The team trains every Saturday, as part of the preparation for the Tanzanian game, and plan to take the game to other districts like Butare and Karongi.
RUWHC have held talks with the Rwanda Swimming Federation, and the body is ready to support them, however, Muhinzi explains that they intend to establish their own governing body.
Rwanda's two-time Olympian Alphonse Agahozo, who also plays Underwater Hockey, says, “The sport is good for fan just like others, it is not particularly spectator friendly, but then games are screened. There is no way to communicate under water; you just develop an intuition of what to do.”
How it is played
Far from a joke, players hold their breath as they dive to the bottom of the pool in free-diving. They continue until either a goal is scored, when players return to their wall to start a new point, or a break in play is signaled by a referee due to a foul, a time-out, or the end of the period of play.
Underwater Hockey is played worldwide, with the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques, (CMAS) as the world governing body.
The first Underwater Hockey World Championship was held in Canada in 1980. Few countries in Africa play the game; Tanzania, South Africa, and Egypt.
Last week, the 19th CMAS World Championships were concluded on April 2, in South Africa with 17 countries taking part, and Great Britain claimed the elite Men’s KO after defeating Colombia 4-3.