THE recently elected president of the cash-strapped Rwanda Chess Federation (FERWADE), Kevin Ganza inherited a myriad of challenges, including disorder and unhealthy internal bickering.
To get a glimpse of how he intends to reverse the situation, Saturday Sport’s James Karuhanga, last week caught up with the man, who will steer the federation for the next four years.
Among others, Ganza must cope with management challenges, and tread carefully when dabbling in high-stakes politics of chess in the international arena.
A Senate committee recently examined the general sports situation in the country; bringing to light issues including poor planning, failure to spot and promote young talent, and poor mindset regarding promotion of sports. What is the situation in Rwanda Chess?
I must state that Chess is still very new in the country…
Yet we have known chess in Rwanda for over the past 15 years...
One tends to say that it is new but the chess federation was established in 1997. It is almost 20 years now, but the number of people who play does not reflect those many years. We are still building the federation and spread the game in the country.
In that case, we can’t say it is new. Maybe stunted?
We are trying to correct some errors. There were plans to spread the game but these were never properly monitored due to lack of finances. Regarding the Senators’ report, every year we make action plans which we submit to the Ministry of Sports and the National Olympic committee.
We understand those institutions are supposed to look at such plans, and a portion of their budget given to each sports discipline in the country, but it’s not the case. Usually, only some priority sports like football, basketball are considered.
Isn’t this because only these few sports disciplines proved their worth?
That doesn’t mean that other federations can’t, but the lack of that minimum support can sometimes lead to inactivity…
Are you then blaming the ministry for your inactivity?
No. When the federation was being established, there was no agreement committing those institutions to support us. They do the little they do today because they support development of sports in the country, in general.
We need to organise ourselves and find a way forward; by attracting sponsors or through other ways. To a great extent, we are fully responsible for our development.
We are not in total immobility, though. In spite of limited means, we achieved a lot already, including several competitions hosted throughout last year.
But, knowing that you cannot have the minimum budget support to manage hinders activities. I know that if you are organising a competition, for example, you can submit to the ministry or the Olympic committee and they may consider it.
It’s up to them to decide who they support and who they don’t. But I admit we have a role in not having full support. Our lack of legal personality is hindering our relationship with the ministry.
How do you explain lack legal personality when the federation has existed for nearly 20 years?
We used to have legal personality, since 2003. But because Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) reviewed the policy, things changed and we were required to submit a fresh application. We had to review our statute as per new regulations.
The previous statute was built on individuals but now we must have at least three clubs with legal personality. Clubs delayed in the process to secure legal personality.
So far, only two clubs have registered while another recently submitted its application. We hope that in one month’s time, it will be the third and the federation will then proceed with application.
So, when will the federation be registered?
We are confident we will be registered by end September. Legal personality is normally acquired nine months afterwards.
The federation officials I interact with often point to lack of finances as a major reason for Rwanda Chess’ struggles. But, finances might only be a relativelysmall issue. If you were better organised, finances and all other things would come. Poor management and internal organisation appear to be the major issue.
That is true. But, you know, you can plan to have activities done and approach potential sponsors but while some show interest, others take time to understand what they gain from supporting chess.
We are working to organise ourselves. We started discussions with various people on sponsorship. We are in the process of acquiring a sponsor for national youth championships. We continue to work to secure sponsorship for other types of tournaments.
But I agree, without good organisation, you can only plan to fail. I cannot say that our house is perfect. We are trying to clean up and build.
What other challenges do you face?
Well, you find some people not really committed as you would have expected.
For example, the two clubs; Vision Chess Club and Eagles Chess Club, they are already registered. They are new but have motivated and active members. The other clubs are lagging behind and this is pulling us down.
But even without registration, there is much you could do. Why don’t we, for example, see chess in many schools?
We don’t want to make errors as was the case in the past; like taking chess sets to a school and there is no ownership, follow up and, or no sustainable mechanism for a trainer. Once we get support we can do something but so far, it is also hindered by lack of sufficient and competent volunteers.
Is there no good news?
We are partnering with the World Chess Federation which has given us boards for distribution in schools.
How many boards?
We have 200 boards and, we can distribute 10 or 20 per school but this depends on how many schools we target. We’ll distribute them free of charge but for sustainability, a school needs to pay a coach and provide any other form of motivation.
What is the possible minimum pay for a trainer?
This depends on things such as how far the school is from the coach but for a two to three hour session, a coach could get Rwf8,000 or 10,000. The rest would depend on the number of sessions.
Moving on; the 2016 Chess Olympiad starts in Baku, Azerbaijan on September 2 and Rwanda has two teams. How are you doing as regards readiness and travel arrangements, given the financial challenges?
We have two training sessions per week and though some players don’t show up regularly because on Wednesday some are held by work, they make time on Sunday.
About the travel plans, few months ago, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) published names of federations that owe it money and would not be allowed to participate. Rwanda was on the list with 900 Euros in arrears running for two years. Where do you stand now?
That was cleared and we no longer have that barrier…
Where did you get the money from?
From clubs. Normally, clubs have to pay membership fees to the federation…
We are talking about very few struggling clubs contributing close to 800,000 Rwandan francs.
Well, half the amount is from clubs and the other half, from sponsorship.
When is the national team travelling and how are you doing as regards tickets and registration fees? In the past, you struggled.
It is still the same struggle. So far, we haven’t secured any but we hope to get around five tickets from tournament organisers.
But you have 10 players and officials. I know each player must pay Euros 170 for entry and registration before even considering tickets.
Yes, 10 players and three officials; a coach for both teams and two delegates who will attend the FIDE Congress and other meetings like the African Chess Confederation meeting.
Are the meetings so important since you struggle to get players to Baku?
It is very important because in those meetings policies are formulated and new regulations adopted. And you share what is not going well in the federation and learn from others.
So how optimistic are you that all members of your team will reach Baku on time?
Maybe 75 per cent sure.
Now about the mini-chess project that started last year. Is this what is going to nurture Rwanda’s future chess stars?
It is a pilot phase running in five primary schools; two in Nyarugenge, two in Kicukiro and one in Bugesera. Not only are we expecting it to help in talent detection but it surely matches our country’s Vision 2020 which emphasises the importance of science and technology.
Mini-chess is an educational programme designed to develop future scientists. A primary one kid, for instance, will learn things such as graphs and compass reading, normally handled later in upper classes.
In the five pilot schools, we have support from a South African company but very soon we shall need local sponsors or schools to pay for the programme.
Talk about the undeniable global politics of chess. Considering the apparent turmoil in the Kenya chess scene, for example, are you also embroiled in this kind of dirty game, with FIDE pulling from one side and Russian Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, pulling from the other?
For us, we drive our things slowly. We endeavour not to run blindly into the politics. Our interest is in who is genuinely supporting the development of chess in Rwanda; how we get equipment, how we organise competitions, and so on. As regards the dirty politics, we try to avoid it.
People say that such politics is unavoidable but we really don’t go much into it. We have a good relationship with our sponsor, Kasparov Chess Foundation, and we continue to be faithful to the World Chess Federation, although people say that those are two camps at loggerheads with each other.
That is what is said and written in news but, for us, we are only interested in developing chess in the country and whoever is willing to support us is welcome. We avoid to get trapped in the politics of supporting this or that camp against the other.