This week has been very difficult, particularly for Rwandan sports and whoever takes trouble to follow it or, if I may be a bit more general, anyone, who wishes it well.
Forget the 14 places that Rwanda improved in the latest FIFA rankings and APR’s win over DR Congo’s giants AS Vita Club in the final of the ‘AS Kigali Pre-season tournament’ or whatever other positive that you may have read or heard somewhere within the past seven days.
For me, what has been the real news, and very sad indeed to say the least, was to hear that two of Rwanda’s best active sportsmen; Hermas Muvunyi and Janvier Hadi are retiring and there are no plans regarding who will replace them in terms of deed for deed.
It’s not very often that you come across sportsmen or women hanging up their boots when at the top, and most especially when they’re still relatively young and loved by their countrymen.
Rwanda’s most decorated Paralympian Muvunyi announced his retirement, drawing curtains on a glittering nine-year career after failing to win a medal at 2016 Rio Paralympic Games—he made his Paralympic debut four years ago in London.
The 28-year old, who began his career in the able-bodied category, was introduced to Paralympic competitions five years ago, making his debut at the 2011 All-Africa Games in Maputo where he won gold in the 400 meters and silver in 800m, which qualified him for the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
Muvunyi became the first Rwandan world champion after winning gold in the 800m T-46 at the International Paralympic Committee-Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France in 2013 before winning the 400m gold at the All African Games in Congo-Brazzaville in 2015.
He added two more gold medals to his CV winning both the 400 and 800 meters at the 9th IPC Grand Prix de Tunis in March this year. His last gold medal came in the 1500 meter T-46 during the Berlin Open Grand Prix two months ago in Germany.
These achievements make Muvunyi, Rwanda’s most decorated athlete or sportsman for that matter, and it will be very difficult if not impossible for anyone else to match him.
I say this because, there appears to be no deliberate plan whatsoever by the Rwanda National Paralympic Committee to groom any young and upcoming athletes to fill the void that has been created with Muvunyi’s retirement.
Before Muvunyi arrived on the Paralympic scene, there was Jean de Dieu Nkundabera, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games in Athens and Beijing respectively.
Nkundabera won Rwanda’s only Paralympic medal (bronze) at the Athens Games but that’s all one can say about him as he never won any other major international championships as his successor, Muvunyi did.
Attention will of course now turn to Jean Claude Ndayisenga, who competes in the 400m T-47 category but has not done or showed enough to suggest he could be Muvunyi’s successor and at 25 years, he is getting older, which means his chances of competing at the highest level are getting slimmer.
Ndayisenga’s best achievement thus far is a bronze medal that he won at this year’s Berlin Grand Prix where he clocked 55 seconds and 47 microseconds, but missed out on the Rio Paralympic Games qualification mark.
Hadi, one of three Rwandan professional cyclists along with Adrien Niyonshuti and Jean Bosco Nsengimana, shocked the nation when he announced early this week that he was quitting the sport.
His untimely retirement comes barely a year after he joined Germany-based UCI Continental team Stradalli–Bike Aid together with Nsengimana, who remains at the club and is expected to lead their charge when he attempts to defend his Tour du Rwanda title.
Hadi, still only 25, which is a relatively young age in professional cycling, attributed his decision to leave the stage on what he described as dishonest and unfair treatment by the local cycling governing body, FERWACY, which is headed by Aimable Bayingana.
Hadi’s troubles started last year when he became the first Rwandan to win a gold medal at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville hence qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games cycling road race, only to be replaced with Niyonshuti but the latter could only manage 50km of the 236km race.
The decision by FERWACY to deny him a life-time opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games, did not go down well with Hadi—and to make matter even worse, the explanation that the federation gave for preferring the more experienced Niyonshuti, only left more questions than answers.
Hadi and many others like myself, felt he deserved his shot at the Olympics, more so given the fact that he had worked for it but when he was denied that chance and then given unconvincing reasons, it must have broke not only his heart but completely destroyed his appetite and passion for the sport altogether.
Having said that, I still believe Muvunyi and Hadi can still be convinced to change their minds and reverse their decisions to retire, because at 28 and 25 years respectively—the duo is still too young and productive to simply leave the stage when the country still needs them.
Those responsible for these two young men, but particularly Hadi, need to put aside any differences, whether in opinion or anything else that may have led to his hasty retirement and ‘re-integrate’ him back in the system because only Hadi can do what Hadi has been doing for Team Rwanda Cycling.