Rwanda is currently regarded as one of Africa’s success stories that is now referred to as an example globally in sectors like good governance, security, thriving economy and many more despite having suffered the worst tragedy of the 20th century-the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that wiped out over one million people due.
The World Economic Forum’s 2015/16 Global Competitiveness report, published in October last year, ranked Rwanda in 58th position of 140 economies, 3rd on the continent and 1st in East Africa with the authors of the study noting that the country made gains in seven out of 12 pillars measured.
However, Rwanda remains one of the African countries that over the years have lagged behind in the sports sector.
To shed more light on this, it is only Rwanda in the East African region that has never won an Olympic medal in any sport despite being regular participants since making their debut 1984 in Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Kenyan athletes have won 91 medals in total since 1956, all from boxing and track and field events. Of those, 61 medals come from the long-distance running events; Ugandan athletes have won a total of seven medals, all in athletics and boxing also since 1956, Tanzania holds two medals both in athletics since 1964 while Burundi has also won two since 1996.
In Paralympics games, former Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) soldier Jean de Dieu Nkundabera (now retired) won the country’s first and only Paralympics medal at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece by taking bronze in the T46 men’s 800 meters race, with a time of 1:58:95.
In 2011, former Prime Minister Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi outlined targets for sports institutions in the country that they had to achieve in a period of 6 six years.
These targets included making the national football team amongst the top 10 on the continent, helping the volleyball and basketball teams to move up to the third and fourth positions on the continent.
With five years down the road and only months to the end of the set time frame, it certainly appears that the targets will not be achieved and the situation looks worse off in some disciplines, we explain why.
The national football team currently without a coach recently suffered their second worst FIFA ranking, dropping to a lowly 121st position in last month’s rankings. The National team’s worst ranking was in 1997 when the country ranked 172nd .
Rwanda is currently ranked number 34th on the continental rankings, 24 places from the target.
The poor performance led to the sacking of former Irish head coach Johnny Mckinstry and replaced with former Rwanda international Jimmy Mulisa, who was tasked to take charge of the last Afcon qualifier game against Ghana on September 3 in Accra which Rwanda drew 1-1.
Also in addition to the targets for the three sports disciplines, government also pledged to upgrade, renovate and build sports facilities that include an Olympic village in Nyanza, stadiums across the country, and training clinics for sports teachers, build a sports school in every district, boost sports for the disabled and help sports associations in their respective disciplines.
Only the stadiums have been upgraded and renovated, something that saw Rwanda became the first East African nation to host the 2016 edition Africa Nations Championship (CHAN), a tourney in which the national team reached the quarterfinals, the best performance for Amavubi in an international competition.
Speaking to Sunday Times in an exclusive interview, former FERWAFA presidency aspirant Augustin Munyandamutsa who owns a football academy (Sec Academy) revealed that Rwanda’s football has been in complete ‘limbo’ and attributed the worst performances to the poor administration that has become an order of the day in the football governing body.
“The only solution to build a strong football foundation is to have an efficient administrative system governing the football body, for me I have not seen any improvement during the current tenure and it’s not because we don’t have football talent but we don’t have professionals to spearhead that revolution,” Munyandamutsa said.
Ferwafa officials have been accused of working for their own interests rather than the football fraternity.
In June, Ferwafa president Vincent de Gaulle Nzamwita was absolved of any wrongdoing in the mishandling of a project to construct a four-star hotel that was supposed to be built at a cost totaling over Rwf4bn after being accused of corruption and nepotism charges.
However the federation former secretary general Olivier Murindahabi was handed a six month jail sentence for mishandling the project that was in the interest of the general public.
“This is a serious issue that requires the general public to work hand in hand for a sustainable solution but if people fear to expose culprits, who will do it, so it’s a matter of administration and not talent, national team coaches,” the Sec Academy owner said.
Vedaste Kayiranga, Ferwafa Vice president however denies the allegations of mismanagement but agrees that it will not be possible to be among the top 10 footballing nations on the continent. Kayiranga also pointed that since 2014 when the current Ferwafa administration was elected, there has been a considerable progress in Rwanda’s football that can be witnessed in the national team which fields only local players, football academies that have been introduced in different parts of the country and improved number of professional coaches.
“The national team has been inconsistent mainly because we have been in a transformation phase although we have embarked on building a sport that focuses on professionalism. In 2011, we had only three licensed coaches, today there are about sixteen so for me I think this is also something that will help proposer the game further,” Kayiranga said.
He further added that, “The national has also suffered because of a weak national league but we have amended some structures to help uplift our league like asking clubs to get legal statuses so that they are run professionally which will in turn help them to get a FIFA club license.”
The FIFA Club Licensing system requires clubs to commit to minimum standards and principles in five key areas; - Sporting criteria e.g. clubs must have a youth development programme; clubs must promote fair play, Infrastructure criteria e.g. clubs must have safe, comfortable stadiums for fans, families and media; clubs must have training facilities, Personnel and administrative criteria e.g. clubs must have qualified coaches and medical staff and professional, well-educated management, Legal criteria e.g. clubs must adhere to international statutes; club ownership must be transparent and fair, Financial criteria e.g. independent auditing of club finances.
Emmanuel Bugingo, the Director of Sports in the Ministry of Sports and Culture also agrees that it will not be possible to achieve the targets but credits that a crucial step has been reached that has laid a solid foundation to the future of sports in Rwanda.
“Until 2013 all our national teams across all disciplines were dominated by foreign players so in implementing these targets our first task was to groom local talent from the grass roots and today all our national teams feature homegrown talent, which is a step forward,” he said.
On the issue of facilities and infrastructure, Bugingo also concurs with the inadequate stadiums across the country that remains a challenge but revealed that much work is in progress to construct these stadium including an Olympic stadium whose construction is scheduled to begin early next year.
“The government has got limited means but again since setting these targets, we have hosted several FIBA Africa basketball competitions, 2016 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) which all came as a result of improved infrastructure” Bugingo added
Although it looks certainly impossible to reach the top 10 in football in the next two years, it becomes more challenging for basketball where a league made of ten clubs has little structure.
With no league sponsor, the basketball league sometimes runs for two years because clubs are broke and can’t afford basic transport for their players to honor matches.
Unlike in football or volleyball where young players grow up with the inspiration of playing for the national senior team, it is not the same story with basketball where the national team competes in the FIBA Zone V championship that is staged every after two years.
This does not discourage the players only but also the fans that can spend over 10 years without watching the senior team playing simply because competition is supposed to rotate around the 11 member states.
According to last month’s FIBA rankings, Rwanda is 64th globally and 13th on the continental and first in the region.
The U-18 men’s team finished 5th behind Champions Angola, Egypt, Mali, and Tunisia FIBA 2016 Africa U18 Championship that took place in Kigali from July 22-31.
“Since 2012 we have embarked on building the sport from the grass roots and the yield was witnessed in the just concluded U18 championship and we take it as a great progress by the basketball federation,” said the president of Basketball federation Desire Mugwiza.
Mugwiza says, “It is not easy to be in the top three in Africa with our weak league that is the basis for a strong national team but the federation and the ministry cannot achieve the target alone, the private sector should be part of this project through sponsorship and establishing institutional clubs to boost competition.”
With volleyball, its looks a bit promising compared to the other two disciplines. The national U-18 and U-19 teams are currently ranked fourth on the African continent while the national senior team also is number four since the 2015 All African games that took place in Congo-Brazzaville.
At the same continental show piece, Rwanda’s female beach volleyball duo Denyse Mutatsimpundu and Charlotte Nzayisenga won the first bronze medal after they beat neighbors Kenya in the final.
In 2013, four national volleyball teams competed in World Championships in the year for the first time in the country’s history.
Four teams, including Men U19, U21 and U23 Beach volleyball men and women represented Rwanda on the world stage.
This year, the women beach volleyball team lost to Egypt in the final gold match of the African qualifiers that took place in Nigeria.
Rwanda volleyball federation (FRVB) president Gustave Nkurunziza however explained that despite the promising situation of the sport in the country, the federation still faces a tough challenge that has limited them to reach their full potential in the past four years.
Nkurunziza revealed that lack of enough and modern facilities like stadiums remains a problem plus inadequate financial means that have seen the national teams miss out on several important international competitions.
“We are on a very good track I am sure but the main problem we face is lack of enough infrastructure. For instance we have only the Amahoro indoor stadium for the national teams that was built in 1987 yet it does not fulfill the international standards,” said Nkurunziza.
Nkurunziza clarified that; ”Under African Volleyball Confederation (CAVB) standards, a volleyball stadium should at least be 12.5m high yet Amahoro is 8.5m high and we are competing with Egypt that has a total of 38 volleyball stadiums in Cairo only and over 100 country wide.”
According to Nkurunziza, it is high time that more stadiums are built so that the country can start hosting international competitions that could not only uplift the sport but also generate revenue for the economy.
How long before Rwanda wins an Olympic medal?
Rwanda is still miles away from winning an Olympic medal unless the country turns focus on not-so mainstream sports disciplines, archery, fencing, javelin or wrestling, according to the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee (RNOSC) vice president, Elie Manirarora.
Manirarora, who was the Chef de Mission for Team Rwanda at the 2016 Rio Olympics Games, made the remarks after the country representatives returned empty handed from summer games.
Rwanda was represented by a team of seven athletes, including; two swimmers, two cyclists and three runners, who performed poorly extending the country’s long wait for an Olympic medal.
“It is an overwhelming ambition to target a medal at the Olympics having qualified with a minima and you are going to compete against athletes that qualified with maxima times, it is impossible and I have to say that we have a long way to go to reach that level,” admitted Manirarora.
Manirarora noted that; “For us, we’re still a long way to be on their level. In swimming, we were just invited while cycling, we are far off countries like France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Britain and many others, so we still have a lot to work.
“But I think we have some potential in sports like archery, fencing, wrestling and javelin if we can put resources and energy into developing these sports, I believe we can succeed,” he explained.