Rwanda’s most decorated Paralympian Hermas Muvunyi has said he will only consider reversing his decision to retire if there are fundamental changes to inspire Paralympic athletes in the country.
The 28-year-old announced his retirement last week, drawing the curtain on a glittering nine-year career after failing to win a medal at 2016 Rio Paralympic Games in Rio de Janiero.
However, his decision has left the general public wondering why he has chosen to leave the stage when he can still cut it at the highest level, against the best in the world—many Rwandans have called on the former world champion to give his decision a second thought.
Muvunyi insists the decision to retire is purely a personal choice as he wants to leave the stage for the young and upcoming talent, something that leaves many unanswered questions from someone, who still harbors ambition to carry the country’s flag to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Muvunyi claims that announcing retirement was a carefully thought through decision between him, his personal advisor and his family.
“I want to tell everyone that I have not retired because of age or that may be I had reached my peak but sometimes circumstances beyond us, deny us the opportunity to reach our full potential,” he told Saturday Sport in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
He noted that, “We go through so many challenges as professional athletes which at times requires third party assistance, so when that is not done you rather step aside other than sticking around without knowing what will happen the next day.”
The Kamonyi-born athlete hinted that he has sacrificed to make his country proud but his effort and desire to achieve greater success had been betrayed by the same people supposed to support him – he did not mention names.
“I don’t want to point fingers to either the Ministry of Sports and Culture or National Paralympic Committee but if I do my work effectively and I wait for support from those responsible and it never comes or you get less than the minimum required, you cannot expect a positive result,” he added.
No action plan and poor preparations
When asked to clarify the specific challenges that have actually instigated his premature retirement, Muvunyi revealed that; “There are a lot of challenges and of course they have to be there because nothing is delivered to you on silver platter, but you can’t expect success without proper preparations.
“For instance, as a professional player, you should at least be prepared for a competition like the Paralympic Games for at least 10 months but in my case, this is done within just a month or two to the competition, which completely shows that there is no action plan for these competitions.”
He further explains that throughout his career, he has met and interacted with several highly-rated professional athletes on how they prepare, and what they tell him, “is like day and night between them and us here.”
“It is quite amazing that for them they prepare for Paralympics at least for three years, now imagine that for me I am given that small facilitation a month or two before, how do you expect me to out compete such athletes,” he wonders with an expression of disappointment on his face.
His point can be supported by how he and the national women sitting volleyball team that represented the country at the 2016 Rio Paralympics were prepared and performed at the actual games.
After the sitting volleyball team secured their historic qualification in July last year, National Paralympic Committee (NPC) designed a preparation road map dubbed Road to Rio which included three training camps in Slovenia, China and Netherlands plus special weekly training camps at NPC gymnasium.
But while the sitting volleyball team was competing in different international championships, this was not the case for Muvunyi, who was actually Rwanda’s realistic medal hopeful.
NPC did not organize a single training camp for Muvunyi, instead he competed in the Tunis Grand Prix and Berlin Open Grand Prix, two competitions that NPC believed that were enough to put him in a good position to win a medal in Rio.
“I don’t want to say that there was imbalance in how I and the sitting volleyball team were prepared, I think it was their plan and they had their priorities, something that I could not change or even influence,” Muvunyi explains.
The sitting volleyball team finished last recording their worst performance after losing all games to finish eighth out of eight countries that participated.
Lack of motivation
The reigning African champion in 400m T-46 (winner of 2015 All African Games) also revealed that the lack of motivation is another big factor that influenced his decision to quit the sport.
He said, despite his achievements, which have come through hardship, he has earned almost nothing from the sport. That is why he’s retiring in order to look for other opportunities that will put food on the table for him and his family.
“This sport requires devotion and hard work but the returns are less, for example here (Rwanda) you get some money only when you win a medal and only from international competitions.
“Imagine receiving just Rwf2m for winning a gold medal from the All African Games or IPC-World Championships? This is money I spend on personal preparations, which leaves nothing for my survival,” Muvunyi lamented.
Possibility of reversing his decision
Asked if there is any possibility to reverse his decision, he said, “It is possible, but only if there are fundamental changes in how things are being done in terms of governance and facilitation of Paralympics in the country. If nothing changes, I plan to continue my studies at the university.”
In a separate interview, the vice president of National Paralympic Committee Dr. Dieudonne Mutangana strongly refuted the accusations and revealed that the ‘so called reasons are baseless insisting that the athlete has been given maximum facilitation in regard to the available means hence disclosing that he should retire on his own and not try to drag the committee in mud.
“NPC has tried to do everything possible in its capacity to prepare Muvunyi over years, may be some times these athletes reach a time and they feel they deserve more than they get but they should also consider their country’s economy,” said Mutangana
“If he has decided to retire, he can retire smartly but we as NPC we have done everything we could to make him a better athlete,” he added
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 Muvunyi did.
Attention will now turn to Jean Claude Ndayisenga, who competes in the 400m T-47 category and who, at 25 years is getting older.
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.
Born on December 3, 1988 in Mugina sector of Kamonyi District to Sylvestre Habimana and Lydia Nyiramasirabo, Muvunyi is the fourth born in the family of seven—five boys and two girls.
He attended his primary education at Mugina B, before joining College Saint Ignace for ordinary level, he later joined College la Fraternite de Ndaza in Muhanga District for advanced level specializing in Agriculture and completed in 2011.
Muvunyi 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.