Handball is one of the least known and undervalued sport not only in Rwanda but across the African continent and possibly beyond.
To put this into perspective for the case of Rwanda, it was only last year that the senior men national team first participated in Zone 5 qualifying tournament (for the 2015 All Africa Games that took place in Congo-Brazzaville in September).
This discourages young players with talent and passion for the sport, since they see no role models and reason to pursue a career in handball as opposed to, say, football, cycling or athletics.
But of course no one escapes their destiny. Saturday Sport’s GEOFFREY ASIIMWE profiles GILBERT MUTUYIMANA, one of the best, if not the best handball player that the country has ever produced.
The 26-year old is the captain of local giants Police, who have dominated the national league for the past five years.
In the 2015/16 season, Mutuyimana guided his club to four trophies, including the national league, Genocide memorial, Heroes Day and Carre’s d’As – finishing as the league’s top scorer with 137 goals.
He was named the season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP).
Born on December 22, 1989 in Kimisagara Sector, Nyarugenge District in the City of Kigali, to Gregoire Nzabarinda (RIP) and Eugenia Nyiramana, Mutuyimana is the first born in a family of four – two boys and two girls.
His father and two siblings (a boy and a girl) were killed during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi that claimed over a million lives. He survived with his mother and a sister.
Mutuyimana attended Ecole Primaire Kimisagara and Ecole Primaire Muhima in Nyarugenge District for his primary education before joining Groupe Scholaire Officiele de Butare in Huye District in 2001 for his secondary education.
In his senior four – while doing Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry –, he switched to Groupe Scholaire Saint Joseph Kabgayi where he spent two years before joining Ecole Secondaire Gafunzo in Nyamagabe District where he completed his studies in 2007.
In 2013, he enrolled into the Rwanda National Police taking a one-year training course and graduated with the rank of Police Constable. He weighs 74kgs and is 1.84m tall.
He says he looks up to French handball player Nikola Karabatić, who plays for Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and has won two Olympic gold medals with the French national team; in 2008 and 2012.
Away from handball, Mutuyimana, who is single, is a fan of local football giants APR as well as English Premier League side Arsenal.
As a child who lost his father and two siblings at only a tender age of five as a result of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, Mutiyimana describes his childhood as a “complicated one.”
“After the Genocide I did not stay with my mum and I was taken by my aunt, who stayed in Kiyovu, it was such a difficult time that I grew up on streets playing football,” he recalls.
He adds: “I grew up loving football so much I was always selected in my school’s football team both in primary and secondary. I used to play as a right back until senior three when I began playing handball.”
Speaking to Saturday Sport in exclusive interview, Mutuymana disclosed that in 2004, while in senior three, his school then (Groupe Scholaire Officiele de Butare) organised an inter-class handball competition.
Without any prior knowledge of the game, Mutuyimana decided to play for his class that did not have enough players to make a full team.
“I had never tried handball before, but I felt I could play it because to me it looked as an easy game that requires less time to adapt to,” he recalls.
During the competition, the school’s handball team coach, Froduald Karamira, spotted him and was very impressed with his potential and went on to convince him to join the handball team. “That is how I ditched football for handball,” he says.
“Handball was the most popular sport at school and I immediately fell in love with it and quickly and seamlessly integrated into the school team.”
After joining Groupe Scolaire St Joseph Kabgayi, Mutuyimana continued to play handball and captained the school team winning two inter-school titles in 2005 and 2006.
Subsequent to these feats, he attracted interest from Nyamagabe-based Ecole Secondaire Gafunzo, which he joined in 2007, and went on to help them to win the inter-school handball competition in the same year.
After completing his secondary school education, Mutuyimana was recruited by national league side APR in 2008 spending three seasons with the army side during which he helped them win the 2009 league title, their only league success to date.
In 2011, he joined Police handball club and won two league titles, two Carre d’ As titles, two beach handball titles, two Heroes Day tournament titles and two Genocide Memorial tournament trophies. In 2013, he enrolled in the national police force attending a one-year training course.
He said, “In 2013, RNP officials asked us (players) if anyone of us would be interested in joining the Force so they can be sent on a training course and afterwards we would come back and continue playing, and I was one of those that embraced the idea.”
After coming back to the field of play in 2014, Mutuyimana was named the captain of the Police handball club and has since led the club to three consecutive league titles in addition to several other trophies besides his numerous individual awards.
As a result, Police have represented Rwanda at African Handball Champions League in 2012, 2015 and 2016, although they are still waiting for their first win at the finals tournament.
Mutuyimana made his maiden national team appearance in 2009 during the U-20 Africa Zone 5 Championships that was staged in Bujumbura, Burundi.
His second appearance was in 2012 during a similar tournament in Nairobi, Kenya, while his senior team debut came last year during the 2015 All African Games, Zone V qualifiers.
The 26-year old has won several titles with Police and these include; five league titles, Carre d’ As, Beach handball, Heroes Day tournament titles (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016) and four Genocide Memorial titles (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016) plus the 2015 East and Central African Handball Federation Championship.
Individually, he has been named the league MVP three times -- in 2014, 2015 and 2016. ECAHF MVP 2015, Genocide Memorial tournament MVP 2014 and 2016, Beach handball MVP 2015 and 2012 U-20 Zone 5 Championships MVP.
Best and worst moments
Asked about his best and worst moments, he said: “My best moment was in 2012 when I first travelled in a plane to Morocco with Police for our debut in the African Champions League while my most difficult time was in 2013 during the training course, it was really tough but, thankfully, I made it.”
“My ultimate dream is to play handball at a professional level in Europe and I hope I will achieve it now that we are competing in major competitions like the African Champions League where you meet scouts from different countries,” he declared.
He says, “My appreciation goes to my coach Antione Ntabanganyimana, he taught me handball since I started playing the game because we live in the same neighborhood and I have developed through his hands.”