Rwanda recently hosted the 2010 Cecafa/ Kagame Cup Club Championships in the Capital Kigali, and home side APR FC were crowned champions. It was the club’s third regional title, all of which have come at home (2004, 2007 and 2010). It was the fourth time the tournament was being held in Rwanda, the first time being in 2001.
The New Times’ Sports Editor Hamza Nkuutu interviewed The Sports and Culture Minister Joseph Habineza about the tournament and what the outcomes meant for the general status of the game. Excerpts.
Hon. Minister, Rwanda has hosted this tournament (Cecafa/Kagame Club Championships) on several occasions but never before has the government sunk in a lot of money (One million US Dollars) as has been the case this year.What is the meaning of this and how different is this year’s tournament from the previous ones held in Rwanda?
For me it is just a continuation of what we have been doing. We know that every year, everything is improving, the quality of soccer is improving, the cost element also goes up that is why we invested that kind of money into this year’s tournament.
As you know this is a tournament which is always sponsored by His Excellency President Kagame and it was coming to this country and since he is the main sponsor, I think it was worthy putting that kind of money especially to put more excitement and put good conditions for participating teams so that they can play better and have a very good tournament.
You talk of the quality of soccer in Rwanda having improved and that is why the government put in $1 million, do you think the standards have gone up and if yes, what are the signs to support your case?
First of all, look at the quality of football teams on the ground.Their game has been helped by training on good pitches, if you played four years ago, there were no good pitches but now look at Amahoro stadium, it’s a wonderful one, if you look at it you may think it is artificial yet it is natural.
These new artificial turfs we have at Nyamirambo, Mumena, Kicikiro and Ferwafa,have consequently helped players improve on the standards of the game.
And another thing is that, since we started developing the youth segments this has impacted positively on our national team. It is full of young people, who played in the under-20 and now we are developing the under-17.
All these indicators are pointing to the fact that our football is improving. This kind of growth in the quality of our soccer should impact positively on our performance at the regional level and ultimately at the continental level.
We have been telling the Cecafa people that the last Cup of Nations (in Angola) there was no Cecafa team, and…….obviously at the World Cup, there will be none. But at the next edition we should have Rwanda first at any another team from Cecafa. I think we are the leaders in the region and that is the commitment of the government and that’s why everything is improving.
Ask people like Nicholas Musonye , the Cecafa Secretary General and Tenga the Cecafa president. They have confirmed that here in Rwanda, football of all sports has been made a priority. Maybe we think we are not doing enough because of lack of requisite budget but whatever we have, everyone is trying hard, they’re pushing.
Now that you talk of Rwanda being at the next Cup of Nation in 2012 while knowing very well where the country is coming from in terms of football development. I am talking about it’s current status and possibly where it is heading. Where do you see Rwandan football in ten years time, whether you will still be in government or out ?
In ten years time, I have the same thoughts like the President said when he was hosting the tour of the World Cup trophy. He said that he thinks and wishes that Rwanda qualifies for the World Cup maybe after his terms (as President).The President expressed his wish to see Rwanda qualify during his lifetime. And for me, in ten years time, looking at all these football academies that are coming up, I think that we have a brighter future.
I am sure within ten years time, we will have improved more and maybe will have qualified for our first ever World Cup participation-yes we can.
Are you talking about Rwanda qualifying for the World in the next ten years?
Since the next World Cup will be held in 2014, that will be too soon for Rwanda. So naturally 2018 sounds more realistic for us. By the year 2022 we would be strong enough to field a team. Why do I say so?
We are putting together the building blocks one step at a time. I have faith in our current team because the basis of future success can be seen. When you look at our national team, we have about five or six players who have played together for long, from the under 17 team to the under 20 and now at the senior level. That is something that we can count on.
Yet another ingredient is that we now have a very good coach, who has something different from most of the coaches we have had before. The way he relates with players, with the team, you see that things have changed. He is part of the team.He is not making himself the boss.
He is not only considered as someone they play with but relate with. These are the basic ingredients that we can count on in as far as our bigger ambitions are concerned. Hence our dream of fielding a team for the 2018 or 2022 World Cups are not far fetched.
Another case in point would be by looking at what the future holds for us from the future stars being incubated within the numerous academies. These youngsters are now under 17 .In ten years they will be at the peak. Meaning that in ten year’s time Rwanda will be riding high in soccer.
Rwanda has on several occasions in the past come so close to qualifying for major tournaments and ended up so far. The team has had some good players and coaches in the past yet they haven’t achieved a lot. What makes you think, the new coach and the current crop of players will succeed?
For me, the matter is not changing so often. We have been doing that in the past with little success. What I like with the new coach is the brotherhood he has brought in the team. The new coach has brought in a team spirit that has now made the national team to believe they can win every match they play. It is that winning spirit that has been missing. Now it is alive.
Let us talk about local club football. like any other country, there are about three dominant teams but one of them, due to the superiority in terms of finances has been more dominant than the rest. Here I am talking about APR FC. You know that such a team has the capacity to go for any player, mostly young players of their choice especially on the local scene .What emerges is that after such a team has bought such talent , some of these players don’t get a chance to play. This in one way or another is hindering the exploitation of talent. As Sports minister is there anything that is being done to limit such moves, especially if the player is not guaranteed some playing time?
You can’t stop a team to go for any player that it wants. It is a free market. However it is equally important to level the playing field for upcoming talent. Consequently , I asked Ferwafa to closely look at the possibility of identifying some young players to be fielded into the national team. This is one way of leveling the playing field for upcoming talent.
So I somehow concur with you on what you are saying. It is not very healthy for a team to buy talent only for such talent to be put on the bench. Such a scenario is not good for the country’s soccer growth plans. Neither is it good for the individual player in question. I know for sure that professional clubs loans out players. So that is what they (APR) should be doing.
Our best interests lies with what accrues to the national team. That is why we are focusing on young Rwandan players. It would be good to give young talent a chance to play regularly.
There seem to be a general lack of management skills when it comes to how local football clubs are managed. Personally this is something that I believe you are quite aware of. The question is-What is been done to address this problem?
Capacity building in terms of management is one of our focus areas. The Ministry of Sports in conjunction with Ferwafa and Fifa organized a management seminar for all club administrators recently.
This kind of approach I have asked Ferwafa to be doing more frequently. We also need to have these teams restructured for them to have proper and better operational structures.
Rwanda has been recognized by Cecafa along with Tanzania as the countries with best football loving fans, any message for those loyal fans especially in regard to national team, which is the epitome of any country’s football?
Firstly, I must thank Rwandans for their passion for football, that is something we must be proud of. It is good but also challenging because every one wants to make criticism. Everyone wants to give a comment but I would like to thank Rwandans for their passion for soccer. I like it.
The second thing is that it is very encouraging to note that Rwandan football fans have been patient in allowing administrators and other staleholders to work on improving the game’s standards. They have been supporting the team, they are always behind us when the team is not doing well.
They have been making suggestions and bringing up ideas on how we can develop our game. What I ask them is to continue with this kind of spirit especially as our team takes on Tanzania this month. They should support their team so that we qualify for the continental title. You never know we may win. Why not? If anything DR Congo won the last editions. DR Congo cannot be said to be special. Our team (APR) played their team champions TP Mazembe and they beat them here. Yes we can (win CHAN).