WHEREAS one could arguably say that Rwanda Chess made a couple of steps forward in the year 2015, these past 12 months saw Rwanda Chess Federation (FERWADE) make more strides backwards.
There were high hopes when the chess fraternity cast the ballot to elect new leaders in April, leaders who everyone thought would be committed to the task at hand and most importantly, honest, among other qualities.
Eight months down the road, Ben Tom Zimurinda, the president of Vision Chess Club, one of the only registered clubs in the country, says he has painfully contemplated pulling his club out of the federation he no longer trusts as the path the latter is taking chess is “not the one we would wish to follow.”
“My summation of the year is in one word: failure. A big failure. A year of darkness, and for me federation officials are to blame for this,” Zimurinda said.
He adds, “It is absurd when people are elected and entrusted with a duty, they swear to perform but, instead, things simply continue deteriorating.”
There was hope in April when delegates elected Kevin Ganza, Rugema Ngarambe, Alain Niyibizi and Christella Rugabira, as president, vice president, secretary general and treasurer respectively for a four-year term.
Previously, Ganza was vice president. Niyibizi and Rugabira retained their posts in the new leadership team. Ngarambe as well has a past with the federation seeing that he was part of its leadership team just about 10 years ago.
Zimurinda’s discontent, by and large, is due to continued poor management of the game.
By end May, everything seemed to have been going fairly well notwithstanding controversies emerging in qualifiers for the 2016 Chess Olympiad. At some point during those ties rife were allegations of gamesmanship.
But the qualifiers trudged on and, eventually, the full national squad – in the open and women categories – was set.
In September, following months of preparation, players were disappointed when the national chess team unexpectedly failed to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan for the 2016 Chess Olympiad, a biennial chess tournament in which teams from all over the world compete.
The aura of secrecy espoused by federation officials in the period prior to the tournament remains suspect. The federation was blamed for its deplorable planning; especially failure to get sponsors on time, as well as poor communication, key faults which continue to cause more harm than good.
Failure to participate in the 42nd Olympiad, as some said, was a big dent on the federation’s credibility.
To add to Zimurinda’s dismay, a mid-December annual national championship was called off a few days after it started. And, as if to make matters worse, FERWADE is now listed among nine sports federations recently suspended by Ministry of Sports and Culture (MINISPOC) for they lack legal status.
The annual juniors’ national championship, in November, was the only competition on the current chess tournament calendar that passed without major incidents. But even then, it too was preceded by a little jostling to right the wrongs that threatened it.
Ivan Mugisha, another chess player, was particularly “angered” by the fact that Rwanda failed to make it to the Olympiad “even when we had a team that was capable of getting us a fair result.”
“The federation was always caught offside. Poorly planned tournaments, haphazard audits, poorly organized elections, to say the least,” he said.
“But the highlight for me was the rated tournament early this year plus the Genocide Memorial tournament where I won two medals.”
Despite enjoying himself during the June annual Genocide memorial chess tournament, Mugisha is one of the players who ditched the December annual national championship.
“It was poorly organized. It seemed intentionally poorly organized perhaps because the federation had it on the calendar but the people within didn't want it to go ahead. This was the most infuriating sign of how our federation is ill prepared to move chess forward.”
Earlier this year, following their election, the top new office bearers of the federation said they were aware of the huge task at hand and would do whatever it takes to grow the game.
But the performance that followed was anything but inspiring.
Ganza admits the year “has not been a good experience” for the Chess community, but quickly stresses that “some commendable activities were conducted.”
He commends “some achievements ranging from getting our very first FIDE Arbiter, and having held a colorful” junior championship with up to 50 participants – more than 40 percent were girls – in four categories.
“It is true we have experienced fewer numbers of players participating in adult tournaments in comparison to the previous year,” he admitted.
“The other failure recorded was not to get the federation registered. However, we are happy that the founding three clubs successfully registered and we can only hope that soon the federation would build on that and submit the application.”
Not being able to participate in the Olympiad, Ganza acknowledges, has affected on the morale of players which reduced participation in subsequent local tournaments.
“We hope that the coming year will be better as we plan to put more effort in the young ones and, again, our priority is to get the federation registered.”
Whatever Ganza says, on the other hand, will be worthless – even insincere – if not backed up by instantly recognizable results, going forward.
There are voices, even if hushed, clamoring for the federation’s decision-making quartet to resign. At the moment it is hard to tell whether the latter is the worst thing that can happen to Rwanda’s chess.
On the other hand, should something of the sort happen, what is conceivably most disconcerting is that there seems to be no reasonable and willing substitutes to take on the big task.