A couple of years ago, six to be exact, former Prime Minister Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi outlined targets for sports institutions in the country that they had to achieve by 2017.
These targets included making the national football team amongst the top 10 in Africa, while the likes of volleyball and basketball federations were projected to have moved up to third and fourth positions on the continent.
However, with just months to the end of the set time frame, it certainly appears that those highly ambitious targets will not be achieved and the situation looks worse off in some disciplines at the moment than it was six years ago.
Just 22 years ago Rwanda was in total tatters after going through the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi that claimed over a millions lives, it is now regarded as one of Africa’s success stories in regards to good governance, security and a thriving economy.
In October last year, the World Economic Forum’s 2015/16 Global Competitiveness report, ranked Rwanda in 58th position of 140 global economies, 3rd in Africa and 1st in East Africa.
However, whereas Rwanda is developing at what some see as rocket speed in so many sectors, the country continues to lag behind in the sports sector.
Rwanda’s continued struggle to make up the gap on other countries is not for the lack of will and resources from the powers that be, but rather due to the fact that the country lacks manpower (read athletes) to compete favorably against the best, no matter how hard they train and try.
Whoever invented the phrase, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ could not have been any closer to the truth but sometimes, life experience has showed that, it’s not always that way.
You could have all the will in the world to achieve something but fail to find a way to attain it due to factors beyond your control—and that remains Rwanda’s Achilles heel in her bid to position herself among the best on the African sporting stage.
Over the years, the government has invested billions of francs to uplift the sports sector; including funding all the topflight football clubs, through different districts and government institutions.
World-over, it’s only in Rwanda where football clubs survive on government funding! But again, Rwanda is not the rest of the world.
Since 1994, among Rwanda’s achievements in football was when Amavubi qualified for Afcon 2004 in Tunisia. Next to that would be the U-17 team qualifying and participating at the 2011 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, to become the first country from the East and Central Africa to play at that level.
The country also hosted and reached the quarter-finals of the 2016 African Nations Championships (Chan)—it was the first time for Amavubi to reach the knockout stage of a major tournament.
However, in terms of winning silverware, the best success has been winning the regional CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup back in 1999 when the tournament was staged in Kigali for the very first time—as hosts, Rwanda entered two teams, ‘A and B’ and Rwanda B stunned Kenya 3-1 in the final.
As you read this, the national team, Amavubi is currently ranked 93 in FIFA ranking after failing to qualify for the 2017 AFCON finals tournament currently taking place in Gabon as well losing to Libya in the preliminary round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Volleyball on track
While it looks certainly unfeasible for Rwanda to be among the top 10 football playing nations in Africa in the foreseeable future, it is becoming even more challenging for basketball to reach the top four and as far as volleyball is concerned, the verdict to get into the top three is still on.
According to the last FIBA rankings, Rwanda is 64th globally and 13th on the continental and first in the region, but with no sponsor and the fact that the top clubs have resorted to using mainly Rwandan players, the standards have dropped a little bit.
The national teams (men and women) no longer strike fear into the opponents as it used to be when the federation was still relying on foreigners, mostly Americans and Congolese—that time, Rwanda was a permanent fixture at FIBA Afro-basket Championships but not anymore.
The U-18 men’s team finished 5th behind Angola (champions), Egypt, Mali, and Tunisia FIBA 2016 Africa U18 Championship that took place in Kigali in July last year.
With volleyball, the present is promising and the future looks bright. Three years ago, four national volleyball teams competed in World Championships, the first time in the country’s history.
In the same year, four teams, including Men U19, U21 and U23 Beach volleyball men and women represented Rwanda on the world stage. Last year, the women beach volleyball team lost to Egypt in the gold match of the African qualifiers that took place in Nigeria.
The national U-18 and U-19 teams are currently ranked fourth on the African continent while the national senior team is at number four.
Cycling, way to go
That said, the sport that will surely put Rwanda high on the African map, if it continues to develop at the current steady rate, is cycling. Through deliberate effort, cycling can be turned into Rwanda’s main sport.
Unlike football, we have seen tangible results in cycling, especially with the national team project dubbed ‘Team Rwanda’ under the leadership of American trainer and former Tour de France rider, Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer.
Rwandan Cycling has made leaps and bounds on the continent and beyond—including competing at the UCI World Championships, 2010 London Olympic Games (Mt. Bike racing) and 2016 Rio Olympic Games (Mt, Bike and Road Race) as well as several other high file competitions.
Tour du Rwanda has become more than just a cycling race for Rwanda but rather a tool to woo tourists to the country and Team Rwanda is ranked highly on the continent, alongside the likes of South Africa, Algeria, Morocco and Eritrea, countries that have a historical cycling tradition.