The year 2017 has been full of mixed fortunes for Rwandan sports including; hosting regional championships, participating in several international competitions as well as reaching considerable milestones—also, there were bad memories.
In our last issue of Saturday Sports Magazine, Richard Bishumba takes a look at some of the main sporting events in 2017.
It is the most popular sport and takes the lion’s share of the country’s sports budget and indeed football registered some considerable achievements in 2017.
But it also left some bad memories, like the death of Amavubi legends Hamadi Ndikumana, Bonaventure Hategekimana, Rayon Sports goalkeeper Evariste Mutuyimana, among other sports personalities like Jean Sayinzoga and female cyclist Esther Muhabwampundu and Forent Rwigema, the founder Sports in Schools Federation.
Amavubi legends pass on
It was on a gloomy Wednesday morning of Nov. 15 that the Rwandan football fraternity woke up to shocking news of the death of former national football team captain Hamad ‘Katauti’ Ndikumana. At the time of his passing, he was Rayon Sports’ assistant coach to Olivier Karekezi.
Ndikumana guided Amavubi to their historic first and so far the only appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2004, in Tunisia. Without prior complaint of any sickness, the 39-year old is said to have taken charge of the first team’s training earlier on the day he died at his home.
Having played for a host of regional clubs such as Yanga of Tanzania, Burundi’s Vital’O and Rayon Sports as well in Europe, Ndikumana passed away the same night as another ex-Amavubi player Bonaventure ‘Gangi’ Hategekimana, after battling a long illness at Kabutare hospital in Huye district.
Hategekimana played for several local clubs including; Rayon Sports, APR FC, Atraco, SC Kiyovu, Etincelles, Marines, AS Muhanga, Musanze FC and Espoir FC. Both players also featured for the national team, however; Ndikumana had a longer career.
The death of two Amavubi legends Katauti and Gangi came a couple of months after the passing of Rayon Sports goalkeeper Evariste Mutiyimana, on September 12.
The 28-year-old Mutiyimana had no known illness and had had a cozy evening with a relative Lewis Ntwali before going to sleep at his home in Kimisagara and never woke up!
Mutuyimana picked interest in football at a young age and was later to enjoy a stellar career with the national team (2010-2013), SC Kiyovu (2010-2013), Police FC (2013-2015), and Kenya’s Sofapaka in 2015 before joining Rayon Sports in the summer of 2016.
Karate federation lose Sayinzoga
The Rwanda Karate Federation (FERWAKA) lost a key figure, Jean Sayinzoga, 75, who was fondly described as the ‘father’ of modern Rwandan Karate.
Sayizonga, who was the chairman of Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), breathed his last on April 16 at King Faisal Hospital where he succumbed to liver cancer.
Karate as a sport was established in Rwanda before the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. However, Sayinzoga was among the people who later organised to form the Rwanda Karate Federation.
Sayinzonga was the first Rwandan with ‘6th Dan’, which he obtained in 2015 and was followed by Tharcisse Sinzi (5th Dan Grade). Sayinzoga is also known to have introduced and taught Karate in Burundi.
Rayon Sports win 8th league title
Rwanda’s most supported football club, Rayon Sports had a fairy-tale 2016/2017 season in which they stormed to the Azam Rwanda Premier League title with four games to spare, and finished a whole 12 points ahead of traditional rivals APR FC.
Rayon Sports, guided by club legend Djuma Masudi, claimed the league title losing only one league match throughout the season—they recorded 22 wins and 7 draws.
It was their first league title since 2013, hence getting the right to represent Rwanda in next year’s CAF Champions League. Rayon’s other league titles were won in 1975, 1981, 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2004.
Rwanda qualify for CHAN 2018 finals
After failure to qualify for the 2018 African Nations Championships through normal qualifiers processes, Rwanda was given a second chance by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to be part of Africa’s second biggest football event and Antoine Hey’s men made no mistake.
Amavubi were eliminated by Uganda Cranes in the final round of CHAN qualifiers, 3-2 aggregate score in August.
Two months later, it was announced that Egypt, who had been slotted in to replaced Kenya, had withdrawn from the tournament and CAF, who had to find a replacement from the region, set up a qualifying playoff tie between Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Rwanda ousted Ethiopia 3-2 on aggregate score over two legs. Rwanda won 3-2 away in Addis Ababa before both teams played a goalless draw in the second-leg encounter at Kigali Stadium on November 12.
This will be Rwanda’s third appearance at the CHAN finals after the 2011 debut in Sudan and the 2016 edition as the tournament hosts when they reached the quarterfinals but lost to eventual champions, DR Congo.
Gahanga Cricket Stadium inaugurated
It was on a rainy Saturday afternoon, October 28 that President Paul Kagame officially inaugurated the highly coveted Gahanga Cricket Stadium in Karembure, Gahanga Sector in Kicukiro District.
The launch also was attended by different dignitaries, who included British Conservative Party Member of Parliament Andrew Mitchell, Alby Shale, Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RSCF) Project Director.
Shale is a son of the late Christopher Shale, who began working on the idea of building a cricket stadium in Rwanda but passed away before he saw its completion. His son took over the project and saw it through its finishing point, thanks to charitable donations from cricket enthusiasts worldwide.
On top of hosting local games, the stadium, which was built at a cost of nearly Rwf1billion, will also host international matches. The facility is 124 meters high with width of 137 meters.
It has a modern grass pitch of ‘Bermuda Grass’, which is commonly used in modern cricket stadiums.
Construction works started in April 2015 after the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation received a lease certificate for a 4.5-hectare plot in Gahanga Sector.
Duo wins African Beach V-ball championships
It was a dream comes true for Rwanda’s beach volleyball duo of Denyse Mutatsimpundu and Charlotte Nzayisenga after they overcame Moroccan opponents to win the 2017 CAVB Beach Volleyball Cup in Maputo, Mozambique, in May.
The gold medalists qualified Rwanda for the 2017 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships held in July-August in Vienna, Austria. The Rwandan pair qualified along with Morocco, Kenya and Mozambique, but unfortunately lost all their games.
However, that’s not only what the pair did in 2017. In October, the duo re-affirmed once again they are unstoppable queens of Africa when they beat Nigeria in Free Town, Sierra Leone to qualify for the 2018 Commonwealth Games set to be staged in Australia, in April.
Rwanda will be Africa’s sole representative in the quadrennial multi-discipline event.
Debutant clubs win V-ball and B-ball leagues
The national volleyball and basketball championships were in 2017, dominated by teams making their debut appearances.
Gisagara beat Kirehe in play-off games finals to claim the volleyball league while Rwanda Energy Group (REG) overcame stiff challenge from holders Patriots and former champions Espoir, to clinch the basketball league title.
With the country’s best indoor stadium, Gisagara which boasted of some of the most famous names in local volleyball such as; Flavien Ndamukunda, Pierre Marshal Kwizera and Patrick Kavalo, overpowered Kirehe 2-0 in playoffs finals to dethrone the 2016 champions- University of Kibungo.
Kirehe were enjoying their third consecutive season in the volleyball league and were looking to win their first league title but the Gisagara district-sponsored side had other ideas of their own.
It was also the case in basketball league as REG, who were only founded in late 2016, won the league at the first attempt at the expense of Patriots (2016 champions), 2015 winners Espoir and the 2016 play-off winners, IPRC-South.
Then under the tutelage of Jean Bahufite, REG made strong recruitments including Kami Kabange from Uganda’s City Oilers, Ally Kubwimana from Patriots and Bienvenu Ngandu from Espoir.
The club won every local competition but the play-off, where they were denied by Henry Mwinuke’s Patriots, 3-1 in finals.
It is also worth highlighting the fact that, despite losing the league crown to REG, Patriots reached the final of the 2017 FIBA Africa Zone 5 Club Championships in Kampala, Uganda but lost to holders City Oilers. Aristide Mugabe and Kabange were named on the team of the tournament.
Areruya wins Tour du Rwanda
Joseph Areruya, riding for South Africa-based UCI Continental Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, claimed this year’s Tour du Rwanda to become the third Rwandan to win the annual UCI Africa Tour race in four years.
Previously, the 2.2 category race was won by Valens Ndayisenga (2014 & 2016) and Jean Bosco Nsengimana in 2015.
Despite finishing 11th in the final stage, Kigali-Kigali (120km), which was won by compatriot Ndayisenga, the year belonged to Areruya, who covered the eight-day, seven-stage race that covered 819km, in 20 hours, 21 minutes and 29 seconds. Areruya also won the best Rwandan and best African awards.
Areruya made his Tour du Rwanda debut in 2015, as a teenage riding for Team Rwanda, a year in which Nsengimana became the second Rwandan to win the race since it became a UCI-Africa Tour, category 2.2 road race in 2009.
Areruya’s Dimension Data teammate Eyob Metkel finished second, 28 seconds behind the champion, while Kenyan Suleiman Kangangi of Germany’s Team Bike Aid finished in third place in the General Classification.
Team Rwanda captain Nsengimana came in fourth place (20:23:39) while Patrick Byukusenge completed top five. Areruya was nominated for Best African Cyclist of the year but had to settle for second place, behind South African Louis Meintjes.
APR end 8-year drought to win H-ball league
APR handball club ended their league title drought after overcoming their traditional archrivals Police 37-28 in the final league match to claim the title they had last won in 2009. It was Police’s first league defeat of the season but enough to see them lose the title.
Both teams finished the season with the same tally of points, each with 53 points; however APR were crowned champions due to head to head record between the two rivals.
Police had defeated APR 40-38 in the first round, which implied that APR’s 37-28 win left them with a goal difference of seven goals from the two encounters.
By winning the championship, Anaclet Bagirishya’s APR represented Rwanda in CAHB Africa Club Championship in Tunisia, only to finish bottom of the 15-team continental showpiece.
The U20 men’s national team also competed in 2017 Africa Handball Championship in Senegal, where they put up an appalling performance after failing to go past group stages.
Rwanda opened the count on a positive note, beating Madagascar 35-24 but failed to do the needful in the next two group fixtures against hosts Senegal and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Winning gold at Para-Taekwondo World Championships
Rwanda Para-Ttaekwondo national team won two medals at the World Championships at the Copper Box Arena at London’s Olympic Park, in October.
Console Rukundo won gold in the K42 female under-58kg after defeating Modro Suelen from Brazil while Jean De La Croix Nikwigize won bronze in the K44 male under-61kg category.
Rwanda returns to Davis Cup
After three year absence from the international scene, Rwanda returned to continental Davis Cup in Egypt, in July. The team of four players in Egypt, led by Olivier Havugimana also had Etienne Niyigena, Fabrice Tuyishime and Hamisi Gatete.
Rwanda’s number one, Ernest Habiyambere also represented the country at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games, also in July, in Bahamas. The 18-year-old reached in the quarter-finals.
National team disappoints again
Amavubi wrapped up the year with another disappointing performance, failing to advance from the group stages of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup held in Kenya, which was won by the hosts after they overcame Zanzibar 1-0 in the title match.
In 2015, then under Johnny McKinstry, Amavubi reached the final in Ethiopia but lost 1-0 to regional powerhouse Uganda. The championship wasn’t held in 2016.
The national basketball team also failed to survive early exit at the 29th FIBA Africa Basketball Championship (Men’s Afrobasket) staged in Tunisia, where the hosts beat holders Nigeria 77-65 to be crowned African champions.
Rwanda finished third in Group C behind Tunisia and Cameroon, having managed one victory in the tournament, 75-55 against Equatorial Guinea.
The Rwanda volleyball team finished sixth at the CAVB Men’s African Volleyball Championship in Cairo, Egypt. Tunisia emerged African champions after overcoming hosts and defending champions Egypt in straight sets in the final.
Rwanda advanced to quarter-finals from Group D as first runners-up behind Algeria. In the round of last eight, Paul Bitok’s men lost to Zone 5 powerhouse Egypt.