We are not a soccer nation, let’s try another sport

As the biennially African Cup of Nation tournament gains momentum in South Africa, Rwanda continues to witness a prolonged drought of absence from this major continental contest.
Arthur Asiimwe
Arthur Asiimwe

As the biennially African Cup of Nation tournament gains momentum in South Africa, Rwanda continues to witness a prolonged drought of absence from this major continental contest.

As such, local football pundits have taken to the airwaves, scoffing at the national soccer governing body, Ferwafa, and its mother ministry, for poor performance that has literally relegated the national team, Amavubi, to mere spectators.

 FIFA rankings paint a bad picture of Rwanda. In fact, it comes last within the region. At 137th position globally and 40th on the continent, Rwanda is behind Uganda (81st), Sudan (100th), Burundi (104th), Ethiopia (110th), Tanzania (124th) and Kenya at 127th.

Some argue that we have wasted millions of francs hiring expensive coaches whose hearts and minds lie elsewhere and ignored the local trainers with some limited experience. Others attribute this poor performance to existing administrative gaps within the governing body, pointing to lack of clarity on the vision of uplifting this sport.  

Much as these criticisms are valid and could be responsible for the weak performance, I will, at the risk of raising a very controversial debate, disagree.  We are simply not a soccer nation.  Yes, we have the passion for the game, probably on an equal measure as the Britons, but we lack the natural talent. 

Otherwise, if it was a question of mismanagement alone, then countries like Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire or our next-door neighbour DRC would never feature at any of the AFCON tournaments.  If indeed it was solely an issue of poor management and ill preparations, then Uganda Cranes, which is enjoying monopoly on the CECAFA scene wouldn’t be the dominant force within the region.

Therefore, while mismanagement is a contributory factor, the problem stretches beyond these gaps to feature the sheer lack of a pool of talented young lads from whom a national team can be drawn.  The last time we were in CAN, images that streamed through our screens were of tongue- twisting youngsters that could hardly pronounce a word of the national anthem. 

If we zeroed in on proper management alone as the missing link for our progress, then we insinuate that countries like Canada, US or UK that have no administrative or managerial gaps would be dominating the global football scene.

 Therefore to put it more bluntly, even if we had the most sophisticated soccer administrators, without raw talent, we would still achieve little.

This is why we need to look elsewhere in other sporting disciplines, pick out those in which we have a competitive advantage and support them.  

As a nation, we need to identify a particular sport, rally behind it and make it our nation’s flagship sporting discipline. Canadians don’t waste time on soccer. They are mad with hockey. Indians or Sri Lankans have never kicked a ball but when cricket is played, these nations come to a standstill.  New Zealand is known for the mighty All Blacks.

 Equally here, we have talented young boys and girls in a sport like volleyball, but this sport is always kept at the periphery. Why would we waste millions on football, which clearly brings us more frustration than joy, and fail to spend it on our volleyball lads who have the capacity to carry our national flag higher?

 As a sport, cycling is evolving fast in our country. Soon it will outshine gorillas in terms of bringing in more visitors–yet we continue to allocate peanuts to this sport, in which we have a competitive edge. 

The steep slopes of Kenya and Ethiopia have given rise to the world’s famous long-distance athletes yet the “land of a thousand hills and valleys’ has failed to produce even one to qualify for Olympics.  We have steeper hills in almost every corner of this country but we have failed to nurture cross-country athletes.  Soccer has simply failed us and we shouldn’t continue courting it or, worse still, continue sucking more and more of our resources.

 As a nation, we can identify a unique sport in which we have strength and a competitive advantage. That sport should be our identity, our flagship sporting discipline and a sport that every child will play in every corner and street of this country. It’s certainly not football.  Soccer should only be left on our screens—after all Man United, Barcelona, Arsenal et al have more followers than Kiyovu FC or Mukura.

 Otherwise, continuing to chase our soccer dreams seems to be as good as good as chasing the wind!

On twitter @aasiimwe

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