As the year 2008 comes to a close, we shall be talking about 2009 and what hopes lie ahead for us as a sports- mad country.
2008 was a year of mixed fortunes for Rwandan sports, many of us would want to forget quickly considering the poor results that mapped it. We began the year with grief, after the national football team the Amavubi Stars failed to make it to finals of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana.
Then, came another major flop despite our strength as an emerging football powerhouse, the national team failed to bring the Cecafa Senior challenge cup for the second time.
Immediately after the Cecafa Championship, national team coach Josip Kuze resigned as Amavubi team head coach, after four months of penning a two year deal which was set to expire in 2010.
The former Dynamo Zagreb coach Kuze had signed a two-year contract deal in October 2007 to guide the Amavubi Stars to the 2010 African Nations Cup finals.
Kuze had helped Rwanda finish second at last year’s GTV Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup held in Dar-es Salaam, Tanzania.
Kuze was the third coach from former Yugoslavia federation to take charge of the Rwandan national team. His predecessor, Serb Ratomir Dujkovic left a huge impact in Rwanda after leading the team to its maiden appearance at the African Nations Cup in 2004.
Ferwafa later on appointed Branko Tucak to replace Josip Kuze as the national football team’s coach.
Tucak who had only one week before he made his debut on Amavubi bench signed a two year deal that will see him guide Rwanda in 2010 World Cup and African Nations cup qualifiers that start on May 30.
The tough talking Croat got a rude welcome when his new team was walloped 4-0 away in Khartoum in the African Nations Championship.
Tucak, 56, is assisted by Raoul Shungu and Eric Nshimiyimana.
Tucak recovered from the Sudan defeat by taking the national team to the third and final round of the 2010 Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers.
Rwanda began their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign on May 30 with a 3-0 home win over Mauritania.
Rwanda beat Ethiopia 2-1 away in Addis Ababa on June 7 before stunning Atlas Lions of Morocco on June 14, 3-1 in Kigali.
As the national team was making headlines on the continent, Atraco was winning its first title on the local scene breaking the dominance of APR and Rayon in the process.
Then came the month of August, it was to be Rwanda’s time to shine in China following the hype that had followed the team’s preparations. The Rwanda Olympic team came back empty handed.
National Rally Championship review
Rwanda Automobile Club (RAC) should be looking forward eagerly to the year ahead after a thrilling 2008 season in which Davite Giancarlo broke his eight-year wait to become the new national rally champion.
It was a commendable effort from the Italian who spent seven years as a bridesmaid (in the shadows) of Rudy Cantanhede (2007 & 2006), Elefter Mitraros (2005) and Tony Saegerman (2004) among others.
RAC also has a lot to look forward to after having Rwanda’s famous Mountain Gorilla rally reinstated on the 2009 African Rally Championship calendar as a reserve calendar.
Presently, the race is provisionally scheduled for September 11-13 but can become an official event if RAC secures enough sponsorship. The signs are already looking good for RAC after securing a good package from Kenya Commercial Bank.
According to RAC president Dismas Kayibanda, the regional bank that has earned a reputation as one of the biggest corporate sponsorship companies in East Africa is said to have agreed in principle to bankroll the event.
Rwanda has until the end of January to confirm her involvement.
Rwanda Mountain Gorilla was temporarily scrapped off the calendar in 2007 after RAC’s failure to lure sponsors.
The last Mountain Gorilla edition (2006) received huge sponsorship from ORTPN, Hotel Novotel, Sonarwa, Rwandair, Rwanda National Police and Dalbit Petroleum amongst others.
APR re-established themselves as Rwanda’s basketball powerhouse after a remarkable performance on the local and regional scene.
Having missed out on last year’s play-offs, the indomitable lions roared themselves back in the limelight by lifting this year’s league title. But it was the worst possible way for Cliff Owuor to record his third league title as APR won the title through default points.
On the regional scene, APR maintained their high reputation by retaining the Zone 5 Club Championship which was staged in Ethiopia.
This victory powered the club into the Fiba-Africa Men’s Club Championship, arguably the most competitive and lucrative club competition in African basketball.
This championship was held in Tunisia and APR finished 8th, dropping one slot from their 7th spot finish in 2007.
JUST like in basketball, APR recorded overwhelming success in the 2008 volleyball season. The Coca Cola championship, Coupe du Rwanda and the Rutsindura Memorial capped what has been described as a very successfully debut coaching season for Jean Luc Ndayikengurukiye, a former APR and National team captain.
APR’s arch-rivals National University of Rwanda (UNR) struggled for most of the season before redeeming some pride by winning the Carre d’As tournament.
The varsity side managed by Fidele Nyirimana, a former national team ‘libero’ trounced old adversaries Kigali Volleyball Club 3-1 in the final.
This title was a great source of relief for Nyirimana who had come under criticism after the club’s inconsistent run in the championship and Coupe du Rwanda.
In the ladies’ category, first timers Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) proved a force to reckon with on the local volleyball scene after securing the Carre d’As and Rutsindura Memorial titles. On both occasions, RRA beat National University of Rwanda (UNR).
After this display, officials from the local volleyball governing body (FRVB) tipped the club to win more trophies in years to come.
FRVB also scored high after staging the most capitulating beach volleyball competition in Rwanda. The five-week tournament sponsored by MTN Rwanda brought a whole new aroma to the sport.
The competition held in Kibuye, Huye, Kigali and Gisenyi attracted large crowds. Some of the outstanding players in the competition included the Mutabazi brothers; Eliya and Emmanuel, Emilienne Uwineza and Jeannette Niyigena, Jean Paul Mana and Christopher Mudahinyuka among others.
The winning pairs walked away with lucrative cash packages in the range of Frw 180,000, while the first, second and third runners-up pocketed Frw 100,000, Frw 60,000 and Frw 40,000 respectively courtesy of MTN Rwanda.
At the end of the season, the federation noted that there was a tremendous improvement in the standard of volleyball.
The future of Rwandan cricket remains in jeopardy after Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) was robbed of its Kicukiro oval.
If the concerned authorities don’t come to the association’s rescue, then the sport could face extinction yet we should not forget that it is the same sport that speeded up Rwanda’s drive to join the Commonwealth.
Looking back at the 2008 calendar, the highlight of the season was Rwanda’s fourth spot finish in the biannual ICC World Cricket League/Div 3 tournament which was staged in South Africa.
It was by far Rwanda’s best performance in the tournament after previous performances of 7th in 2004 and 6th in 2006. In isolation, one can assert that this performance lifted Rwanda’s profile.
Rwanda also for the first time fielded a ladies’ cricket team in the ICC/ACA East African Women tournament which was held early this month.
Although she finished last, there were positives to carry from the tournament. Rwanda also produced the tournament’s top wicket keeper which in itself was a big achievement.
This year, Cricket without Boundaries, a UK-based charity organization continued to offer its support to Rwandan cricket through conducting coaching clinics, umpiring clinics as well as offering mini cricket equipment to RCA.
Rwandan golf had a mixture of good and bad in 2008. The peak of the sport however was the Rwanda Open, Rwanda’s most coveted golf tournament.
Although Rwanda lost the amateur crown to Uganda’s Vincent Byamukama, the professional title stayed home after a stellar performance from Rwanda’s professional rookie Jean Baptist Hakizimana.
On the regional scene, Rwanda posted their worst ever showing in the East Africa Golf Challenge. The golfers finished last in the five-nation tournament that was hosted by Kenya.
Kenya retained the title after amassing 22 points. Tanzania followed closely with 18.5 points while Uganda came third with 12 points. Burundi finished fourth with 5 points while Rwanda came fifth with a disappointing three points.