SEVENTEEN years down the road after the country experienced the genocide against the Tutsi which claimed over a million human lives, the government of Rwanda has been on an impressive trajectory to build its image as a serious sporting nation.
The government of Rwanda through the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture has supported participation in sports at all levels from school children and communities to public and private servants.
Uniquely, in Rwanda sport is understood as a vehicle for uniting the people and promoting development. This idea translated into grassroots actions has produced evident success on the courts, tracks an field.
Notably, Rwanda in a short time has won honours on the continental in football, basketball, cycling, athletics, rally, sport for the disabled and volleyball to mention but a few.
However, much as the government has injected so much tax payers’ money into our athletes, there is no reflection of their performances on the international level.
The Program manager of Rwanda Olympic Committee Serge Mwambali, who also happens to be the Chef de Mission for 2012 London Games, had different views.
He said that it would be early to think about investing in our athletes to win medals at major international competition such as the Olympic Games.
“The major point here is that our athletes are able to compete in international competitions. This helps to improve the image of the nation. But on the other hand, it helps our athletes to gain on their experience.
“Winning medals needs more than this. To be honest, we have not reached that stage where we should rely on our athletes for medals apart from a few, who are committed to the cause.”
Mwambali noted that the most nations, in the case of Olympic Games, start to prepare their athletes four years early, yet in Rwanda, preparations are usually done two or even one year to the event.
Another factor is that our athletes don’t know what they want; some professional athletes feel they will run to earn a few bucks here and there, hence missing the whole point of sports being committed and have passion for it.
For instance, Paralympic athlete Hermas Muvunyi won silver and bronze medals in the September All Africa Games held in Maputo, but does that mean the National Paralympics Committee really injected a lot of money in his preparation?
It is his passion that even many months before the games, he had the zeal and determination and went on to work for a medal which he accomplished.
This shows an athlete who has the passion for what he does unlike many of them who just join the sport to make ends meet.
But the most important factor is that there is no coordinated strategic planning from the athletes’ level, club to the federation level, and this is worrying.
If there was coordinated planning, then federations should not be having difficulties choosing capable athletes to represent them in international competitions, a feat which results in many athletes going merely for trips than staging good performances.
The basketball federation boss Lt. Eric Ssalongo said that even though federations did a lot to prepare their athletes, the continued tendency of regrouping national team players two weeks before any event will also leaves a negative impact.
“We don’t have professional players in our sport today, we have a mixture of semi-professional and amateur players and that is why regrouping two weeks ahead of any event has never resulted into something good.
“We should assemble and keep our athletes together and prepare them effectively for any competitions, if this is done, then I think this will improve our fortunes,” he stated.
Lack of build up matches or test events for athletes is also a very big problem that needs to be addressed if the country is to have her athletes winning medals in the future.
“In our case, we have fielded our national teams in continental competitions without engaging them in any friendly matches. Friendly matches help much in assessing your weakness before you take centre stage in competing in any competition,” Ssalongo said, referring to the national basketball teams
Though sport is recognised as one of the pillars of social transformation and development in society, our athletes have not produced value of what has been spent on them.
Over a billion Rwandan francs have been spent on our athletes in both preparations and participation costs but no tangible results have been produced.
So much investment was put on the junior wasps’ preparations for Africa U-17 championship and they went on and finished runners-up to Burkina Faso after a 1-2 loss.
A few months down the road after qualifying for the Fifa U-17 Fifa World Cup finals held in Mexico, they went on and finished bottom of the group with one point after losing twice to England and Uruguay and snatched a goalless draw against Canada.
The heavy investment that was put on them seems to have ended in Mexico, no follow up has been done to enable them make a step forward and elevate the talents by going for professional football abroad.
In March, Rwanda sent a team composed of Europe-based quartet of Eric Sebahire, Gervais Hakizimana, Claudette Mukasakindi, Jean Baptista Simuceka, Epiphanie Nyirabarame to compete in the 39th World Cross Country Championship held in Punta Umbria, Spain and none even came among the top 20.
In August and September respectively, men and women basketball team which also posted poor performances in the Fiba Afrobasket championship held in Madagascar and Mali respectively.
It is only sport for the disabled out of the 113 athletes from different sporting activities sent to the All Africa Games held in Mozambique that rescued the country with two medals courtesy of Muvunyi.
Everyone knows how disappointing the Amavubi team which takes a lions’ share of the government money, performed in continental qualifiers for 2012 Africa Nations Cup final due to be co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon respectively.
So, where are we heading? And the most intriguing matter is that these huge investment and performances are witnessed year in and out and yet administrators seem relaxed and contented with the status quo!
There is no immediate remedy to this problem but at least the government cans tart to put money mainly in talent identification such these federations can selectively choose and mentor their athletes from an early age, who will benefit the country in the future.
This is the only solution for Rwandan sportsmen and women to become successful on the international scene. If not then we will always lag behind Kenya and Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and many others in international competitions because their athletes have taken a step-forward to make their countries pride.
Rwanda has always relied on some individuals to do the work for the rest. I mean the likes of Dieudonne Disi who was a threat even to elite athletes before injuries sent him in the exit chamber and with him out, eyes have been laid out to Muvunyi ahead of London Games.