So much happened in Rwandan sports – major setbacks and remarkable milestones – over the last ten years that the 2010-2019 decade seemed like an eternity.
The decade began with local football giants, APR, winning the last of their three Cecafa Kagame Cup titles, and it was crowned by the construction of the magnificent Kigali Arena, the biggest indoor facility (10,000-seater) in the East and Central Africa region.
In its first issue of the new decade, Saturday Sport Magazine looks at major moments and events that defined the past decade in Rwandan sports across different disciplines.
2010 – APR win third Cecafa Kagame Cup
The start of the decade coincided with the end of APR prime in regional football as the army side lifted their third Cecafa Kagame Cup title after beating Ethiopian side Saint George 2-0 in extra-time in the final at Amahoro Stadium.
Since that Saturday night of May 29, 2010, the black-and-white outfit have struggled to live up to their status as a regional powerhouse, having previously clinched the continent’s oldest club competition in 2004 and 2007.
Only in a span of seven years, Rwandan teams won the coveted trophy four times. Now-defunct Atraco FC were the 2009 winners after edging Sudan’s Al-Merreikh 1-0 in Sudan.
2011 – Rwanda qualify for U17 World Cup
For the first time ever by any national football team, Rwanda defied the odds to qualify and feature at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico, having booked their ticket after finishing second in the African U-17 Championship on home soil earlier that year.
However, the youthful side were brushed off from the group stage after enduring two defeats to England and Uruguay, and playing out a draw against Canada.
The squad that played the World Cup went on to produce some of the best players the country has had over the last ten years, and most of them have since represented the country in international football with the senior national team – Amavubi.
2012 – History at London Paralympics
Rwanda men’s sitting volleyball team became the first sub-Saharan country to compete in the prestigious Paralympic Games during the 2012 London edition, something that was unheard of since the addition of sitting volleyball in Paralympic disciplines in 1976.
For 36 years, only the North (Arab) African countries represented the continent.
On the world stage, Rwanda finished ninth, with the title going to Iran after beating the United States in the final.
2013 – Muvunyi strikes gold at World Champs
Hermas Cliff Muvunyi became the first Rwandan world champion in 2013 after winning gold in the 800m T-46 (disability sport qualification) at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.
Among other major titles he boasts, the star runner also bagged gold in 400m at the 2015 All-Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville.
2014 – Ndayisenga wins Tour du Rwanda
Since turning international in 2009 and being incorporated into the UCI Africa Tour calendar of races, no Rwandan cyclist had won the Tour du Rwanda until the historic victory of Valens Ndayisenga in 2014.
Following his triumphant performance, Rwandans went on to dominate the next four editions through Jean Bosco Nsengimana (2015), Ndayisenga (second win, 2016), Joseph Areruya (2017) and Samuel Mugisha in 2018.
However, the 2019 title was scooped by Eritrean Merhawi Kudus who was riding for Astana, the first World Tour team, to feature in the famous race – also considered as the biggest race in Africa.
Effective last year, Tour du Rwanda was upgraded to 2.1 from UCI 2.2 category, becoming only the second African cycling competition with a 2.1 badge along with Gabon’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo.
Valens Ndayisenga (2014, 2016) is the first and only rider to win Tour du Rwanda more than once since turning international in 2009.
2015 – Hadi makes history at All-Africa Games
Former Team Rwanda captain Janvier Hadi wrote history at the 11th All-Africa Games in Congo-Brazzaville after winning the gold medal in men’s road race – becoming the first and only Rwandan to ever do so.
Regarded as one of the finest cyclists the country has produced, Hadi, 28, has since retired from the sport and currently lives in the United States.
In what was a year of milestones for local cycling, Jeanne d’Arc Girubuntu also became the first black African to compete in the women’s road race at the 2015 World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, in the U.S.
2016 – Rwanda hosts CHAN finals
Having only previously featured once at the Africa’s second biggest football competition, at the 2011 Sudan edition, Rwanda hosted the 4th African Nations Championships (CHAN) finals tournament. To date, the tournament ranks among the biggest events Rwanda has ever orginised.
The hosts reached the quarter-finals, only to be knocked out by eventual winners DR Congo.
Since 2016, Rwanda has not missed any CHAN finals showpiece, having also played the 2018 tournament and qualified for the 6th edition to be held in Cameroon this year.
Ernest Sugira (#16) scored three times in four appearances during the 2016 African Nations Championships held in Rwanda. The hosts reached the quarter-finals. Photos: File.
2017 – Gahanga Cricket Stadium launched
After years of construction, the state-of-the-art Gahanga Cricket Stadium was inaugurated in October 2017, making it the first of its kind in the region.
The stadium’s construction works were overseen by Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, a UK-based nonprofit after receiving a lease certificate for a 4.5-hectare plot in Gahanga sector, Kicukiro District.
With the modern facility, which is fitted to international standards, Rwanda looks to grow into one of the biggest cricketing nations on the continent – particularly in women’s category.
Gahanga Cricket Stadium is the first of its kind in region.
2018 – Rwandan duo bag gold in Peace Marathon
For the first time since 2004 when the Kigali International Peace Marathon, Rwanda won more than one gold medal after Salome Nyirarukundo and Noel Hitimana bagged the top prizes in women’s and men’s half-marathon events, respectively.
While Hitimana was a surprise winner to halt the dominance of Kenyan runners, it was the second year running that Nyirarukundo clinched the gold in women’s half-marathon.
Nyirarukundo, who represented the country at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, is currently based in Canada since winning Montreal Marathon in a record time of 2:28:02 in September 2018.
2019 – Year of the Kigali Arena
Constructed in a duration of only six months, Kigali Arena was inaugurated by President Paul Kagame in August 2019. With a sitting capacity of 10,000 people, the facility is the biggest in the East and Central African region and among the top 10 on the continent.
While it has so far only hosted music concerts, conferences and basketball games, Kigali Arena is also designed to host volleyball, handball, martial arts and netball events.
Thanks to the modern indoor arena, Rwanda has successfully won the bids to host the Basketball Africa League (BAL) 2020 finals and the 2021 African Basketball Championships – Afrobasket.Follow lavie250