The 2019/20 BK Basketball National League comes to a close today, October 24, marking the end of what has been the longest season – in domestic basketball – due to the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted sport all over the world.
The season started on Friday, January 17, and it was suspended on March 14 before resuming under a new format last Sunday, October 18.
Only the top eight teams in men’s category and women’s top four – as per the March 14 table standing – participated in the shortened championship in a safe ‘bubble’ environment. All the games are played at Kigali Arena, while all teams are accommodated at Golden Tulip Hotel.
Upon completion of the league, organisers say that the attention will then be turned to the 2021 African Basketball Championships (Afrobasket) qualifiers due in Kigali next month.
To get a pulse on the activities, Weekend Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo sat down with Désiré Mugwiza, President of the Rwanda basketball federation (Ferwaba), to understand the experience of resuming competitions during Covid-19, the progress on preparations for the Afrobasket qualifiers and the future prospects of the game in Rwanda’s sports industry.
Basketball has taken the lead in resuming the games after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted off on sports activities. What is the secret behind? And how has the experience been like?
We tirelessly worked together as the Ferwaba executive committee, member clubs of the league and partners so that we would be ready to go when the Ministry of Health gives a green-light for competitions to resume.
Once the green-light was given, we hurried to fulfill the Covid-19 guidelines. At all fronts, we were ready and the league, since the restart, has been a huge success.
Everything has gone according to the plan.
All the teams are living in one hotel, and games are taking place in the same arena, has this posed any challenge?
For players to be together in one hotel, traveling in one van, playing on one field; and not meeting with other people outside the bubble has played a big role in preventing any possible Covid-19 spread.
Désiré Mugwiza, President of the Rwanda basketball federation (Ferwaba), speaks during the draw ceremeny of the 2021 African Basketball Championships (Afrobasket) in Kigali last December. Photo: File.
Until now (as of Thursday, October 22), not even one person has returned a positive test for the virus in camp. All the players, coaches and staff have been compliant to the prevention measures, and we have hope the league will conclude without a single Covid-19 case.
As one of the leaders of sporting federations in Rwanda, what have you learnt from these challenging times of the pandemic?
I have learned a lot of lessons. First, we have learnt that we should comply to expert regulations if we are to defeat the pandemic, which we did to a great extent. Second is that we learned the hard way the importance of saving culture and the need for our players to be trained about it. For about 6 months, they were not playing and clubs were not been able to pay them.
Time has come for us as leaders to sit down and look for ways to teach the athletes how to save, and also put in place a saving scheme for players so it can assist them in times like this.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are countries that did not complete their leagues. For Rwanda, the league concludes this weekend. Do you think its resumption will have a good impact on the national team’s performance in the upcoming competitions?
Without a doubt. Braving the many obstacles we had to restart of the league was a great decision and it will definitely help the national team; mainly in two aspects. First, the players have gained confidence gain after such a long layoff. And, secondly, the national team coaches have observed the fitness and form status of players and that will help them to make an informed selection.
Kenneth Gasana (L) averaged 10.7 points and a team-high four assists per game at FIBA Afrobasket 2017 finals tournament in Senegal. Net photo.
But, the resumption of the league will not help the national team alone. It has also been helpful to Patriots basketball club who will represent Rwanda in this year’s Basketball Africa League.
Rwanda is going to host 11 nations that are expected to turn up for the Afrobasket qualifiers tournament. What are the implications of this development? How will it particularly benefit Rwandans?
First, for the international basketball federation (Fiba) to have chosen Rwanda to host these qualifiers shows confidence they have in our country, and the government’s measures in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It is a great honour to Rwanda and Rwandans in general.
The success of this tournament, an event of 12 countries, will also send a clear message to the international community that other mega activities like conferences are also possible and Rwanda is able to safely organise any event of any caliber even in these challenging times.
Lastly, there tournament will bring in the country over 300 guests, and this is good for the economy. Players in the services, hospitality and transport industries stand to benefit from this.
The tournament is due to next month. How far with the preparations?
There has been set up a local organising committee headed by the Ministry of Sports, but it also includes other institutions such as Ferwaba, Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Police, and Rwanda Convention Bureau. We are working round the clock to have everything in place for a successful event – both in terms of the tournament’s logistics and safety against the Covid-19.
The fact that we resumed the league successfully, it proves and gives us confidence that we can manage any tournament without any fear for Covid-19. It is possible and we have showed it. Now what will follow is to put effort in preparing the national team.
The tournament is scheduled for November 25-29 at Kigali Arena.
The league games are played behind closed doors, is there any hope that there will be fans inside the arena during the Afrobasket qualifiers?
Probably yes, probably not. It is too early to say now. The decision will be taken by the Ministry of Sports in close consultation with responsible health institutions. If it would jeopardize the safety of fans and players, then obviously there is no point of letting fans in.
But, if it deemed safe, depending on how the Covid-19 situation will be in the country at the time of the tournament, we would consider requesting to allow a limited number of fans at the games – maybe a third or half of the Kigali Arena’s 10,000-seat capacity.
Simply, it will be determined based on the coronavirus situation prior to the qualifiers.Follow https://twitter.com/NkotanyiDamas