Karate: Team Rwanda take lessons from poor show at world champs

Espoir Ntungane (left) and Vanily Ngarambe (right) were the only Rwandan players at the World Senior Karate Championships in Madrid, Spain. Both suffered early exits from the competition. Courtesy.

The early exit of Vanily Ngarambe and Emery Espoir Ntungane, Rwanda’s flag bearers at the 24th World Senior Championships which concludes today in Madrid, Spain does not deter the players or the local federation as they vow to work harder.

Ngarambe and Ntungane, both 25, competed in the -84Kg and -75Kg kumite (fighting) categories, respectively. On Tuesday, Ngarambe battled Helio Hernandez (Portugal) and bowed out after a 0-3 loss.

There were no chances for repechage, a competition in which eliminated contestants have another chance to qualify for the next round or the final, as the Portuguese also bowed out soon after.  

The next day, Ntungane, faced Italian champion Luigi Busà, 31, in what was a special match for Rwanda given the strength and vast experience of the opponent.

In Busà, Ntungane was facing the world champion in the -75Kg kumite (fighting) category and he showed no fear despite losing 2-1 in a particularly vigilant battle.

Busà won his second and third matches and reached the final, implying Ntungane would get another chance. But his Slovakian opponent was more prepared and Ntungane suffered, 6-0.

Ngarambe who is the national team captain told Sunday Sport that he cannot say that anything went wrong in Madrid.

He said: “Nothing went wrong; it’s just that we lost against big names and that we had not prepared this world championship as was necessary because of lack of resources. We harvested what we sowed. We should have stayed with coach Hashim and trained at the same pace as during preparation for the African Championships.”

“Our take home is to keep training. Despite the bad results, the score 2-1 against Luigi Busa is something big that Emery did. We, Karatekas from Rwanda, simply need [proper and adequate] follow up.”

For the players who so much wanted to raise the Rwandan flag at a world stage, the humbling leaves a bitter sweet sensation. They went into the competition buoyed by Rwanda’s historic achievement at the African Karate Championships, in Kigali, in September.

At the 17th African Seniors Karate Championships and the 9th African Juniors Karate Championships, the biggest and most glamorous karate event on the continent, Rwanda struck its first ever gold. It emerged sixth best performer after bagging eight medals in total.

Ngarambe won silver. Ntungane bagged bronze.

But after the success at the continental championships, Hashim Mahmoud Mohamed Hashim, the Egyptian Karate expert who had pushed the national squad for three months flew back home.

Hashim left behind a glaring empty space the poor local federation could not pretend to refill on its own.

Then Ntungane and Ngarambe, only determined to give their all, travelled to Spain for the World Senior Championships without coaching staff, among other challenges.

Theogene Uwayo, Rwanda Karate Federation president said: “Success does not come by chance. Success is planned, prepared and funded. Were we really to make a breakthrough in this competition we should not have put on hold the momentum we got from Kigali in the African Championships.”

“We should have kept the Egyptian coach in place, maintained the training rhythm, and he should have been here [Madrid] with us. We are asking of our athletes what we are not equipping them for.”

The lack of resources made it impossible for the entire, or most, of the medal winning squad to travel to Spain where the world’s best Karatekas convened to compete. Uwayo has repeatedly decried the lack of funding which could not allow the federation to prepare and take a bigger squad to Madrid.

Pressed on the fact that lack of ample government funding cannot be the only problem as the federation must also put its house in order, Uwayo acknowledged they have room for improvement.

“I agree that there is room for more work to be done organization-wise. But the main reason is funding capacity. We understand what needs to be done and how to do it,” he said.

“But there is a minimum level of means to be put in place. We proved it with the African Championships. But this [World Senior Championships] is another level and the means to advance here are different.”