Karenzi on priorities and strategies to push Rwandan tennis forward

Junior Hakizumwami, 14, is ranked number 1 under his age category in East Africa. Photos: Courtesy.

Théoneste Karenzi is the head of Rwanda Tennis Federation (RTF) since April 2019.

However, it is not his first time as RTF president. He previously held the position for one year between 2012 and 2013, but prematurely stepped down due to other assignments. 

For his second stint as local tennis boss, Karenzi took over from Kassim Ntageruka who had been at the helm since 2013.

Speaking to Saturday Sport in an exclusive interview, Karenzi said that his top priority is to create talent development programmes and youth competitions, but also noted that he has a keen focus on the promotion of wheelchair tennis. 

Excerpts; 

You once held this position, what inspired you to return?

I was first elected as president in 2012 but I only served for one year because I was appointed for government duties that I could not mix with tennis. And, that prompted me to step down as I was not able to hold both positions. 

There is talent and great potential in local tennis. When I finished what I had been assigned to do, that is when I thought of coming back and contribute to the development of tennis. I love this game.

What are the major reforms that you intend to introduce during your presidency?

First of all, we want to build and develop tennis from the grassroots level. That is where the future is. Focusing on young talents is the way to go if we want to put Rwanda on the world tennis map.

We have four priority programmes, but talent detection and development tops them all. Rwanda could produce the first tennis superstar in East Africa, why not!

Secondly, we want to upgrade the knowledge and skills of our coaches. We will always struggle to produce world class players if the trainers are not qualified. The professional tennis players our kids aspire to become have highly qualified coaches.

Then, we need to organise as many competitions as possible – for both young and senior players. As of today, I think we around only four regular competitions in a year, this is very small. The competitions need to be extended to club level, and outside Kigali.

This year, we want to initiate an inter-club tournament. 

Although we still lack modern tennis facilities, the fourth priority is turn Rwanda into a top tennis destination. With that, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) will consider the country to host big events, and top players in the world will visit the country.

There is hope because, as the blueprint shows, the Kigali Sports City – around Amahoro Stadium area – will have high standard tennis courts.

There has been budget cuts in the sports sector, with the tennis body being one of the affected federations. How are you coping with that challenge and What impact will it have on your quest to produce the next generation of professional stars in Rwanda?

My belief is that, with commitment and a clear vision, resources will never be a problem. 

It is true that – through the Ministry for Sports – Government is a very important stakeholder, but we need to look for alternative sources if we are to achieve our goals. We want to tap into the private sector and engage other potential partners. 

Since the start of your second stint as RTF president, any major achievement yet? 

I would say it is still work in progress, but signs are showing that we will reach very far is we continue on the current pace. 

Just this week, our two youngsters Junior Hakizumwami and Carine Nishimwe were crowned regional champions after winning the ITF/CAT Eastern Africa Junior U14 Championships in Tanzania. This is proof that the youth programmes we have are working.

Hakizumwami will even soon enroll to the ITF High Performance Training Centre on a full scholarship from the world tennis body because of his consistency as a shining talent in the region over the last two years.

We have also had an agreement with the Sports Ministry to construct two new courts, which will support the already existing ones for more players, especially young ones, to access the sport. 

For the first time, we now have wheelchair tennis in the country. We hold camps for players living with disabilities and avail special training to their coaches in a bid to make tennis in Rwanda as inclusive as possible. 

Maria Sharapova recently visited the country, did you have a chance of meeting her? 

Unfortunately, no. We tried to reach out to her, but it was not possible. She had a tight schedule that could not be interrupted. 

However, we have held positive discussions with Rwanda Development Board about inviting tennis stars to visit the country through the Gorilla Naming ‘Kwita Izina’ ceremony. 

If our young talents meet – and maybe have a training session with – a global tennis star, it would inspire them. We want to give exposure and opportunities to our boys and girls that the previous generations never had. 

Hakizumwami has secured a scholarship to joing the ITF High Performance Training Centre in Kenya this month.

Carine Nishimwe won the ITF-CAT Eastern African U14 Championships in women’s category in Tanzania on Thursday.

Théoneste Karenzi, president of the Rwanda Tennis Federation.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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