Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Rwanda: Another Year Goes Begging

At the beginning of 2012, a lot was envisaged as far as local sport is concerned but has it turned out, there was little to write home about.

Football

Being the most popular sport in the country, Rwanda's continued below-par displays in regional and continental engagements is heavily felt even by moderate sports fans.

First there was the failure of Amavubi to qualify for the 2013 Africa Nations Cup in South Africa and then came the inability of the national U-17 team (Junior Wasps) to beat Botswana in the 2013 CAF Africa Junior Championship qualifiers.

To add to the woes that have dogged local football since 2004 (when Amavubi played in their first and only Africa Nations Cup till date), the national U-20 team's hopes of featuring in this year's Africa Youth Championship in Algeria were dashed after a 3-0 return leg defeat against Mali. The first leg had ended 2-1 in favor of Rwanda.

The Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup remains a poor hunting ground for the Wasps with just one trophy (1999) to show off in the tournament's 39-year history. Last month, Amavubi suffered a 2-0 quarter-final defeat against Tanzania to end their chase for a second title.

In CAF club competitions, the situation has not been any different. Last year, APR's miserable run in the CAF Champions League continued after being knocked out by Etoile du Sahel in the first round.

Having knocked out Kenya's Tusker FC (1-0) in the preliminary round, the army side was held to a goalless draw in the first leg before eventually being knocked out after losing the return leg 2-3 in Sousse.

This has been the trend of Rwanda's football giants. The club has made ten appearances in the tournament; suffering two knockouts at the preliminary round and seven first round knockouts. Their best appearance came back in 2004 when they reached the third round under the tutelage of Jean Marie Ntagwabira.

Basketball

2012 saw the national basketball coach's contract terminated by the local basketball federation (Ferwaba). It was a bold decision and by far the most outstanding by the federation.

The sack came after Rwanda's wobbly performance in the Afrobasket U-18 Men's championship which was held in Maputo, Mozambique.

The Junior Hoops flattered to deceive as they won their opening Group match against Mozambique before losing their remaining three matches (Tunisia 43-38 Rwanda, Mali 47-33 Rwanda and Rwanda 43-48 Ghana) to eventually finish last in their group and miss out on a place in the quarter-finals.

Their 66-74 loss against Morocco in the classification matches further pushed them to the bottom of the overall standings.

Espoir suffered a similar fate in the Fiba-Africa Club Championships which were held in Equatorial Guinea. Even after reinforcing the squad with two experienced players in Kami Kabange and Bienvenue Ngandu, Espoir, who have dominated local basketball this season, found the going tough as they lost all their group matches before also suffering back to back defeats in their two classification games.

Volleyball

Volleyball has taken a downward spiral over the last four-five years. The league is not as competitive as it was and the country is no longer guaranteed success on the regional level as was the case between 1997 and 2008.

The only positive has been securing professional stints for Vincent Dusabimana, Christopher Mukunzi and Lawrence Yakan Guma in Qatar.

Cycling

The African Continental Cycling Championship was a forgettable outing for Team Rwanda with Adrien Niyonshuti the only cyclist to finish in the top ten in the final two categories; Individual Time Trial and Elite men Road race.

In the Individual Time Trial race which covered 31.8km, the MTN Qhubeka rider finished 9th after clocking 41 minutes and 10 seconds; one minute and 58 seconds slower than the race winner Daniel Teklehaimanot of Eritrea.

He followed up this display with a 10th spot finish in the grueling 170km Elite Men Road race after using 4 hours, four minutes and 57 seconds. Joseph Biziyaremye, the only other Rwandan to finish the race, used 4 hours, 10 minutes and 28 seconds to finish in 31st position.

Tour of Rwanda misery continues

The country's wait for a Tour of Rwanda title since the race's incorporation onto the UCI calendar dragged on as Lill Daren of Team South Africa reigned supreme.

Despite trailing in the final stage (Kigali-Rwamagana-Kigali, 124.3 km), the 30-year-old's three stage wins en route to the final stage were enough for him to eclipse Ethiopia's Atsbha Getachew and another South African Girdlestone Dylan, who rounded off the podium slots in second and third places respectively.

As expected, Adrien Niyonshuti, who was riding for Team Karisimbi, still emerged as Rwanda's best rider for a third consecutive year, finishing 9th in the 894.8 km race which was spread over eight stages.

On a lighter note though, the 25-year-old rider had something to smile about after securing a new two-year contract with his team- MTN Qhubeka.

The London Olympic Games

For Rwanda, the London Olympic Games were already a lost cause weeks before the showpiece. Last minute preparations and incompetent federations meant that seasoned boxer Jean Maurice Bikorimana, Rwanda's first recognized female pugilist Pascaline Mugabekazi, steeple-chase specialist Gervais Hakizimana, two-time Olympian Epiphanie Nyirabarame and the country's most decorated athlete Dieudonne Disi all missed out on qualification leaving IOC (International Olympic Committee) swimming wildcards Alphonsine Agahozo and Jackson Niyomugabo, Jean Pierre Mvuyekure (full marathon), Claudette Mukasakindi (women full marathon), Robert Kajuga (10,000m), Yannick Fred Sekamana (Judo) and professional cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti as the country's flag bearers.

From this lot, the only athlete who deserved to wear the national colours was Kajuga. With his raw talent, the 27-year-old defied the odds as he finished a respectable 14th (27minutes, 56 seconds and 67 micro seconds) in a strong field which had the likes of the Bekele brothers 'Kenenisa and Tariku' from Ethiopia, Great Britain's Mo Farah and the Kenyan trio of Bedan Karoki Muchiri, Moses Ndiema Masai and Wilson Kiprop.

In the women full marathon, Mukasakindi was overwhelmed by the atmosphere as she finished a distant 101 while Sekamana and the swimming duo of Agahozo and Niyomugabo suffered first round exits.

Niyonshuti also struggled against a strong field of Mountain bike riders after finishing 39th in the grueling 34.08km race which saw eight riders pull out.

Mvuyekure finished 79th in the men's marathon to further compound Rwanda's misery.

Paralympics

While everybody was fussing about the London Olympics, it was obvious that Rwanda's best bet for a medal lay in the Paralympics Games and although the country was unable to get that much-craved podium slot, performances by Hermas Cliff Muvunyi and Théogène Hakizimana are worth mentioning and even applauding.

Besides proving that his All Africa Games heroics in 2011 in Maputo were not a fluke, the 24-year-old Muvunyi also showed that he can compete with the world's best after finishing 5th in the men's 400m final. In fact, some will argue that hadn't he lost his footing mid-way through the race, a podium finish was very much in sight.

In power lifting, Hakizimana also proved that there is life beyond track and field sporting disciplines after finished 7th in the 82.50kg category with a personal best lift of 175kg.

Athletics

We all know the advantages of hosting an international competition. Besides enjoying the home support, it's an opportune moment to have the sporting arenas and stadiums revamped. Unfortunately, that is what Rwanda gave up when they pulled out of hosting this year's African Junior Athletics Championship citing financial constraints.

Just months after being awarded the hosting rights, the Director of Sports in the Ministry of Sports Emmanuel Bugingo conceded that the country could not raise the required budget US$ 2 million (Frw 1.3bn).

Cricket

The sport endured mixed results this year.

On the playing field, the senior national cricket team lost the 2011 ICC/ACA Africa Division 3 T20 title they won in Ghana after failing to make the semi-finals in Johannesburg, South Africa. Even after hiring a seasoned semi-professional coach from Scotland Collin Siller, the team still struggled against the likes of Gambia and Seychelles.

Defeat meant that Rwanda stayed put in Division 3 while eventual winner Zambia and losing finalists Seychelles moved a notch up to Division 2.

Meanwhile, off the field, a lot of headway was realized as far as securing a world class cricket stadium is concerned. The project which has been dubbed 'Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation' boasts of high profile personalities like England's Prime Minister David Cameron, Rt Honorable Andrew Mitchell, BBC Radio 4 journalist Jonathan Agnew, former West Indies captain Brian Lara and Rt Honorable Lord Chadlington of Dean.

Tennis

Just when it mattered most, Rwanda's top players Jean Claude Gasigwa and Dieudonne Habiyambere failed to deliver.

The ITF Men's Futures were the highlight of last year's season but there was little to write about as the pair struggled against the likes of Sherif Sabry of Egypt and Gerald Melzer of Austria.

Habiyambere suffered back to back first round exits in all the three legs (Bujumbura leg and two Kigali legs) while Gasigwa reached the second round in the second leg only to lose to Italy's Francesco Picco.

Karate

Despite living in the shadow of the other sporting disciplines, Karate made their presence left as the national karate team managed a 9th spot finish in the 14th African Karate Championships that were held in Morocco.

Rwanda won two bronze medals courtesy of Sylvester Twajamahoro and Rehema Kabera in Kata and Kumite men's and women's individual categories.

It was good leap from 2010 when the country finished 15th.

Rugby

The highlight of the rugby calendar was the Hima 10's rugby tournament in Kampala which was marred by poor preparations and lack of proper organisation.

After back to back defeats against Ugandan sides Buffaloes and Rams; and a walk-over against Rhinos, Gorillas sneaked into the quarter-finals of the Main Cup but that was a s far as they could go as they lost to Hima Impis 0-31 and UTL Kobs 3-10 in the Plate Cup semi-finals.

Golf

Local golfers still have a lot to do to bridge the gap between them and their East African counterparts. The huge gulf was again on full display in the 14th East Africa Challenge Trophy which was held in Burundi.

Rwanda amassed 11.5 points; eight and a half points adrift of eventual champions Kenya. Uganda finished second in the four-day tournament with 13 points followed by Tanzania with 12.5 points. Hosts Burundi finished last with 9.5 points.

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