20 January 2013

Rwanda: Sports Policies Need Review


In South Africa, the continent's biggest football party has kicked off, yet Rwandans are not invited. Or rather, they failed to clinch an invitation.

Apart from the Junior Wasp's participation in the U-17 World Cup in 2011, we have to go way back to 2004 to remember some football glory with Amavubi reaching the Africa Cup of Nations. This despite a string of foreign coaches who were handsomely paid, yet failed to achieve even a qualification for the Cecafa tournament.

This of course begs the question: should we really spend so much money on useless football coaches? (the current one, Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevi?, is said to have a pay-package of US$ 16,000) It is not exactly as if Rwanda is a rich country that doesn't have any pressing social issues that need to be dealt with.

But even remaining with sports, one wonders whether it is justified to spend such vast sums of money just on the national football team while other disciplines are languishing. For many of them, there is not even a permanent national coach, and our best athletes such as Dieudonné Disi have to go abroad to find decent training facilities.

Of course, success in football such as a qualification for the World Cup is a major image booster for any country. Yet that also means that the competition is stiff - even the smallest country will do its utmost to get a ticket for the world's biggest sporting event after the Olympics.

So maybe we should consider spending a bit less on football and investing more in other sports in order to reach international fame. Belgium for instance has a population size similar to that of Rwanda, yet in the 2000's it was one of the heavyweights in women's tennis with Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Any long-distance race is impossible to imagine without a Kenyan or Ethiopian on the podium. And after Bob Marley, no one has done more to put Jamaica on the map than sprinter Usain Bolt.

Focusing on individual sports also has the advantage that, for a country with a small population like Rwanda, it is easier to find and groom let's say one tennis player or runner of world-class level than 20 or so very good footballers.

So it is high time for the ministry of sports to take a good look at its policies and what it is spending its money on. If Uganda can have an Olympic marathon champion, then why couldn't we?

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