The sky,a point of view for Rwanda’s national cricket team

Before writing this week’s piece, a lot of procrastination came into play mainly cause i contemplated on what to write, the Kenyan sevens team reached new heights, the much anticipated NBA playoffs took shape and Leicester city continued their run at the top of the English premier league. At the end of it all, i went with neither.

I’ve been following the story of Rwanda cricket with a lot of eagerness, inquisitiveness but mainly with love. Love for a sport that i not only grew up watching and playing but more so that it had only set foot in Rwanda. And in it’s wake so far are  foot prints large enough for our “bigger,” disgruntled sports federations to follow.

 

rwanda at t20

(The Rwanda national team warm up up at the Binoni Willowmoore park in Johannesburg)

Unfortunately the national cricket team lost all four matches at the ICC division 2 T20 championships that ended yesterday but don’t be quick to shoot as there are many positives one could pick from those four losses.

As a child i was introduced to the sport at the age of six while at my primary school, Lohana Academy in Uganda. Predominantly a school with it’s roots in India, cricket was one of many Indian traditions that we seemed to enjoy on top of the extra public holidays due to the Diwali and the India independence day.

Cricket just like rugby is a sport that is mainly rooted in former British colonies like Uganda, Kenya and South Africa  but having a large Asian population made it easy for continuity of the sport when the colonialists left.

Its almost impossible to name a cricket team world over without players of Asian origin in the national side and harder if it’s not a former British colony, fast forward Rwanda.

Rwanda is a former Belgian colony where the sport of cricket was introduced just 10 years ago. For it to send a team made of largely home grown players is almost unheard of even for the cricket power houses: New Zealand, South Africa, England, anyone??

 

(Moen Ali -left- and Imran Tahir -right- are of Pakistani descent but play for power houses England and South Africa respectively)

Fourteen of the fifteen players at the tournament were indigenous accounting for more than ninety percent of the team, now this should be reason enough to raise a glass. The Middle east is one place where the game is steadily growing but one would be left stone faced if asked to name a U.A.E or Oman team without a player of Indian descent.

In their four defeats, the team looked like they could chase the set scores or were in commanding position for half the time only to collapse later on an issue attributed to largely lack of experience. Majority of this squad only picked up a bat in the past five years and to see them come close against opponents that have played the game for majority of their livelihoods only tells of the talent and organization at hand.

 

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(President of Rwanda Cricket stadium foundation Charles Haba at the groundbreaking ceremony for a new ground in Kayonza)

With an average age of 24, the ongoing construction of new cricket infrastructure, very soon the sky might just become the point of view for Rwandan cricket.

A great weekend for troubled West Indies, Formula 1 and San Antonio Spurs

I don’t know what my new schedule is going to look like without the end of the T20 Championship but the comfort of knowing that the Indian Premier League starts this weekend is enough consolation.

The past weekend was what you would call a thrilling action packed one for sports lovers. El Classico lived up to its billing; Leicester extended their lead at the top of the English league, Formula one is starting to take shape and of course the West Indies.

West Indies are not a one man team

West Indies cricket team celebrate World Twenty20 victory

(West Indies celebrate their T20 win)

The West Indies are now holders of the u-19 world cup trophy + the two t-20 trophies scooped by the men and women’s teams in India over the weekend, a magnificent feet for a nation some were starting to write off cause of their troubles.

They were reports that Just before the tournament the board was struggling to raise funds to for jerseys and despite their triple crowns the troubles in west indies cricket are far from over.

Why?? When the men’s side won their first of T20 crowns in 2012 many thought it would represent a turn of events for the Caribbean side but nothing has changed since. Thus not much room for optimism despite the board announcing that they will sit down with the players association to resolve the ongoing disputes. But which players association are we talking about here?

Of the 15 man squad at the tournament, only Andrew Fletcher is a member of the West Indies Players Association, so who is negotiating the player contracts with the board?

Though looking past these controversies let’s take a moment and bow down for the great performance from the west indies side, not only did they win the tournament amid the current squabbles, they did so in style and showed great depth. Initially looked at as a one man team the likes of Andrew Russell, Simmons, Fletcher and Marlon Samuels all stepped up when the, “King,”Gayle was a no show.

Notice the Spurs anyone?

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(New Breed: LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard carry the Spurs)

The San Antonio Spurs have set a new NBA record for the longest home-court unbeaten run in NBA history and no one seems to notice, at least not us in the media. Gregg Popovic wants it that way, having sealed the number two seed in the west. The Spurs continue to go about their business quietly in a season where they have relied less on Parker, Ginobili and Ducan. Pop has built a new axis around Kawhi, LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills. The first trio are no spring chicken but will be well rested for the playoffs and who knows what can happen in a seven games series against the record chasing Warriors?

Rosberg again!!!!

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(Nic Rosberg *middle* celebrates his win at the Bahrain grandprix podium)

This year’s formula one championship might turn out to be the most interesting and closest that we have had in years. If we are to read into anything from Bahrain and Australia then China is set to be a cracker. The year’s first two races have increasingly shown the effect of the new rules that seem to give drivers much more liberty and less interference from their team management. Although the car one drives still matters, just like last year one feels Ferrari are making the right adjustments despite a few struggles here and there, the Italians don’t seem to be pushing too hard.

Nico Rosberg’s has carried his great form from the end of last season into the new year with the Mercedes driver once again taking advantage of Hamilton’s poor start to sail home comfortably. If Ferrari falters to deceive at least we are assured of an intriguing battle between the mercs at the top.

Home advantage is everything in African football

 

A few months back when the national team lost to Ghana by a solitary goal at the Amahoro stadium, many were quick to praise the performance of the wasps. I in contrast thought they should have done better Rwanda vs Ghana, could we have done better? And believe me to some I looked naive and unpatriotic. To them I was seeing the glass as half empty and not half full, “how could I have dared to say that Rwanda should have won that game? How could I expect our squad made of largely home based players to beat Africa’s highest ranked team at that time? They asked.” My answer, we were at home. As a home team you just can’t afford to lose.

In Africa over the past eight qualifying campaigns both AFCON and World Cup only twelve (12%) percent of the fixtures have been won by teams away from home, in fact it’s almost unheard of for the home team to lose a match in the West or Northern parts of the continent. And Going by the fixtures played over the just ended qualifying legs only 8 teams out of 50 games played won away from home.

Fast forward to Rwanda’s AFCON2017 campaign, Coach Johnny McKinstry set a target of 12 points for Rwanda to qualify for the continental show piece. A target I found achievable, 3 home wins and 1 away looked like a possibility. With victory on the opening day of the campaigns away to Mozambique, I was certain that the Irishman was going to meet his target. Four games into the campaign Rwanda and we are four points behind leaders Ghana; those 12 points now look out of reach.

Surprisingly, I’m not here to condemn McKinstry for our home loss but rather defend the performance of the team on the away loss to Mauritius over the weekend, ironic right? After Amavubi’s drubbing of the islanders yesterday, many colleagues were quick to question his squad selection and tactics for the first leg of the fixture. Some even went as far as suggesting match fixing (an emotional reaction if you ask me). Some justified their reason on his dropping of players for the fixture as having undermined the opponents, laughable if you know the competitive edge of the man.

Yes, maybe he should have started Ernest Sugira but for an away tie the lanky forward brings a weakness you don’t want to play with, he doesn’t track back. With a safety first approach on any team’s travels one could understand why the Irishman chose to go with the day’s match day squad.

It’s one thing playing in front of a packed Amahoro, it’s a different atmosphere at the Belle Vue stadium in Mauritius. Nothing is guaranteed in football and it’s a defying the odds situation if you get that away win. Algeria walked over Ethiopia (7-1) in the first leg in Algiers but the same team needed a last minute penalty to draw against the same opponents two days later in Addis Ababa, what changed in the 48 hrs? Home ground advantage. So let us not crucify the team for their performance in Port Louis but rather look at keeping Amahoro stadium, the fortress it has become.

African football leaders let us down, AGAIN

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I have been following events of the FIFA presidency keenly with many thinking this is going to be the most unpredictable race in the organisation’s history. We might even have been in for a surprise, let me bust your bubble, it won’t happen.

African has decided to rally behind Sheikh Salman, the President of the Asian football federation and a member of the Bahrain royal family in the upcoming elections.
Well, what’s not surprising is Africa as a continent failing to rally behind it’s own Tokyo Sexwhale. Sexwhale is the only African candidate in the race and for a continent that is usually denied entrance to the major international organisations decision making positions, the football federation was our chance to force ourselves to sit at that table, not since the 1950’s independent wave have we had a better chance to be counted as equals, but do the people at the helm of CAF believe we are equal?

All cards played into our favour, FIFA is at it’s most vulnerable stage, the body is badly in need of someone to re-ignite sponsors confidence, it needs someone who can re-sale the moral and integrity card of the world’s most loved sport but yet again we let this slip.
I’ve been engaging a number of friends in the media circles from all over the world about the importance of Africa in this vote and although we disagreed on many patent issues, there was agreement on one, Africa needs to realise it’s voting power.

Africa as a bloc counts for 54 votes in the upcoming elections, a reason to why all current FIFA presidential candidates are camped in Kigali at the ongoing African Nations Championship, they know the power of this vote, but sadly majority of our president’s do not or in the very least act like they don’t.
When controversial CAF president Issa Hayatou stood against Sepp Blatter in the 2002 elections, the Swiss won the African vote, the message from our continent was clear; on one hand we believe he is good enough to run African football, on the other hand he is not good enough to run World football( second class citizens mentality if you ask me).How ironic that they could let a President they believe is not good enough to stay at the helm of the institution!! your guess is as good as mine.

Enter Tokyo Sexwhale, few had heard of his name before he announced his candidature, his credentials have been questioned and yes he might not have offered much but at least he noticed that this might have been our best chance to bring the leadership of sports most powerful body to Africa.

Surely we should not have expected Sexwhale to win the on the first ballot but we should admire his braveness. Even after the declaration from the CAF executive committee to endorse the President of the Asian federation as it’s preffered candidate, the South African has vowed to stay in the race hoping to sway a few votes from the continent. Admire the man’s attitude.

It’s such bravery that our old heads at the helm of football leadership on the continent have lacked so many a time, but then what did we expect from people comfortable in a current status quo that benefits individuals rather than the continent.

We did not cease our moment and once again, yes I will blatantly state, once again African leaders let us down.

CHAN is here, who knew?

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Lights, camera, action.. Africa has waited, the stage is set, all actors are ready now it’s time for us the fans to deliver. Time to deliver in the best way we can.

When I was a young boy, maybe about 9 my mother (it’s always the mothers) tried to talk me into coming back home, reluctantly at the beginning of a school term holiday I made the trip to Rwanda with the sole purpose of trying to fall in love with the country of my parents birth. It didn’t occur to me that one day I would proudly call this my home, I was supposed to spend the next month trying to understand my culture, meeting relatives and possibly look into school options, the stay didn’t go past two weeks. Why? For in that moment the myopic nine year old couldn’t ever imagine living in a country with one mall, no bowling alley or cinema.

Fast forward 2016, i’m almost 23 and I still don’t think my 23 year old self would have stayed in Rwanda 14 years ago, in fact I would have laughed at anyone that would have thought this tiny, resource less African country would host a tournament of CHAN’s magnitude within that timeline, if you dared try to sell me that thought, i wouldn’t be far from calling you a mad man.

But oh boy I could never have been more wrong and happily wrong. I’ve been home for now three years and I’m still wondering how this miracle was put together, don’t get me wrong it’s all not perfect but then where is perfect? Who knew that the African Nations Championship football tournament (CHAN) would be held in this resource less country called Rwanda?

So many a time on my weekly radio show, tv appearances, newspaper columns or this blog you will see me complain about this, about that but today is not the time. For today i’ll look for my blue,green and yellow and will join the millions of Rwandans cheering on our national football team, the Amavubi.

But better I will celebrate my country, for it’s only 21 years since the worst human atrocity occurred here and I don’t think anyone would have prophesied us hosting the second biggest tournament on the continent in such a time -span,Africa welcome to Rwanda.

“I’m in love with the Patriots”

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With most of the sports focus being on the country’s preparations for the African Nations Championship (CHAN) it would be easy to forget the existence of other sports disciplines (don’t we always??) taking place in the country. Well, at least not me anyway.

As an ardent sports junkie, I found myself at Petit Stade last evening for a game of basketball dubbed the Friday Nights basketball that seemed to be making rounds on social media all day. For the record i’m a basketball fan not a groupie.

Anyway Patriots basketball club is one organisation that has had me thinking for a while as a great story to tell if not to learn from for our sports administrators.

Over the past few years, we have seen a decline in the functioning ability of what is usually termed as our traditional sports (football, basketball, volleyball). As It’s evident that they lack leadership and long term plans.

I come from a school of thought that tends to believe that for one to garner any success in any sector a combination of passion, love and professionalism should be in the mix. Don’t get me wrong, our sports authorities seem or by the look of things have the first two but it is the latter that they lack and oh boy don’t we know that it is the most important.

Games like football, basketball and volleyball are run on a blue print that seems not ready for the success they should garner. The authorities don’t only look like they shy away from long term plans but tend to be surprised by any form of success, if it ever comes. And with that, tend not to know how to handle the newly acquired fame.
We seem to forget some of the basics of life when in power and for any one to be successful over the long haul it’s usually down to great preparation, such is the reason why the greatest of all different jacks of trade tend to remain at the top for a long time. It’s not rocket science, such individuals and institutions usually have a defined blueprint on their way up thus making it easier for them to deal with the new found level of success when garnered, Preparation.

Preparation is the one thing that has seen Patriots basketball club get the favourites mantor in their second season.

In just their debut season, Patriots finished as runner ups in last year’s basketball championship a move some argue might be down to a well drilled team but don’t get it mixed up this is a well managed club run by a group of friends that seem to have a cut out plan for it’s long term success. Long term plans are results of preparation.

As I sit here I can only wish our basketball administration or better sports authorities would pick a leaf but your guess is as good as mine.

So for now just like the Patriots fans, I will sing, “i’m in love with the Patriots.”

Buying into CHAN, Yes,No?

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With less than a fortnight to the start of the Africa Nations Championship (CHAN), one would feel the silence in the continental media regarding a tournament some feel should be the second biggest on the continent.

But, no..The Africa Nations Championship seems to be overlooked by the more developed football powerhouses on the continent as an unwanted distraction but don’t be mistaken, the lesser powers should take this emerging bull by it’s horns and maybe just maybe one day will be able to reap the fruits from what looks like a gambled sow.

The Importance Of Chan?

It’s bigger brother the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) continues to enjoy the much alluded limelight despite calls for it to be held less more frequently (bi-annual basis) and maybe pick a leaf from the Euro or lately the Copa America that has changed with times.

Coming into its forth tournament, one would be hard pressed to find football positives from a tournament that was created with the sole purpose of creating a barometer for national leagues on the continent with the successes of teams like Tunisia under turmoil in 2011 and current defending champions Libya in 2014.

How much should one read into CHAN?

For the participating players it should be a springboard for better careers as it gives them that much needed opportunity to represent their nations and hopefully catch the eye of one of the scouts from Europe’s major leagues but besides that we shouldn’t read much into the performances of national teams at the tournament, not just yet, Uganda Cranes anyone?

The traditional African powerhouses continue to look down on the tournament whose qualification format one would argue is set to create a more inclusive championship with the introduction of the zonal qualifiers but why isn’t the same applied for the AFCON qualifiers? Your guess is as good as mine

In its current standing, CHAN is a good idea but with revised handling can do better to live out its dream of being a true gauge of the African national leagues or if not we risk it being looked at as another CECAFA/COSAFA tournament with little impact whatsover on the growth of football on the continent.

Otherwise looking ahead to a good tournament. See you at the Amahoro stadium.

Rwanda cycling, After all is said and done

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Growing up as a child in the African society siblings fighting was always part of the norm, being the boy of two siblings I always provoked my sister into fights of which there was always one winner, me but the physical victory never stopped at that I would always go ahead and be the first to report the case to the parents after I figured out that when you report first you tend to play the victim card thus skipping possible punishment.

Well, that seems to be the case of the disgruntled Rwandan cyclists who got into a fight with their leaders (my sister in this case) and having run to the parents (public) first they have positioned themselves to play the victim card.

Going by the tone of events more so from the federation, whose leaders have termed these riders as, “kids,” we are meant to have one final ending to this situation.

The federation leaders are going to be cleared of any wrong doing at least in the public eye as there continued arrogance and ego can’t let them take the fall back step of humbly walking back with a tail swinging between their legs.
The riders will eventually cycle for team Rwanda at the Tour of Rwanda (at least some of them).

ANY LESSONS?

The riders demands are going to be met but in private with the leaders continuously making them look like the villains in this situation, a win for the riders but this is set to be short lived.

The winner here will be the administration who will give the public the, “I told you so eye,” and after all is said and done it will feel like a sense of deja vu for the athletes as no proper systems will be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the near future.

And surely it won’t happen with the federation handing out punishments to the alleged master minds thus creating a new sense of fear and invisibility to the riders.

The leaders will be looked at as gods, the kind whose iron hand can stump away any kind of uprising and killing the voice of these riders.
And after all is said and done, a new breed of riders will be groomed only this time with a lesser chance of ever standing up for what is right for them.

Rwanda Cycling’s ugly head

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Last night the trending topic as regards Rwanda was the apparent expulsion of 13 members of the team Rwanda cycling team. Many of those on the outside ridiculed these boys for a press statement released by the federation that seemed to suggest that the riders are holding the nation and ferwacy at ransom. But did you expect the federation to come out and blatantly accept it’s wrongs? I don’t think so.

The sport of cycling for the past two years was noted for it’s great organisation, focus and what was termed as, “The master plan,” by its administration.

And for a country in dire need of a successful sports story, cycling seemed to be the answer as Rwandans seemed to be done with Amavubi’s failures that talk had changed to havin it as our national sport.

A match awaited Tour of Rwanda victory came, an All Africa gold medal and qualifications to the Olympic games but behind the gloom and glamour all didn’t seem to be going well in the team Rwanda cycling camp.

Any keen observer would surely tell from the riders body language even after victories that all wasn’t right in camp for what seemed like a hotbed, And oh boy did the hotbed spark.

The Rwanda cycling federation (Ferwacy) and team Rwanda cycling released a press statement that demonised the actions of the cyclists, calling it “blackmail,” and a possible Coupe de tat. The wording itself left a lot to ponder.

Well now that’s where Ferwacy gets it wrong, the likes of Valens Ndayisenga, Janvier Hadi and co shouldn’t be treated as beggars, these hardworking riders are not doing the federation any favours by riding for the team but then the arrogance that has gone on to lead majority of our sports disciplines continues to think professional athletes should be treated as such.

Unfortunately we are held back by a culture that tends to suggest that if one goes against the norm then they automatically become the outcast and in this case it’s just not an individual but 13 of 15 members of a national team, question is who should be the outcast?
(To be continued…)

The Gentleman’s sport

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For sheer entertainment value, this year’s rugby world cup is surpassing all expectations with the so called small teams , we are experiencing upsets, a tries galore and all the makers one would get from a blockbuster.

Talking to colleagues lucky enough to be in Wales and England (world cup venues) , they all sound like they are living their dreams but beneath the sheer entertainment we have come to look at some sub-plots that might have been overlooked.

Gentleman’s game

“Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen where as football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans,” an old English saying that many in the rugby fraternity have gone to live by.
When a first timer watches rugby, one would be hard fooled to think the game is played by a bunch of rascals trying to tear each other apart, on the contrary rugby players are some of the smartest sportsmen around. I’m talking doctors like Wales’ Jonathan Davies Engineers like Japan’s Micheal Leitch, Pharmacists, lawyers the list goes on and on.

So when these intellectual beings decide to ruck and maul for a bruising eighty minutes they do so with a lot of respect shown to not only their opponents but also the referee.

Rugby is the only sport (I know) where despite a referee getting the call wrong only the captains of their teams will try to talk to them with the rest of the team obediently following the rules down to the wire.

What sets rugby apart is the friendly teasing banter that is exchanged at the worst of times but at the best of times, supporters fell over themselves to talk up how superior the other team was to their own. (South African fans after their loss to Japan.)

For 80 minutes don’t expect a Roman colosseum on a rugby pitch but it’s the after match drink that rival teams players share that brings out the best in them, that gentleman spirit as they laugh at each other’s undoings in the match.