24 September 2012

Rwanda: More Local Players to Increase Basket's Attractiveness

  • Recently, the basketball federation (Ferwaba) was set a target of sneaking into the top three teams on the African continent by 2017. While the officials concede that it's a tough ask, it's achievable according to the federation's Secretary General Richard Mutabazi.
    After failing to qualify for Africa's most coveted tournament on 13 consecutive occasions, Rwanda finally broke the curse in 2007 when they finished runners up to Egypt in the Zone 5 basketball tournament which is a qualifier for the continental event.
    But even with the likes of shooting guard Hamza Ruhezamihigo (who played for Canada's Concordia Stingers at the time) in their armory, the team could only master a 12th spot. For Ferwaba president Fidele Rutagarama, it was not a bad way to sign off.
    Eric Salongo took over at the helm of the federation and as expected, he had big shoes to fill. On top of making sure that the team qualified for the 2009 Afrobasket edition in Libya, he also had to see to it that the lads put in a much better display on their second outing.
    Overwhelmed by the task at hand, Salongo together with the Ministry of Sports and Culture (Minispoc) opted for quick success even if it meant spending obscene amounts of money on unproven US-based players.
    During the 2009 Zone 5 qualifiers, Rwanda assembled a team of Americans but in Rwandan colours. Rwanda secured their spot in Libya but at what cost?!
    With sports increasingly becoming a business and the level of competition escalating every other season, we have seen the likes of Manchester City spend lavishly and win trophies (FA Cup and more recently the Barclays English Premier League title).
    The difference is they don't compromise on quality; they sign world class players - players who are hungry for success and will give you results at all cost.
    That was not the case with the Rwandan team. Despite the federation spending heavily on air tickets and accommodation for the so-called scouts to the US, the players who were selected were only slightly better than our home grown ones.
    But even worse, they did not have the country's interests at heart. Most of them were on tour; simply excited to be in Africa and glad to get way from the boring and nagging winter back home.
    In Libya, Rwanda avoided the big guns (Angola, Egypt and Senegal) but even then, they still had a difficult task after being drawn against Cape Verde (3rd in the 2007 Afrobasket tournament), Morocco, who won the tournament back in 1965 and Tunisia, who would go on to finish third.
    Rwanda beat Cape Verde 77-67 but lost to Tunisia (57-74) and Morocco (84-85) although they deserved more from the Morocco game.
    In fact their performance against Morocco reminds of the national junior team's displays at this year's U-18 Afrobasket tournament in Mozambique.
    Despite putting in spirited efforts against the likes of Tunisia (38-43), Mali (33-47) and Ghana (43-48), they still lost. They could not kill off matches clearly exposing their inexperience at this level.
    After the group stage, Rwanda lost against Senegal (59-72) and the Central African Republic (64-85) but victories against Cameroon (82-69), Libya (80-77) and Egypt (78-75) helped the team finish 9th; their best finish till date (considering the fact that Rwanda finished 12th in 2011 when Tunisia defied the odds by beating ten-time champions Angola 67-56 in the final).
    No ownership
    However, considering the hefty bonuses that had been handed out to these players in 2009, the country deserved much more. The team's performance proved two things: success cannot be bought and secondly, if it is, it's short-lived.
    Three years down the road, Mutabazi believes that the only way they are going to come close to their target is by putting in place more basketball structures (courts and training camps) while also nurturing new talent.
    The level of basketball in the country has taken a downward spiral since 2009 and Mutabazi heavily blames the big influx of foreign players for the slump.
    Between 2007 and 2010, Rwanda's most successful basketball club APR could hardly field a local player. It was dominated by Congolese players which ultimately drove away local fans.
    "In the past, local fans would flock the courts because there was a sense of ownership. The players' families and friends would come to support them. Now, no one feels the urge of watching the games because of the number of foreign players," Mutabazi explained.
    To curb this trend, the official revealed that each club will be permitted to field only two foreign players on match days. "We have been working hard to set new and clear rules to avoid ambiguity and we hope to have a thrilling and competitive league this time round."
    "This will not only increase attendances for matches but also give local players more playing time - something they have been deprived of," he added.
    Last year, Kigali Basketball Club defended their men's title while APR lifted their third successive ladies title. This year, eight teams are in contention in the men's fray; KBC, APR, Espoir, CSK, KIE, St. Joseph Kabgayi, Rusizi and UGB while five teams are expected to contest the women league (APR, National University of Rwanda, KIE, CSK and St. Alloys).

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