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Inside Rwanda’s new sports and talent detection programme in schools

Athan Tashobya


On Friday last week over 200 young basketballers concluded a holiday camp “in style”, Rwanda Basketball Federation noted.

The camp culminated with two entertaining days of 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, where 49 teams from different suburbs of Kigali participated. The best in U12, U14 and U17 boys and girls categories went home with medals.

A day before, dozens of students who recently completed lower secondary aged 16 and below entered a residential training camp in Huye, Southern Province for a week-long talent detection programme.

This follows a similar arrangement that involved 696 primary six graduates that was also held in Huye.

Under this initiative, primary and secondary schools across the country send in their best in various sports disciplines and meet with peers for boot camp, where they practice together as a way of detecting the most talented for further growth.

From that point, Isaac Munyakazi, the State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education says, selected students and pupils are allocated to specific schools which have been identified as centres of excellence “for easy follow up,”

However, it remains unknown if these selected students will get full government scholarship at the schools they will be sent too.

“We have involved all sports federations to be part of this new talent detection programme in schools. Once these talented kids are sent to a particular school, federations will send professional coaches and avails kits for further training and growth,” Munyakazi told The New Times.

Kigali Sharks players. File.

Why sports in schools?

The Minister for Education, Eugene Mutimura, said that the ministry is “prioritizing” sports in schools because it not only develops skills and talents of learners but also contributes to the enhancement of quality of education, with a view that healthy kids perform better in school.

During East Africa’s annual primary and post-primary FEASSSA games that were staged in Musanze last August, Rwanda’s primary and secondary schools won 25 medals and four trophies.

Three regional countries took part, with Burundi and Tanzania opting out of last year’s regional games.

Overall, Uganda toppled Kenya to finish top on the medal table with 30 medals, Kenya were second with 28 medals while the hosts Rwanda finished third with 25 medals – 8 gold medals, 9 silver medals and 8 bronze medals.

Mutimura is buoyant that Rwandan students are headed to better results once schools start implementing the new sports programme.

“From our performance in FEASSSA, you saw how well our schools performed. Games and sports activities are a priority and we have to keep that momentum as we also address some of the existing challenges,” Mutimura said.

According to Munyakazi, the prevailing challenge towards sports and games in schools is that some schools administrators don’t “value” co-curricular activities, hence many talents go to waste.

“We have learned that some schools don’t value sports as much and so they don’t allocate time to co-curricular activities as it is stipulated by the school policy. Games and sports must be compulsory to all schools,” Munyakazi said.

To emphasis on the need for co-curricular activities, Munyakazi says, the ministry of education came up with sports in school policy, late last year, which underlines the pathway for sports programme in schools.

“That policy clearly stipulates the significance of games and sports in education but also the guidelines for schools to take in promoting talent,” Munyakazi noted.

One of the components of the new sports-in-Schools policy is the Talent detection programme being championed by the education ministry through Inter-Schools sports federation.

“We want to move beyond talent detection in schools to nurturing future stars through maintaining a close contact and collaboration with respective national and international sports federations,” Munyakazi added.

Samuel Mugisha during 2018 Tour du Rwanda. Sam Ngendahimana.

What stakeholders say

Vincent Mashami, the head coach of Rwanda national football team, is one of the people who have been involved in the new schools talent detection programme from its inception.

Just a fortnight ago he was involved in the talent holiday camp for primary children and next week he will be witnessing a similar camp for selected lower high school students.

Mashami told The New Times that the initiative will go a long way in providing the country with the best talent in all games and sports if stakeholders are intentional about detection and consequent development.

“We have started with kids in primary; they are excited and have immense talent. It is upon us and all stakeholders involved giving them the chance, guidance and exposure to thrive,” Mashami said.

It is from this camp that, the ministry of education, inter-schools sports initiative and various sports federations are working with sports experts and coaches to identify the most talented kids and offer them guidance depending on their physical skills and passion.

“What I like about this programme is that it will benefit all federations. It is important to detect talent at an early age but it is also important to follow them through the ranks and set up stiff competition for growth. If we do that, then the future of our sports industry is headed in the right direction,” Mashami said.

Mashami noted that stakeholders must provide infrastructure, kits and allow the kids to train and competed on a regular basis if this schools talent detection program is to pay dividends.

“Schools must priorities sports and games because we know how important it is. We have all gone through schools and not all of us ended up becoming lawyers or doctors or journalist…sports is a profession which can actually benefit the economy very strongly. It’s good to be educated but at the same time develop one’s talent.

Mashami believes that Rwanda has got a lot of talented young people in all sectors but it is up to the stakeholders to detect and provide ideal environment for such talent to grow.

Mashami added, “For our football or any other sport to prosper it must have a solid foundation and the children are our foundation. At such an age, children are humble and ambitious enough to, listen and learn unlike when they are older,”

Djuma Masudi, a former Rayon Sports midfielder and current Coach of AS Kigali said that, “One of the challenges our sports industry has faced is trying to transform players when they are already mature.

In sports development, talents are detected at a young age. This reduces the cost of investment but it also promotes excellence,” Masudi said.

Bugesera FC club’s Secretary General, Sam Karenzi is also upbeat that, “This initiative will avail sports clubs in the country with enough talent on the market, promote competition and consequently stimulate quality growth and excellence in the country.

“About 98 per cent of young kids are in schools and that’s where you can easily detect the best talents at an early age. The more good players out there, the better for sports clubs in general to scout players and it provides much needed competition in leagues and national team consequently bringing in good results,” Karenzi said.

AS Kigali defender Omar Ngandu, seen here in action against Sunrise in a past league match, was pivotal in his team’s victories against Bugesera and SC Kiyovu last week. Sam Ngendahimana.

However, he is concerned about the sustainability of the programmes.

“In the recent past we have seen relatively similarly good talent development initiatives that have died a natural death. Sustainability of this new program will be crucial in leading Rwanda to becoming a sports powerhouse in the region,”

The President of Rwanda Cricket Association, Eddie Balaba Mugarura, has commended the education ministry for championing sports development right from schools.

“From my experience in cricket, detection in secondary schools has been the life-blood of our growth as a sport in Rwanda. Both our men and women’s national teams are comprised of people who were spotted in interschool competitions,” Balaba said.

He added; “Elsewhere, the most successful cricketing nations such as Australia and South Africa have strong schools development programs that are split into age categories of U13s, U15s, U17s and U19s.”

The New Times

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