Rwanda’s basketball culture is surging but development challenges remain

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Ahead of inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) that is set to take place beginning March 2020, Rwanda is developing its own Basketball culture for a sport that still suffers from limited sponsorship and lack of modern infrastructures to boost its development across the country.

Twelve African teams will participate in the first Basketball Africa League, supported by the professional Basketball league in North America, NBA and International Basketball Federation (FIBA). The African tournament twill start in March 2020 and Rwanda will host the semifinals and the final for the competition.

The country’s new state-of-art Basketball stadium, the ‘Kigali Arena’ hosted qualifiers for BAL that saw three teams qualify for 2020 tournament. Patriots BBC, the Rwandan champions ended their campaign with a 94-63 victory over GNBC of Madagascar in the final of the second round qualifiers at Kigali Arena on Sunday.

After a successful run, basketball game becoming more popular sport in Rwanda, helped by the completion of the 10,000-capacity modern stadium that will host major national and international competitions as many people turn out to watch games; but there are still challenges to promote the game in the country.

Richard Nyirishema, the second vice president in charge of Technical and Competitions at Rwanda Basketball Federation (Ferwaba) said there are various initiatives to boost the sports culture across the country.

One of the strategies he cited to boost the game is tournaments participation and talent development with a focus on youth. “We are participating in as many national and international competitions possible to get exposure,” said Mr. Nyirishema in an interview.

According to the official from the FERWABA, basketball youth camps will play a crucial role in discovering and nurturing the talent of aspiring players.

Rwanda is also participating in the Jr. NBA, a global youth basketball program for boys and girls, that teaches the fundamental skills and core values of the game at the grassroots level. The aim is to help grow and improve the basketball experience for young players and youth coaches.

Rwanda and Morocco are the latest countries in Africa to organize the Jr NBA leagues that seek to promote basketball among the youth. The Program was launched in Kigali at a polytechnic college in September 2019.

Mr. Nyirishema said that there are other youth camps that are being held in the country, some organized by the federation while others are run by independent organisations. “We cannot be involved in all activities,” said Nyireshima

Unlike football, which is the most popular game, and cycling, that has been growing fast in recent years, a lack of sponsorship is still hindering the development of basketball.

The Bank of Kigali, the largest commercial bank in the country, signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the basketball federation valued at Rwf 300,000,000 ($ 317,000) to support the game. “This is a beginning we hope others businesses will also come on board,” noted Nyirishema

While the newly launched stadium is attracting many to watch the game, there’s a strong need for further infrastructural development, mainly basketball courts across the countries. Most of the existing courts are located at schools, which are often closed to non-students. Ferwaba says many more courts and gyms are needed across the country and this should be a priority.

“We need more courts in the country not necessary in Kigali but also upcountry, for instance in Musanze[ Northen Rwanda]”, stressed the FERWABA vice president of technical and competitions.

Basketball is mainly played at schools and few courts in Kigali, the capital city and other urban areas. Speaking at the opening of the Kigali Arena Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame encouraged the youth to use the new basketball facility, which is located next to the national football stadium.

“This arena is not just a decoration to be visited on Christmas and New Year. It was built to host the best basketball players of Rwanda and Africa, for them to train, play and win here,” Kagame was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, the ministry of sports and culture is seeking a firm to manage the world-class stadium. According to a request for proposal, published in November 2019, the operator will manage marketing, maintenance and financing for the new Kigali arena that is approximated at 20,000 square meters.

Rwanda ranks 79 on FiBA’s raking, with 9 teams of men and 8 women that play in the national league. Some are professionals while others are semi-professionals with players who not are involved in basketball full-time.

Kigali is among 7 African cities that will host NBA Africa league in 2020; the new tournament will feature 12 club teams from across Africa.

The qualified teams ready to participate in Africa’s biggest basketball competition are: AS Douanes (Senegal), AS Police (Mali), AS Sale (Morocco), GNBC (Madagascar), Union Monastir (Tunisia) Zamalek (Egypt), GSP (Algeria), FAP (Cameroon), Petro de Luanda (Angola), Ferroviario (Mozambique), Rivers Hoopers (Nigeria) and Patriots from Rwanda.

Featured image: Public domain

About Jean-Pierre Afadhali

Jean Pierre is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Twitter: @jpafadhali