Saturday, 2 October 2010

Rwanda set for Commonwealth Games debut

These are the 19th Commonwealth Games, but for Rwanda, competing at the event will be a new experience - the country only joined the Commonwealth in November 2009.However, the central African country's small team in Delhi is ambitious for sporting success and they are eager for the chance to shape Rwanda's image across the world.

Nobody can forget the genocide of 1994 , in which more than 800,000 people died in systematic violence lasting more than three months, but Bonnie Mugabe, Rwanda's young chef de mission in Delhi, says it is time for his country's reputation to be broadened.

"To me, we don't only want Rwanda to be known for genocide - yes the genocide happened and the world should never forget that, but [we want to] put it to one side and develop our country, through sports and through tourism," he told me.

Earning success here in Delhi is his way of achieving that goal.

"If we win medals, the athletes will develop personally, they will get sponsorship, and sports [will] develop - so if we put on a good show and win some silverware it will help in the development of Rwanda as well," Mugabe said.

While Rwanda will be represented in only four disciplines at the Games - athletics, cycling, swimming and boxing - the country does have a chance of winning medals.

Mugabe is a confident man, saying: "I expect a medal in cycling and in the athletics."

The cycling team is lead by South Africa-based pro Adrien Niyonshuti, and the group has been training in that country to prepare specifically for Delhi and for the African Championships, which Rwanda hosts later this year.

In athletics - especially in the long distance events - Rwanda has experienced competitors who can challenge their near-neighbours Kenya and Uganda for honours, such as two-time Olympian Epiphanie Nyirabarame.

As Rwanda prepare to make their Commonwealth Games debut, there is one other message which their chef de mission wants to get across.

Every member of the team was affected by the genocide - some witnessed the murders of family members and only narrowly escaped with their own lives.

But the Mugabe wanted to make it clear that whatever their experience or ethnic background, the athletes and officials in Delhi represent a united country.

"Sport has done a lot in uniting Rwandans - it is the main tool which has helped in building the nation, 16 years after the genocide," he said.

"Right here we have a team and we are all Rwandans."


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