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Cricket: In 1994 genocide ripped Rwanda apart. Two decades on cricket is being used to heal the wounds

In 1994 genocide ripped Rwanda apart. Two decades on cricket is being used to heal the still-raw wounds. Matthew Campelli and Kim Megson report

by Matthew Campelli | Published in Sports Management Nov Dec 2016 issue 128
Breaking boundaries
Breaking boundaries

Just over 20 years ago, around one million Rwandans were killed over a 100-day period during one of the worst instances of genocide in history. The nation’s Tutsi ethnic group was almost totally wiped out, with 70 per cent murdered by the Hutu government between April and July 1994.

On top of the mass killing, around two million Rwandans were displaced, and the nation has been trying to recover ever since.

To heal the divisions, people from the world of cricket have stepped in and the sport now forms the basis of one of the most inspiring sport development projects in the world.

Father and Son
Former British Army officer and businessman Christopher Shale, who worked on social action projects in the African nation for several years, saw first hand the power of cricket in reconciling the different ethnic groups, and decided a purpose-built facility would develop the sport and create a positive atmosphere.

Backed by his friend, the former prime minister, David Cameron, Shale began working under the banner of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF) on an idea for the facility, which would include an educational hub, as well as a much-needed centre for free HIV testing.

After Shale’s untimely death in 2011 his son Alby picked up the mantle, and now the project is close to completion.

“The inspiration for the project came from my father who loved Rwanda and saw how cricket was being used to build communities,” says Alby. “He went out to Rwanda because he was asked by David Cameron to set up a project with international development, and Rwanda was chosen as it was an area screaming out for some assistance.”

Ahead of a December fundraising event – in which Cameron will be present alongside England legends and RCSF patrons Michael Vaughan, David Gower and Clare Connor – Alby explains that over the past four years close to £1m has been raised, with £250,000 now needed to complete the scheme.

He reveals that construction is well underway and due to be finished early next year. If all goes to plan, an opening ceremony will be held next October (2017).

While the stadium will act as a home for the elite level game in Rwanda, Alby stresses the facility’s importance to the wider community. Cricket is the fastest-growing sport in Rwanda, but other recreational activities will take place in an adjacent multi-use venue, which will include tennis courts, a swimming pool and a gym.

“Yes, we are creating an elite facility that checks the necessary International Cricket Council (ICC) boxes for hosting international matches, however it was designed to be a free access facility,” he says.

“People outside of the cricket fraternity can benefit, and we have forged a partnership with the Surf Survivors Fund, which supports the survivors of genocide, through community projects and reconciliation through sport.”

Working with charity Cricket Without Boundaries, RCSF will work with 35,000 urban refugees from the Rwandan capital of Kigali to teach them cricket and promote HIV awareness. They’ll also invite cricketers and coaches down to the refugee camps to promote the sport as a medium through which to solve social issues.

Rwandan women excel
Although cricket is traditionally viewed as a male game, Alby reveals that the foundation is trying to get as many Rwandan women and girls involved as possible, with current figures already looking encouraging.

Of the 15,000-20,000 regular cricket players in the country, 5,000 are female, and Alby says that the Rwandan women’s team is a “lot more competitive than the men’s team on the international stage”.

Alby adds that the “amazing journey” will be captured on a documentary broadcast by Sky TV next February, and he hopes that the interest will highlight the disparity of resources across the cricketing world.

“Cricket in England is in good hands, but as a global infrastructure I think it leaves a lot to be desired,” he says. “You’ve got England, Australia and India who control the game and a lot of the time the minnows of the sport get forgotten. Our patrons are passionate about trying to help out a country that has a lot of enthusiasm for sport, but just doesn’t have enough representation on the world stage to get funding and infrastructure.”

The pride of Rwanda

Despite the burgeoning interest in cricket, facilities are lacking in the country, and so the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF) was founded to establish a dedicated home for the sport on a 4.5 hectare plot on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali.

Sustainable Design
Architecture studio Light Earth Designs will design the stadium, which will be made with local materials and sustainable building practices.

“The project is innovative from the point of view of both sport and architecture,” Light Earth Design founding partner Michael Ramage explains. “It is very important for the development of the sport in the country, and will allow for fixtures that will generate a lot of interest both within Rwanda and around the world.

“It will be built by Rwandans for Rwandans. It will be something the entire country can take pride in.

“The inspiration comes largely from two places: the green rolling hills of Rwanda and the trace of a bouncing cricket ball. That has influenced the shape of the stadium’s three vaults and the pavilion as they come down a slope between two cricket pitches.”

Something for everyone
The stadium’s main vaults will be constructed using recycled ceramic tiling and compressed earth blocks.

Many workers will be hired and will learn transferrable building skills.

The facility will contain dressing rooms, a press viewing area, a bar and restaurant and a clubhouse offering free HIV testing for the local community. Spectator seating will extend outside, with green terraces built into the banks on either side of the building, overlooking the two international-standard pitches.

A second phase of development will see a multi-purpose facility added – bringing dormitory accommodation, a swimming pool, gymnasium and six tennis courts to the site.

The facility will be run on a not-for-profit basis, operating a ‘sport for all’ policy to encourage Rwandans of all ages, genders and backgrounds to participate in and enjoy cricket. A training, coaching and support structure will also be introduced by the foundation and the government.

The new stadium has been designed with 
sustainability and community in mind, providing a 
home for cricket and a range of other sports
The new stadium has been designed with sustainability and community in mind, providing a home for cricket and a range of other sports
Computer-generated graphics show the planned design of the new stadium
Computer-generated graphics show the planned design of the new stadium
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