With the tip off of The Basketball Africa League (BAL) scheduled for tomorrow Sunday, Rwanda is looking to capitalise on the popularity of the inaugural continental tourney to showcase the country’s investment and tourism potential.
Organisers on Friday confirmed the team rosters of the 12 African clubs participating, confirming that American rapper Jermaine Cole, known as J. Cole, will feature for the Rwandan side Patriots BBC which will play the opening game with Nigeria side River’s Hoopers.
Rwanda is hoping to leverage the star power the BAL is bringing to showcase the country’s potential whether it is in investment, tourism or opportunities in the nascent sports and entertainment industries.
More stars including officials and former players, including the BAL ambassador, Luol Deng, continued to arrive in the country ahead of the Sunday tip off. Deng, who is currently the coach of his native South Sudan said he couldn’t wait for The BAL to kick off. “I am happy that it is finally here”.
The league is also drawing in continental stars, the latest to arrive in Kigali including Congolese-Swedish musician, singer and composer Mohombi Nzasi Moupondo and Tanzania singer Ommy Dimpoz, who urged fans to get their tickets ahead of the games.
On Thursday, the BAL and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) announced a multiyear partnership that makes “Visit Rwanda” – the country’s marketing and tourism initiative – a Founding and Host Partner of the inaugural BAL season taking place May 16-30 in Kigali.
According to RDB, the partnership will showcase Rwanda as a world-class tourism and investment destination and highlight Africa’s growing sports industry.
Games will be played at the Kigali Arena while the magnificent Kigali Convention Centre will serve as the practice facility for all 12 BAL teams.
On Friday, the BAL released the team rosters of all the 12 clubs participating as well as team jerseys emblazoned with “Visit Rwanda” behind. The BAL and RDB will also collaborate on youth development and social responsibility initiatives in Kigali during the season.
In addition, RwandAir, the country’s national carrier, is the league’s Official Airline for the inaugural season and has facilitated travel to and from Kigali for select BAL teams and staff.
The airline operates one of the youngest state-of-the-art fleets out of its Kigali hub. Earlier this year, RwandAir became the first African airline to vaccinate all staff and crew against COVID-19.
“As we set to tip off our league and make basketball history, teaming up with RDB and RwandAir reflects our belief that sports, and basketball in particular, can be an economic growth engine for the continent,” said BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall.
“Rwanda is leading the way for tourism in Africa, and this partnership will highlight an African continent that is creative, vibrant and ready to tell its story,”
According to Clare Akamanzi, the CEO of RDB, Rwanda chose to partner with The BAL in line with the country’s MICE strategy and sports are effective in attracting tourists or investors.
“We are thrilled to partner with the BAL as it gives us an invaluable opportunity to showcase the wonders of Rwanda,” Akamanzi said.
“As a Founding and Host Partner, we will reach millions of basketball fans from all around the world and promote Rwanda’s natural beauty, budding sports tourism, and conducive investment and business environment. Hosting the BAL in Rwanda is also a testament to Rwanda’s successful handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are pleased to welcome all the players and visitors to Rwanda for a safe and seamless experience,” she added.
Positioning Rwanda for Global events
Akamanzi said that Rwanda is looking at developing the Sports Industry as a key sector for economic development, given the potential in investment it possesses and the ability by sports to draw people, including tourists.
“About 10 years ago, the Government of Rwanda took an immediate decision to develop the event industry as one of the diversifications of Tourism in the country. You heard us talk about MICE conferences, was one of them and now we are very much investing together with the Ministry of Sports in Sports Development and sports tourism,”
“The reason for that is that Sports is a very good way of bringing tourists into the country. Not just the players that are coming to play, but also the funds or the staff that come to the country. Today, we expect for this basketball league over 1,000 people to come in the country,” Akamanzi said.
She pointed out that the people coming will consume services, purchase goods while players and artistes will also get opportunities. Akamanzi says Rwanda partnering with The BAL will give the country the much-needed exposure it needs as the deals with Arsenal FC and French side PSG did.
With the investment in infrastructure and other reforms such as ensuring that people get visas on arrival will position Rwanda as a destination for sports and entertainment events of international scale.
The BAL President Fall said choosing Rwanda as the immediate host of the inaugural league which was scheduled to be hosted by Senegal but relocated due to the Covid-19 was an easy decision because Rwanda put in place the Infrastructure and also ensured safety of both players and fans.
The Minister of Sports, Aurore Mimosa Munyangaju said that hosting The BAL will not only promote Rwanda as a destination for sporting activities but it will also have immense benefits on the local sports industry.
Minister Munyagaju said that the government is committed to develop the sector in terms of talent sourcing and development as well as infrastructure development similar to the Kigali Arena, which will attract more sporting events to the country.
She urged players to take advantage of the continental tourney not only to grow their own competitive skills but also to create the right connections that will help them to develop their talents further. She urged all Rwandans to pick interest to follow, watch and support The BAL.
Several global figures, superstars and artistes are expected to participate in the league which tips off Sunday and the final scheduled for May 30.