Much of the credit goes to the fans, as Rwanda becomes the first African city, to host the UCI Road World Championship 2025.
The flagship event for cycling, has never been held in Africa, in its 100 years of existence, despite the popularity of the sport on the continent. It is an oversight which, during his campaign for re-election, UCI (International Cycling Union) President, David Lappartient, undertook to address.
Competing with Kigali to host the championship, was Tangier in Morocco. And in terms of resources, Morocco certainly had the edge, but it was Rwanda which edged it.
“Staging our biggest annual event in Africa was one of our dreams” Lappartient enthused, on the announcement of the decision, for Kigali, “today, this is nearer to becoming a reality. I sincerely thank Tangier and Morocco for their bid of very high quality. UCI encourages the country to submit new bids for future events. Given its love of cycling and its commitment for the development of our sport, it deserves to welcome major UCI events.”
That Rwanda managed to pip Morocco’s excellent bid to the post, was due to several factors, primarily, the country’s growing reputation for successfully organising big sporting events.
The inaugural American NBA (National Basketball Association) supported Africa Basketball League, or BAL, was held at the Kigali Arena. The event is structured to have earlier rounds played in different cities on the continent, but the inaugural tournament was played entirely in Kigali. Rwanda was able to assure the organisers that the tournament could be held safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Almost immediately after the successful completion of BAL, with Egypt’s Zamalek, overcoming Tunisia’s US Monastir to lift the first ever BAL cup, it was the turn of the Volleyball Africa Cup of Nations.
It was the first time the tournament was held in Rwanda, and the first time that both men, and women, played in the same tournament. Organising such events successfully, is challenging at the best of times. Doing so under the difficult conditions of a pandemic was an extreme test, which Rwanda passed with flying colours.
Spectators were limited to under 2,000, and had to be tested, before being admitted. All players were of course tested, and kept safe, all tournament, to be sent home free of Covid-19, no mean achievement.
The high level of organisation has been self evident during the annual Tour de Rwanda. The tournament has grown in popularity, each year, with more and more world renowned riders taking part.
That it has now culminated in the sport’s most prestigious tournament coming to Kigali, is also in large measure to the Rwandan fans. Passionate about the sport, always well behaved, and as appreciative of visiting riders, as they are of home teams, they have themselves become a much appreciated feature of the tour. In recognition of the way they conduct themselves, they are left to get in as close proximity to the riders, as safety restrictions allow.
Not so beloved by the riders, is the ominously named “Wall of Kigali.” Known locally, as Kwa Mutwe (literally, at Mutwe’s) it is a steep incline, up a cobblestone road that is more popular with spectators, than it is with riders.
For the sport’s enthusiasts, there is apparently nothing more exhilarating than watching their favourite riders pushed to the limit of endurance. Perhaps those smiling fans are not so nice after all.
When they get a moment of leisure, the world’s elite cyclists will be able to unwind in one of the world’s safest, and cleanest cities.
As might be expected, the privilege of hosting the event comes with a heavy price tag, estimated at 20 million Euros, plus 7 million Euros for the licence.
But for the host country, the return far exceeds the initial investment, not only in monetary terms, but the exposure for the host country, that comes with the world’s media descending upon it.
For Rwanda’s tourism board, aptly named, Visit Rwanda, the response from the world, thanks to the UCI championship, is, gladly, get ready, we are on our way, see you in 2025.