Tour du Rwanda dogged by money, insurance dispute

Rwanda’s cycling federation is on the spot for offering low allowances and failure to provide insurance for the national team riders, seven days to the start of this year’s Tour du Rwanda.

It is feared that this may lower morale in the Team Rwanda camp.

The cyclists, most of who do not have a good academic foundation and are from poor and vulnerable backgrounds, this week threatened not to participate in the Tour.

On November 7, 14 riders quit the Africa Rising Cycling Centre, Musanze, after the Rwanda Cycling Federation (Ferwacy) declined their demand for $3,000 (Rwf2.2 million) before competing in the coveted annual competition.

The riders included reigning Tour du Rwanda champion Valens Ndayisenga, All Africa Games gold medallist Janvier Hadi, cycling veteran Abraham Ruhumuriza, reigning national champion Joseph Biziyaremye and Rwanda Cycling Cup winner Jean Bosco Nsengimana. Others were Gasore Hategeka, Patrick Byukusenge, Camera Hakuzimana, Aime Mupenzi, Bonaventure Uwizeyimana, Joseph Areruya, Ephrem Tuyishimire, Emile Bintunimana and Jean Claude Uwizeye.

Only Nathan Byukusenge and Jeremie Karegeya remained in the camp.

Ferwacy then suspended “ringleaders” Hadi, Ruhumuriza and Ndayisenga, giving them 48 hours to apologise in writing, but when the other riders learnt about the decision they decided to leave the camp in solidarity with the trio.

READ: Pros start training for November Tour du Rwanda

This was the third time the team had gone on strike to demand money following similar cases in 2011 and last year.

“We asked for $3,000 each so that we can buy insurance,” Ndayisenga told the media, adding: “We have been training on the road for a whole year and we have no insurance, so we asked for this money so that we can buy insurance next year.

“We only have insurance during the Tour du Rwanda.”

Riders said since last year they have been making the demands but nothing was done about it.

The death of Fly Club’s Yves Kabera Iryamukuru in the 2015 Rwanda Cycling Cup last month also sparked concern among the riders. The 22-year-old rider collided with a vehicle while competing. He died in hospital.

The federation nonetheless adopted a tough stance, explaining that the cyclists’ demands should not be conditional and threatening to start with a fresh team rather than have indiscipline in the team.

However, all the cyclists voluntarily returned to the Africa Rising centre on November 10 following a mediation meeting attended by Sports Permanent Secretary Edward Kalisa and other Sports and Culture Ministry officials, Ferwacy president Aimable Bayingana and Olympian Adrien Niyonshuti, a founding member of Team Rwanda.

Sources said some of the issues brought up by the riders prior to the strike — such as insurance and prize money and allowances for local and international races — were addressed. The riders were said to sign contracts with Ferwacy and are to have insurance henceforth.

Team Rwanda Cycling technical director Jonathan “Jock” Boyer said: “What has happened these last few days is nothing short of miraculous.

“There have been many misunderstandings and much misinformation but, in the end, it was an effort of many people — including the riders — that brought us all together to come to common ground and realise that we all wanted the same thing.

“Team Rwanda is now stronger than ever and the spirit of teamwork is what will enable us to go to an even higher level. I look forward to working with the new Team Rwanda.”

Defending champion Ndayisenga told Rwanda Today: “Our mission remains the same — winning Tour du Rwanda.

“We have gone past the issues that happened a few days ago our focus is now on the Tour.”

This year’s Tour will run from November 15 to 22. Besides the hosts, it will have 14 other teams from Africa, Europe, Australia and the United States. Rwanda will be represented by three teams — Akagera, Muhabura and Karisimbi.

But although the standoff seemed to have ended, reports coming from the camp indicate that the issues remain. It appears that Ferwacy’s promises to the cyclists were meant to hoodwink them to return to camp so that the tour goes on as planned. Since nothing was signed, there is no guarantee that the promises will be honoured by the federation.

In an interview with KFM, Ndayisenga said much as they could have not appropriately handled the issue, the leaders were to blame.

“When we returned, we told them our issues, and they actually saw sense in our grievances,” he said. “They said they will address our issues, but on the other hand we saw that we did not handle the situation well, that’s why we apologised.

“Our issues have obviously not been addressed, but at least they came out, we got promises. I came back so that I don’t disappoint my country.”

Sports pundits say Ferwacy was so irked by the revolt that if the team does not win the Tour they will end up with nothing, while others say Ferwacy could be planning to expel the “rogue” cyclists and recruit others, going by its statement.

“How could they demand for money even before they participate in the event?” Aimable Bayingana, the Ferwacy president, asked when he spoke to Rwanda Today. “Tour du Rwanda has its own budget, separate from Team Rwanda.

“Although we have agreed to some demands, the strike is still not justifiable.”

Asked whether there are plans to compensate the dead cyclist’s family, Mr Kalisa said: “I have to look at what the federation is planning regarding this. We are still looking into how to compensate him.”

Regarding the cyclists’ demands, the PS said the payments depend on their performance and are determined by the capacity of the clubs.

In an interview, Niyonshuti, a veteran professional cyclist based in South Africa, said among other things the federation lacks experience in handling professional cycling issues but that there is room for improvement. He however said the cyclists need to be disciplined, not reacting the way they did even if they had pertinent issues.

Comparing what cyclists earn here and what those in South Africa earn, he said there is definitely a big difference, adding that cycling in Rwanda has a long way to go.

Reports indicate that the cyclists are paid Rwf1,000 each every time they go to camp, which comes to Rwf30,000 per month, something that lends credence to claims of exploitation.

The Ferwacy president said the cycling fraternity has three major revenue sources. Without disclose the amount, he said it receives money from the government, local sponsors and foreign sponsors. But it seems only a small fraction reaches the 16 cyclists.

“We pay them money, it might not be much but it’s not little also, I don’t think we exploit them, I understand there is an insurance we haven’t given them, we have talked with the Ministry of Sports and we shall find it for them,” he said.

He added that cyclists are paid a monthly salary of between $75 (Rwf55,760) and Rwf111,000 ($150) per month, depending on capacity.