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Sports

German football coaches changing lives in Rwanda

The German Football Association (DFB) is now a big player in the business of providing international assistance. In many developing countries, the DFB runs projects aimed at developing fledgling sports associations.

Two young Rwandans play football on a dusty street

Football in Rwanda is not highly organized

Rwanda's beautiful and diverse landscapes have led to the country being referred to as "the land of the thousand hills." But more than its scenery, this country is known for a bloody conflict that raged in the mid 1990s between Hutu and Tutsi, which ended in the genocide of what is believed to have been anywhere between 500,000 and one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Nations do not bounce back so easily from such nightmares; however, in the years since, there has been some economic progress in the country of just under 11 million.

German football coach Michael Weiss has lived and worked in Rwanda for the last four years and says football has taken on enormous significance in the East African nation.

"It is important for understanding among Rwandans," he said. In 2007, Weiss began a long-term project working with young Rwandans and improving women's football conditions and training methods in the country.

"To take an example, women's football was not at all developed," Weiss said. "Today, Rwanda has one of the few functioning leagues in East Africa with games every weekend."

An under-17s men's league has also been started during Weiss' time in the country. It is hoped the grassroots work, which forms part of programs run by the German Football Association (DFB), will benefit Rwanda in the long-run.

Cooperation for the underdeveloped

A man in Nyamata, 18 miles south of the Rwandan capital Kigali looks at hundreds of skulls

More than half a million died in the genocide

The DFB, in cooperation with the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) and the German Foreign Office, also runs programs in countries such as Azerbaijan, Mozambique and Namibia.

"The main focuses of our work are fostering talent, educating trainers and coaches and administration," said Markus Weidner, who heads international relations for the DFB.

Weidner says finding success in the DFB projects is heavily dependent on good relations and cooperation with key players in partner countries. He added, however, that much is required of the German experts, too: "That's why we look for experts from the front line - those who have the highest trainers licenses, but also a background in education, seeing as they have to work as instructors.

"In this regard, the work also differs considerably from that done by a top trainer who is on a private contract with a national team in a developing country."

Slow and steady

This is something Michael Weiss has experience with in Rwanda - he coached the national under-17 men's team. "The national team is a matter of prestige, which the president of the country stands behind," he said, adding that top national team trainers can earn big wages.

"But in the meantime, the football association also recognizes that continued success is only possible if young footballers receive proper training," Weiss said. "I would have been able to take an even bigger step had I been a bit more reserved from the beginning and not criticized so much.

Members of Cameroon's team hold up the trophy after the Africa Cup of Nations

Many African nations dream of winning the African Cup of Nations

"This is their country and we can't turn everything around here in one day."

Markus Weidner also sees such complications: "Expecting too much, too fast is a big mistake," he said. "This is something we had to learn. In some countries, things develop more slowly. But in Rwanda we can at least say things are developing in the right direction."

Blueprint for the future

It is believed that among the most important corner stones for future work in countries like Rwanda are the simple impressions left by projects such as those being run by the German sports organizations. The programs survive, above all, in the experiences of the key players, who, afterwards, can at least determine for themselves what kind of assistance makes sense and where it is needed.

Such is the case in Rwanda. The country's football association wants to see the DFB projects continue in the coming years; but for the time being, an important blueprint is being devised for future programs and, hopefully, success.

Weiss says the lead-in to his Rwanda project could have gone a bit more smoothly, adding that he was thrown in the deep end. He adds, however, that the DOSB is on the verge of developing more specific preparatory courses for sports trainers working in supportive roles abroad.

Helping nations help themselves

German soccer coach Monika Staab, left, gives instructions to Pakistani women soccer players

German football trainers are spread throughout the world

Both Weidner and Weiss can attest that their line of work is highly challenging, but say that the promotion of sports can make a big difference even with a low-budget investment.

"Sometimes it can do more than politics," Weidner said. "I see sports support as an instrument for dismantling social tensions and protecting peace."

As an example, he cites a tournament run by the DFB and the Foreign Office called "Four Countries 4 Peace," which recently brought together Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi and Uganda. The games were played on either side of the Rwandan-Congolese border and, it is hoped, will contribute to greater understanding among the participating nations.

In addition to this tourney, the DFB also offers courses to foreign trainers in the towns of Hennef and Koblenz, close to Cologne in western Germany, where trainers can obtain various certificates in football courses that run over several weeks.

These programs are intended to dovetail with the DFB-Foreign Office international football projects. For example, Rwandan Grace Nyinawumuntu, who completed a course in Koblenz in 2008, went on to become the Rwandan national women's team trainer.

Author: Felix Hoffmann (dfm)
Editor: Rob Turner

DW.DE