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Cricket: Rwanda’s New Unifying Force

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As you drive past one of the most iconic roundabouts in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali, it’s hard to miss a giant billboard honoring one of the country’s most recent triumphs in sport: the national cricket’s team captain Eric Dusingizimana, who broke a Guinness world record batting non-stop for 51 hours in May 2016. He had trained months on end to accomplish the feat of the ‘longest net session’.

This has made Dusingizimana one of Rwanda’s most recognizable faces but has also brought awareness to a sport few talked about before. Remarkably, cricket is now being hailed as a new cohesive force for a country that has seen one of the world’s greatest human tragedies.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is all praise for the country’s new hero and his sport.

“The record-breaking feat of endurance recently accomplished by Eric Dusingizimana is a fitting example of the perseverance and determination that characterize the Rwandan people. Sport is a unifying force that builds both individual character and national cohesion and cricket is no exception,” said Kagame.

The president is an ardent lover of sport and one sees him occasionally expressing his views on various sporting disciplines to his million-plus followers on Twitter.

Rwanda reveres football, and has well-entrenched interests in basketball and cycling – the country’s rolling hills are filled with cyclists in colorful gear on Sunday mornings.

And now cricket is also getting its share of the limelight. The sport also has big names supporting it in Rwanda.

Former British prime ministers David Cameron and Tony Blair were famously part of the fundraising drive for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, which has now, over the past four years, managed to raise over a million pounds for phase one of a world-class facility for cricket in Rwanda. Blair was present when Dusingizimana broke the world record – he was in Kigali at the time to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa.

After bowling to Dusingizimana on his way to the world record, Blair noted the importance of the sport in a country like Rwanda.

“Cricket is known as a gentleman’s game and one cannot ignore the impact the sport has had in uniting the people of Rwanda,” he said.

The national team’s captain is mighty pleased about the mileage the sport has received since, which in turn helped raise additional funds for the stadium’s construction.

“That was easily the largest crowd I’ve seen at any cricket event in Rwanda and now more people know about the sport,” said the batsman.

Mary Maina, captain of the women’s cricket team

His accomplishment exemplified the many things the Rwandan people stand for, one of which is the country’s perseverance in rebuilding its economy after the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

But before Dusingizimana became an overnight celebrity, it was not all rosy for the sport. One would hardly hear cricket mentioned outside its small circle of players and foreign enthusiasts. Newspaper coverage was hard to come by and radio and television did little. This made the task of finding sponsors for the game difficult.

It is partly for this reason that Dusingizimana and Alby Shale, founder and project director of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation decided to try something different.

Dusingizimana’s record was previously held by an Indian batsman but it was Shale who set out to achieve the first record. As part of the first campaign to raise funds for the sport, Shale had set a new world record batting for 26 hours but this was eventually broken by another Englishman whose record was 48 hours.

“It was at this point that my friends asked if I could do 49 hours but then came an Indian guy who made it 50 hours. That’s when Eric came and started working for the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation and when I suggested it to him, he didn’t think twice.”

Shale’s first interaction with Rwanda came as part of a group of British volunteers who would come to the country every year to work for the Rwandan people.

“My father [Christopher Shale] set up a social action project that would go to Rwanda every year to try and justify why the British government should spend some of its GDP on international aid. I immediately fell in love with the people and saw first-hand how Rwanda was trying to rebuild its community having gone through the horrors of 1994,” says Shale.

It is during this time that he noticed the love the few cricket enthusiasts in the country had for the game.

“After my return to the UK, I started having extensive conversations with some organizations and my father about how cricket is a resource-intensive game and Rwanda was really lacking in facilities, this was ultimately prohibiting their development, that’s when we agreed to set up the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation to help the sport grow in the country.”

Unfortunately for Shale, a few months after setting up the foundation, his father passed away and that’s when it became more obvious he needed to focus on this as part of his legacy.

“I needed to channel my grief and keeping my father’s dream alive was the only thing I could think of. Cricket needed to be taken to the next level and ever since, we’ve been trying to raise funds to try and create the first international cricket stadium in Rwanda.”

The facility will include a cricket square, cricket nets, a maintenance facility and all the equipment needed to maintain the oval to international standards.

The foundation has to now raise a further £250,000 for the construction of a cricket pavilion. Its design will replicate a bouncing cricket ball in a bid to make it look authentic, and complementing Rwanda’s beautiful landscape. The local community will be involved in the construction of the facility.

Just like most development projects in the country, the Rwandan government has had a hand in seeing this dream come alive.

The government, through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, has not only given VAT exemption to the foundation but also provided the land on which the facility is to be built, free of charge.

“Such has been the government’s role in facilitating not only the growth of the sport of cricket but also across other sectors that has seen a whole-scale infrastructure transformation in the country,” Charles Haba, President of the Rwanda Cricket Association, had said in an earlier interview.

The story of Rwanda’s growth over the past 22 years is never complete without the mention of the role its women have played in seeing it come to fruition. Rwanda holds the record for the highest number of women in public office with a 64% representation in parliament.

This empowerment has been reflected across various sectors and the sport of cricket hasn’t been left behind. In its journey towards achieving the dream of a world-class cricket stadium, the national women’s team captain Mary Maina will attempt to set a new world record for the longest net session by a woman.

The feat has never been attempted before and Maina will have to bat for a minimum of 24 hours. A university student, she believes that the growing popularity of the sport among women is a reflection of women’s empowerment in the country. In fact, the growth of women’s cricket in Rwanda has seen it surpass that of international powerhouse India despite the latter having more people supporting it.

“Our leaders have made us believe that a woman’s place can be anywhere. In Rwanda, a woman is not only restricted to the kitchen stereotype, we have been made to believe that we can achieve anything and even be better at most things,” says the 24-year-old.

Clearly, the journey of cricket in Rwanda is not so different from the country’s own growth. They are both setting world records.

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The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019-20: LeBron James Scores Record $92 Million

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NBA salaries have skyrocketed in recent years, but the biggest stars have earned more off the court than on it to this point in their careers. LeBron James, who tops the ranking for the 2019-2020 season, has made more than twice as much from endorsements than his $270 million in playing salary over his first 16 years. Kevin Durant’s on-court earnings of $187 million in 12 seasons is dwarfed by his current ten-year, $275 million Nike deal.

At $92 million, including salary and endorsements, James is the NBA’s highest-paid player for the sixth straight year. It is a record haul for an active basketball player. Nike is his biggest backer, and the company is naming a new research lab at its Beaverton, Oregon, corporate campus after James. Last month, the 17th iteration of his Nike signature shoe, the LeBron XVII, hit stores.

The four-time NBA MVP added a pair of endorsement deals in 2019 with Rimowa luggage and Walmart, which joined Coca-Cola, Beats By Dre, Blaze Pizza and NBA 2K in his sponsorship stable.

He also has a budding digital media company, Uninterrupted, and a production firm, SpringHill Entertainment, which will release a sequel to the 1996 Michael Jordan vehicle Space Jam in conjunction with Warner Bros. in 2021. All of the off-court work is worth an estimated $55 million for James this season.

The Los Angeles Lakers star’s comments about the NBA’s geopolitical mess in China also reveal the precarious position everyone in the league is in as political unrest in Hong Kong shows no signs of abating.

As the league’s 74th regular season tipped off Tuesday night, the NBA was still reeling from the crisis set off by a tweet from Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Commissioner Adam Silver backed Morey’s right to free speech, but some players didn’t, including James, who called Morey “misinformed or not really educated” on the situation. “We love China,” said Rockets point guard James Harden.

It was a rare misstep for two of the league’s more media-savvy stars, both of whom have close ties to China. Adidas, which has Harden as the face of its basketball business, generated more revenue in China last year than in North America, and the Rockets are China’s most popular team after drafting native son Yao Ming in 2002.

Nike’s China revenue topped $6 billion during the last fiscal year, and the country is a growth leader for the brand. James has represented Nike on 15 off-season trips to China. The sports giant pays James more than $30 million annually to pitch its products around the globe.

And the threat of losing its growth trajectory in China could have far-reaching consequences for team valuations.

But back at home, the financials of NBA franchises remain solid, which is good for player salaries. The league’s salary cap is soaring, fueled largely by the nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and TNT signed in 2014.

NBA players are entitled to 51% of the league’s “basketball-related income” as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement. The rich TV deal and budding international business means 46 players will earn a playing salary of at least $25 million this season, according to Spotrac. The $25 million club had zero members five years ago. And unlike in the NFL, every dollar is guaranteed upon signing.

The NBA's Highest-Paid Players
The Highest-Paid NBA Players - Dataviz

On-court salaries in the NBA are capped based on a player’s number of years in the league and accolades earned in cases in which an award like MVP entitles them to a bigger percentage of a team’s salary cap.

So the pecking order for the elite stars is ultimately determined by their off-court income, with the shoe deal the biggest component of those earnings. There are ten active NBA players who will make at least $10 million from their shoe contracts this year, by Forbes’ count.

Stephen Curry comes in at No. 2 on the earnings list this year and is expected to generate $85 million this season, including $45 million off the court. Under Armour represents nearly half of his off-court income.

Curry’s $40.2 million salary from the Golden State Warriors is the highest in the history of the NBA; he’s in the third season of the five-year, $201 million contract he signed in 2017. Curry’s production company, Unanimous Media, has a development deal with Sony Pictures.

Unanimous’ first movie, Breakthrough, was released in April, with Curry playing a role in marketing the Christian-oriented film, which grossed $50 million on a $14 million budget.

Durant has the NBA’s second-biggest annual shoe contract after James’ at an estimated $26 million this season. His total earnings from his playing salary and endorsements is $73 million. Nike sells more KD shoes in China than in North America, according to Durant’s business partner Rich Kleiman.

Like James and Curry, Durant has his own production company, which is co-producing a new basketball-themed drama, Swagger, that is inspired by Durant’s youth basketball experience and will air on the Apple TV+ streaming service.

The NBA’s ten highest-paid players are expected to earn a cumulative $600 million this year, including $250 million from endorsements, appearances, merchandise and media.

A Closer Look At The NBA's Highest-Paid Players
#10: Damian Lillard

Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax extension in July with the Portland Trail Blazers that kicks in for the 2021-2022 season. The final year is worth $54.25 million for the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star. Lillard’s Adidas shoe deal is worth roughly $10 million annually.

#9: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The “Greek Freak” is eligible for a five-year, $248 million contract extension next summer with the Milwaukee Bucks. It would be the richest deal in the history of the sport. In June, Nike unveiled the first signature shoe, Zoom Freak 1, for the 2019 NBA MVP.

#8: Chris Paul

Only Curry will earn more on the court this season than Paul, who was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in July. Paul was an early investor and ambassador for Beyond Meat, whose stock price has quadrupled since its initial public offering in May.

#7: Klay Thompson

Thompson’s coach, Steve Kerr, says the sharpshooter is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his ACL during the NBA Finals in June. But he’ll still collect his full $32.7 million salary—almost double last year’s—under the first season of the five-year, $190 million pact he signed in July. Thompson is the basketball face of Chinese shoe brand Anta.

#6: Kyrie Irving

Irving joins his third team in four years this season. His four-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets is worth $136 million and includes an additional $4.3 million in potential incentives. A viral Pepsi ad campaign featuring Irving as the elderly Uncle Drew eventually led to a 2018 feature film; Irving has partial ownership of the character. Irving is another Beyond Meat investor.

#5: James Harden

The 2018 NBA MVP purchased a minority stake in the Houston Dynamo of MLS this summer for $15 million. Harden also holds equity stakes in BodyArmor, Stance socks and Art of Sport. His salary with the Rockets jumps $8 million this season with the start of a contract extension he signed in 2017.

#4: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook’s five-year, $207 million contract is the largest deal in the NBA right now. The eight-time All Star extended his deal with Nike’s Jordan brand in 2017 for another ten years and in 2018 received his first signature shoe, the Why Not Zer0. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double for three straight seasons.

#3: Kevin Durant

Durant is likely to miss the entire season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in June during the NBA Finals. He’ll still pocket his full first-year salary from the Brooklyn Nets under the four-year, $164 million deal he signed in July. He’s invested in more than 30 startups, including Postmates and investing app Acorns.

#2: Stephen Curry

The two-time MVP used some of his hoops money in June to buy a $31 million home in Atherton, California, with his wife, Ayesha. He also made a seven-figure donation this summer to Howard University to help launch a golf program at the school and recently signed an endorsement partnership with Callaway Golf. Curry became the only player to win the NBA MVP unanimously when he won his second of back-to-back awards in 2016.

#1: LeBron James

James signed an endorsement in 2019 with Walmart that is rooted in community work. He worked with the retail giant on its Fight Hunger. Spark Change. initiative, as well as the company’s back-to-school campaign. James is part of an investment group that owns 19 Blaze Pizza franchises across Illinois and Florida.

-Forbes; Kurt Badenhausen

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