Features

Brian Lara: Why I'm helping build a cricket stadium in Rwanda

Cricket has provided education and direction in the lives of thousands

13 September 2014

9:00 AM

13 September 2014

9:00 AM

Twenty years ago, in 1994, I had a golden summer. I scored 375 against England in Antigua, a Test record that stood for nine years, and two months later I posted 501 against Durham, which remains today the world record in first-class cricket, as my team Warwickshire achieved an unprecedented domestic treble. I was in my mid-twenties, and of course I was very happy, but I was also very aware that in another part of the world, a great tragedy was unfolding.

Every evening when I turned on the TV there were images of the genocide in Rwanda, and the contrast with my own feelings of euphoria haunted me.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I actually visited Rwanda, but when I did I knew I had to help in some way, and hearing the story of a young cricketer called Audifax Byiringiro helped me start to realise what I should do.

In April 1994, as I was gearing up for my golden summer, Audifax Byiringiro was a six-month-old baby in Rwanda. Audifax and his family — his mother, father and three siblings — sought refuge from the violence as nearly a million Tutsis were killed by their Hutu countrymen. For more than a month they faced death daily at rebel road blocks as they fled from the brutality, but by June his father and three siblings had been murdered and only he and his mother remained.

One day in the same month, on a field in a school in Kigali, 2,500 Rwandans were abandoned by UN peacekeepers and attacked by local militia with machetes, grenades and guns. The massacre took just a few hours, and by nightfall all but 50 were dead. The events were later depicted in the film Shooting Dogs. The title was intended to symbolise the madness of the situation: UN troops firing at dogs scavenging bodies of the dead, but not allowed to shoot at the human perpetrators because their orders prevented them from doing so.


Eight years later, by some strange turn of fate, that same field became Rwanda’s first cricket pitch. Many Rwandans had lived in exile in nearby countries like Kenya and Uganda, where cricket was played as a result of a British colonial past. When the exiles returned to their homeland following the end of the genocide, they brought the game back with them and a Rwanda Cricket Association was formed. The idea was that Rwandans of all backgrounds could try to forget their past by playing together — but sometimes it was hard to forget. Before a pitch could be prepared, the two-metre grass was cut, revealing the remains of many victims of the massacre. In the early games it wasn’t unusual for a fielder, when chasing after a ball, to find a human bone.

This is where Audifax’s story begins again — because in 2007, as a 14-year-old, he played his first game of cricket on that field, and it was there, two years later, that I met him during my trip. I was struck then by the way that cricket had changed Audifax’s life. He spent hours honing his skills with bat and ball before and after school, and it gave him focus and discipline. Over the next few years, he became a fixture in the national team, and in 2011 he was even asked by a cricket club in Cornwall to be their overseas professional for the season, although his visa request was turned down. He now coaches in schools, orphanages and universities across the country, sharing his love of cricket with Rwandan boys and girls from all different backgrounds while excelling in his own studies (his most recent exam results were the highest in the country).

Audifax’s story is just one of many. Since cricket first arrived in Rwanda, it has provided education and direction in the lives of thousands of young people and in some places has helped break down previously entrenched tribal and ethnic differences. An overachieving national team has even helped foster a sense of national pride.

So Rwandan boys love cricket, there’s no doubt about that, but the trouble is that there is still only one cricket ground: that small field in Kicukiro, the site of the massacre.

Here at last, was something I could do for Rwanda. In 2011, I and a group of cricketing evangelists from England formed the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (www.rcsf.org.uk), in partnership with the MCC Foundation, to build a high-quality permanent home for Rwandan cricket.

The policy of international aid organisations has quite rightly been to develop basic infrastructure, to lower child mortality and to reduce poverty, but cultural development is also crucial to help Rwanda become a developed nation.

Once built, the new ground will provide a place for the national team to train, for schoolchildren to be coached, for people who have never seen the game before to become hooked, the same way both Audifax and I did. There will be accommodation for visitors from around Rwanda and touring teams from abroad to stay.

RCSF is more than halfway towards the target of £600,000 to lay two wickets and build a small pavilion. And on Sunday 14 September at Wormsley in the Chilterns, I will lead out an invitational XI against a Warwickshire CCC 1990s XI, led by our captain from that era, Tim Munton, as we seek to raise more money for this fantastic cause.

The international community’s failure to act against the 1994 genocide will remain on our consciences forever. But 20 years on, cricket is helping the country to move forward, and I am proud to be able to help.

Tickets to watch Brian Lara’s international XI this weekend can be purchased via the RCSF website: www.rcsf.org.uk. Brian Lara is a former captain of the West Indies cricket team. Among other achievements, he set a record for a first-class innings – 501 not out – which has stood for 20 years. 

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Show comments
  • Ismael Mukiza

    Very interesting engagement, I, as Rwandan, really thank your for
    supporting my country to move forward, God bless you and all RCSF’s
    members!

  • fine cause and a fine player

  • Nicholas I

    “The international community’s failure to act against the 1994 genocide will remain on our consciences forever.” – I guess I’m not part of “the international community” then. Never think about Rwanda unless someone else mentions it. It has nothing to do with my life. And one group of negroes slaughtering another is not anything my conscience is or should be concerned about. What I do find very disturbing about Rwanda is that some good White Belgians and Canadians had their lives ruined, after being sent there to foolishly intervene between savages.

    • cocoa_panyol

      Great. Lets hope that when the next group of European Whites start killing another group of European Whites that no one asks other races to help either…….maybe it has already started. Perhaps you have forgotten what European Whites did to Africans, Indians and Chinese in North America, The Caribbean, India, Africa, South America and China while building their Empire but we certainly have not.

      • Nicholas I

        Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

        • SchtenGraby

          I don’t doubt that these are your views NicholasI – shame you felt that they had to be aired here in an altogether uplifting article about cricket, written by one of its greatest exponents. I just hope that Brian and others commenting here realise that your comments – that might have come straight from the nineteenth century – do not represent the views of all white people.

          And as an addendum to what cocoa_paynol said, perhaps you should reflect on the many hundreds of thousands of troops, from what is now the Commonwealth, who felt it right to fight in both the first and second wars – largely to help Britain remain free. Perhaps reflect also on the beginning of Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ where the Romans navigating the Thames are “foolishly trying to intervene with savages” before you cast the first stone.

          It’s generally better not to speak of atrocities of which – by your own admission – you have very little interest in – or knowledge of. Atrocities that decent people, with a shred of compassion in them, probably think it best to discuss with delicacy, humanity and with good grace.

          • Nicholas I

            SchtenGraby: “I don’t doubt that these are your views NicholasI – shame you felt that they had to be aired here in an altogether uplifting article about cricket”

            The article is not about cricket.

            I responded to this sentence in the article:

            “The international community’s failure to act against the 1994 genocide will remain on our consciences forever.”

            No mention or hint of legs-before-wickets or test-scores in that sentence.

            It’s a stupid Globalist statement. What is “the international community”? And I responded because packs of n*groe savages killing each other is not at all on my conscience, and it would be a great shame to me where I descend so low as to have such such a thing on my conscience, since it has **** all to do with me.

            SchtenGraby: “perhaps you should reflect on the many hundreds of thousands of troops, from what is now the Commonwealth, who felt it right to fight in both the first and second wars – largely to help Britain remain free.”

            Does that have something to do with cricket?

            And, no, I couldn’t care less if they were stupid and weak and greedy enough to be used as (paid) meat puppets to help enslave Britons and Europeans.

            Britain should have lost the First World War, which would have brought independence sooner to colonies, which would have resulted in Ireland reming a united nation, which would have been a good lesson in humility for the UK, and which would have avoided the Second World War.

            And WW2 was also a loss for Britons, since Britain’s military victory simply confirmed their doctrine that Might Is Right, since it was the UK that declared war against Germany.

            It’s a GREAT pity that Germany didn’t win the war, which would have helped bring down the British, French and Soviet empires, and would have prevented all of the East from falling under Soviet tyranny, and would have kept China, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Ethiopia from becoming Communist.

            So any dumb n*gro from Africa who helped the Anglo-Soviet-American alliance enslave Europeans and Asians and Africans and Americans and Britons deserves contempt.

            SchtenGraby: “It’s generally better not to speak of atrocities of which – by your own admission – you have very little interest in – or knowledge of.”

            Lies. I never said I have very little interest in these n*gro blood-lettings or and knowledge of them. I am very much interested in keeping my people from getting in the middle of such savages, and in convincing others to prevent such slaughters breaking out in London, Birmingham, Malmo, Paris, Marseilles, Oslo, Berlin, Amsterdam, Malta, Rome, Vienna…

          • SchtenGraby

            “It’s a GREAT pity that Germany didn’t win the war”

            Wow! Think we see where you’re coming from very clearly now. And it’s not somewhere good.

          • Nicholas I

            And you, a supporter of British imperialism and Soviet slavery, have the moral high ground?

          • SchtenGraby

            “you, a supporter of British imperialism and Soviet slavery”

            I am neither of those things. But then, neither am I am fascist.

          • Nicholas I

            Yes you are. You praise all the dumb negroes who fought the free Axis forces in order to preserve British imperialism, in alliance with the Soviet scum.

  • Hillary Sargeant Fanga

    May you always be bless with goodness and light Brian Lara. I can say it loud for the first time after many years of silence.I ‘M GLAD TO BE A TRINBAGONIAN!

  • Socrates232

    AND PEOPLE HAVE THE AUDACITY TO SAY THAT THE PRINCE IS SELFISH

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