Charity chief hails opening of 'Lord's of East Africa' in father's memory


Hundreds of Rwandan and international cricket fans are expected to join the celebrations for the official opening of the Central African country's new national cricket stadium which was built with the help of a British charity.

International players, including former England captain Michael Vaughan, rising star Sam Billings and South African Herschelle Gibbs, will take part in a celebrity T20 match shortly after the opening ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

The stadium will allow the country to host international matches for the first time and hopes to help grow the sport as Rwandans are able to watch top-level games on home soil.

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On Wednesday, Vaughan posted a picture of the new stadium, saying: "Can't wait to play at this Amazing new ground in #Rwanda this week."

The stadium has been built with the help of British charity the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF), the Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) and the government of Rwanda, which donated the land for the project.

Director of the charity Alby Shale, 27, son of ex-prime minister David Cameron's constituency chairman, Christopher Shale, who died aged 56 in 2011, said he was "delighted" the project was finished.

Mr Shale was determined to fulfil the vision of his father, who had just started working on the idea of replacing Rwanda's only cricket pitch - Kicukiro Oval, based at a school that was one of the most notorious massacre sites during the 1994 genocide - when he died.

The new stadium
The new stadium

The RCSF was launched in his memory and, ahead of the opening, Mr Shale described the new ground as the "Lord's of East Africa".

"We hope that the new ground will support the development of the game in Rwanda, from the elite level to the grassroots," he said.

"We want as many Rwandans as possible to have the opportunity to play this wonderful sport."

Cricket in Rwanda only became popular after the genocide, which left almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead and the country in turmoil.

Really looking forward to getting out there tomorrow to see this amazing project in person! Fantastic story #cricketbuildshope

-- Sam Billings (@sambillings) October 25, 2017

The sport was introduced by refugees - some of whom were returning after decades in exile in countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where they had grown up playing cricket.

The RCA was established in 1999 by a small number of former refugees and the game is now one of the fastest growing sports in the country, with thousands of young Rwandans playing, despite a dearth of facilities.

The new stadium, built in Gahanga, a small village on the southern outskirts of the capital, Kigali, will also include a pavilion, with restaurant, bar and conference facilities, plus a free HIV testing centre.

The new stadium's pavillion
The new stadium's pavillion

Mr Shale added his thanks to "everyone who has helped us get to this point", including donors, corporate partners, the RCA and the Rwandan government.

It is hoped the new stadium will increase interest in cricket in Rwanda and contribute to tourism numbers, which are already on the up. The number of British travellers to Rwanda has increased by 12% year on year, a figure which is expected to rise further in 2018 following the launch of flights from London Gatwick to Kigali by the national carrier, RwandAir.

Around 1,500 people are expected to attend the official opening, while a tournament with eight teams from Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and the UK, which has been running throughout the week in Kigali, will finish on Sunday at the new ground.

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