Michael Pavitt

The International Cycling Union (UCI) announced Rwanda as the host nation for the 2025 Road World Championships on Friday (September 24), which will mark the first time the event takes place on the African continent.

Africa has been the final frontier for the UCI, with Europe, Asia, the Middle East, North and South America having each held editions of the event to date.

Given that organisers are celebrating the centenary of the World Championships this year in Flanders, many will argue that an African nation hosting the event is overdue.

Europe has been the traditional home for the sport, highlighted by the World Championships having been held entirely on the continent from 1921 to 1973, with Canada breaking the mould in hosting the 1974 event.

Venezuela, United States, Japan, Colombia, Canada, Australia and Qatar are among the handful of nations to have succeeded in taking the event outside Europe.

I wrote back in 2017 that it was no surprise to see International Federations turn their attentions towards holding events in Africa, whether it be to secure a new market for the sport, support a new generation of athletes to participate or even fulfil election pledges.

UCI President David Lappartient could arguably be seen as achieving all three by awarding the World Championships to the African continent, with Eritrea’s Biniam Ghirmay winning a timely silver medal in the men’s under-23 road race in Flanders.

Lappartient had promised to bring the Road World Championships to Africa as part of his manifesto commitments back in 2017, which he believed was key to consolidating the growth of the sport on the continent.

Lappartient can point to having achieved this commitment now, as his first four-year term in office concluded and his second began. The move had been targeted by the governing body, with a letter of invitation and a document designed to help any prospective candidates distributed to African Cycling Confederation members in 2018.

Rwanda was confirmed as hosts on Friday - a day after the nation’s cycling federation announced the news and hastily deleted its tweet - having seen off competition from the rival bid of Tangier in Morocco.

"I welcome the attribution of the 2025 UCI Road World Championships to Kigali, in Rwanda," Lappartient said. "Staging our biggest annual event in Africa was one of our dreams. Today, this is nearer to becoming a reality.

"I sincerely thank Tangier and Morocco for their bid of very high quality. The UCI encourages the country to submit new bids for future events. Given its love of cycling and its commitment for the development of our sport, it deserves to welcome major UCI events."

The UCI perhaps has it easier than other International Federations in the sense that specialised competition venues are not required for the World Championships to take place, with roads rather than stadia providing the backdrop for their event.

The governing body would also be able to point to the Tour du Rwanda and the Tour du Maroc as ongoing events which highlighted both Rwanda and Morocco’s capabilities to stage the event.

The UCI Road World Championships has predominantly been held in Europe ©Getty Images
The UCI Road World Championships has predominantly been held in Europe ©Getty Images

Rwanda’s selection as the host nation could also be viewed as the UCI rewarding investment into cycling.

A United Nations article last year noted an initiative launched by the Rwanda Cycling Federation (FERWACY) in a bid to encourage cycling tourism. The organisation noted the Rwandan Government had introduced a 25 per cent tax waiver on the importation of mountain and racing bicycles to encourage people to cycle, highlighting the green transport’s way to reduce emissions.

Amid the positives, concerns have been raised over Rwanda’s human rights record.

Human Rights Watch has accused Rwanda of arbitrary ill-treatment and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities in its latest report on the country. The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front was viewed as having “continued to target those perceived as a threat to the Government during 2020” with several high-profile Government critics allegedly having been arrested or threatened.

The sentencing of Paul Rusesabagina - who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda after helping to save 1,000 lives during the 1994 genocide - to 25 years in jail on alleged terrorism offences has been cited as a recent example. Rusesabagina had been a vocal critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The UCI has faced questions over the awarding of the World Championships to Rwanda as a result, with a multi-million hosting fee viewed as a potential example of "sportswashing" as well as whether a nation receiving aid from overseas should be investing in hosting sporting events.

A similar criticism has been directed at English Premier League side Arsenal, who have a sponsorship agreement with Rwanda.

Lappartient defended the decision to hold the World Championships in Rwanda given the criticisms. The UCI President appeared to have seen the question coming after providing an in-depth response to Cyclingnews.

UCI President David Lappartient fulfilled a manifesto commitment by taking the World Championships to Africa ©Getty Images
UCI President David Lappartient fulfilled a manifesto commitment by taking the World Championships to Africa ©Getty Images

"Sometimes, we shouldn’t look at all the world’s Governments through the prism of our strictly European way of doing things," Lappartient told Cyclingnews this week.

"I sincerely believe there is strong support for the authorities in Rwanda, for what they’ve done in terms of health, in terms of cohesion. What I see in Rwanda is a people who know how to get back up, a people who suffered 800,000 deaths in 1994 during the genocide.

"I also note that the President of France went recently to meet Paul Kagame. He was elected President of the African Union. So all that is to say is that this is a country that is recognised on the international scene."

Lappartient also claimed that every country "can do better" regarding human rights. His comments are probably not a surprise given the UCI had planned to hold this year’s Track Cycling World Championships in Turkmenistan, while the European Cycling Union were due to host the European Championships in Belarus. Both events ultimately fell through.

The UCI President may have a point though. It is possible to point towards human rights issues in many nations that are regular hosts of sporting events, which barely receive the same level of scrutiny.

Sport will continue to face questions over their hosting decisions and the various issues they throw up, as they should. International Federations will have to weigh up whether they are prepared to accept those challenges when they occur and seek assurances to avoid potential pitfalls.