Patrick Bizindavyi using basketball to unify Burundians

Patrick Bizindavyi recalls the time he “got hooked” on basketball. He was in high school and he and his friends would spend the evenings and weekends watching video tapes of NBA games. He became fascinated with players like Michael Jordan and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. 

“I was hooked!” he said excitedly. 

Soon he and his friends grew wary of the limited time they were given to play the sport during school, to fix this, they decided to create their own team. The six friends would practice two times everyday, and later joined up with another team, that team eventually started competing in basketball leagues. 

Burundi civil war

That was in the 1980s, and little over a decade later, Burundi would be thrust into a bloody civil war brought on by long standing tension between the  Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. During this time, Bizindayvi had become a basketball coach, passing on his passion for the game to the youth from both sides of the conflict. 

“There were parts of the city that I couldn’t visit because I would get killed. But because I was doing basketball camp in those parts of the city, I was protected, nobody would touch me because they saw me as the coach, they saw me as somebody who was coming to do something good. That was the first time I saw the potential of sports as a unifying force,” he said. 

He explained that after the 1992 Olympic Games where NBA players were allowed to play for the first time, Burundians fell in love with basketball. 

“From there teams were formed, we were small teams but we started going to young people, teaching them basketball, teaching them basketball in school. And then there was a national team, we started playing tournaments in different African countries.”

“There were parts of the city that I couldn’t visit because I would get killed. But because I was doing basketball camp in those parts of the city, I was protected,”- Patrick Bizindayvi

He hosted his first basketball camp in 1999, and more than a thousand youth participated. 

“So when you measured the impact of what we were doing, that’s something tangible-unifying, bringing people together around sports,” he said. 

In 2002, Bizindayvi moved to Canada, but he did not leave his passion for the sport behind, or forsake the responsibility he had acquired to help develop Burundi’s basketball programme. 

He worked as a reporter, covering the NBA. He also co-founded Unleashed Possibilities Inc., a company that helps individuals reach their peak potential. In 2019, he organized another basketball camp in his native country. 

For years, Bizindayvi lamented the lack of infrastructural development in Burundi, which he said is hindering the progress of the country’s basketball programme. 

“The same basketball court I played on many many years ago, in the 1980s, they are the same basketball courts these people are playing on, nothing really changed. There is a need to build infrastructure for those kids to play on because you know without a basketball court it’s very hard to play.” 

So naturally, he was integral to P.H.A.S.E 1 Academy’s effort to establish an academy in the city of Bujumbura. 

“There’s this huge passion for basketball among the youth in Burundi, but they need coaches, they need courses, people to train them, and resources, and that is what P.H.A.S.E 1 is coming into play because P.H.A.S.E 1 can provide all of those,” he said.

He added; “The young people here don’t have the same resources as North America. So we want to tap into that talent, give them the resources, and the best of the best will get an opportunity to compete overseas, to get scholarships, to play for the country, and get education.”

Bizindayvi believes basketball is fundamental to the holistic development of the Burundian youth. “I see basketball as a school of life, you succeed at basketball, you can succeed anywhere. If you apply the same discipline, if you apply the same work ethic, you’ll succeed. And it’s a way of impacting this generation of young people in Burundi through basketball.” 

There’s this huge passion for basketball among the youth in Burundi, but they need coaches, they need courses, people to train them, and resources, and that is what P.H.A.S.E 1 is coming into play because P.H.A.S.E 1 can provide all of those,”- Patrick Bizindayvi

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