Tuesday, April 23News That Matters

Congolese footballer leaves Rwanda’s Rayon Sports over war gesture

A Congolese footballer has landed back in his home country after a political gesture appeared to cost him his place at a top Rwandan club.

Rayon Sports says it has “parted ways” with midfielder Heritier Luvumbu.

Hours earlier he had been given a six-month ban over a gesture that expressed solidarity with war victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

DR Congo, the US and UN experts accuse Rwanda of backing the M23 rebel group, which is causing havoc in the east.

Rwanda has consistently denied the allegation.

Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in the past fortnight.

Luvumbu landed in trouble after pointedly covering his mouth with his left hand while pointing his fingers to his temple, mimicking a gun, after scoring from a free-kick in Sunday’s game against Police FC.

The same gesture had been made days before by DR Congo’s national team before kick-off at their Africa Cup of Nations semi-final against Ivory Coast.It was their way of calling for peace in DR Congo’s troubled eastern region, where a recent surge in violence by the M23 rebel group follows decades of deadly conflict.

The M23 took up arms in 2012 ostensibly to protect the Tutsi population in eastern DR Congo, which had long complained of persecution and discrimination.

The day after Luvumbu drew attention to the crisis via his celebration, his club released a statement denouncing his “bad conduct”.

On Tuesday, Rwanda’s Football Association said it had suspended the midfielder from playing for six months because it “prohibits the use of political symbols or words in football”.

Rayon Sports followed with a second statement, simply saying: “Rayon Sports and the player Heritier Luvumbu Nzinga agree contract termination by mutual agreement.”

DR Congo’s Sports Ministry said that Luvumbu had arrived back in his home country that same day. The announcement on Facebook was accompanied by pictures of Luvumbu meeting the sports minister on home soil.

Rayon Sports, Rwanda’s most popular club, signed Luvumbu in 2021 from Moroccan club Youssoufia Berrechid.

His contract with Rayon Sports was renewed last August for one year.

Before leaving DR Congo, Luvumbu played for AS Vita Club, founded in 1935 and one of the oldest football clubs in the capital Kinshasa.