Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Last week President Yoweri Museveni was in a generous mood. He hosted the World Championship athletics team to lunch at his country home Rwakitura. While there he gave about sh1b in cash prizes and a brand new Mitsubishi Pajero and house to gold medalist marathoner Stephen Kiprotich.

He hosted the Uganda Cranes at state house Entebbe where he unleashed another sh900m to transport the team and some fans to a crucial world cup qualifying match in Morocco next week.

Meanwhile he pledged a state stipend to medal winning athletes and suggested the possibility of a similar facility for Uganda Cranes players.

Both occasions made for great headlines.

"In terms of raw symbolism, as an indicator of government’s renewed interest in sport nothing can really beat the President’s largesse however more, much more has to be done for sports in coming years....

And for sustainable results the government need not be the greatest contributor to this sporting renaissance.

To paraphrase it takes a nation to grow a gold medalist. Everybody has to be involved.

The inexorable march of development has put paid to the sprawling Naguru housing estate.

The Lugogo sports complex, now whittled down to the indoor stadium, cricket oval and tennis courts but which previously included the lands on which the Lugogo Mall and UMA show grounds now stand, provided a welcome release for children of Naguru with the unintended consequence of being the hub of sporting excellence.

We have to start with creating the space for the children to explore their talent. To begin with the hot money speculating in real estate is uninterested or aware of their obligations to provide these playing fields. So for starters government should enforce or enact laws that provide for open spaces within these mushrooming housing developments.

The same should be done for schools.

The schools, housing playgrounds and public parks will then feed into nationwide initiatives to identify and groom the talent that will populate the league clubs and national teams.

"If the government as a bare minimum enforced the law and maintained open spaces, the sporting associations can kick in to tap talent from the grassroot network and attracting corporate sponsorship to support national events and teams...

Across from us in Kenya the countries legacy of great middle and long distance runners the truth be told, had more to do with the distances the kids run to school in the Kenyan rift valley, the wide expanses over which they had to tend the family goat herds and maybe the genetic predisposition needed to live in the highlands, passed down the generations.

The Kenyan government however supported these budding athletes by sustaining a national schools’ athletics championship, incorporating them into the armed forces and of course ensuring peace and stability, which allowed this serendipitous pipeline to keep doing what it does – churning out winning athletes.

It will be interesting to see when the kids don’t have to run so far or tend goats any more, whether Kenya’s dominance in those fields will be sustained. Already Kiprotich has shown them up on two occasions.

"The associations in their part need to wean themselves from this dependence on government handouts. The attraction of this money is easy to see; accountability is not mandatory...

Our associations, largely amateur operations run by elected leaders not necessarily chosen for their managerial abilities, will need to work out how to repackage their events, attract crowds and it make it more attractive for companies to come to their aid.

Corporate Uganda’s pockets are shockingly deep when presented with a well packaged selling proposition on which to pin their flag. See the Kampala Kid’s League.

And finally parents.

The pool of world beaters is often drawn from the less privileged classes, who see sport as not only an avenue to douse the children’s raging hormones, keep them out of trouble, but as a real possibility of making a living.

The middle class have a dismal record of nurturing talent in the popular sports. That need not be the case.

Tennis professional Tommy Haas, as a 14 year old fell short in a battery of tests that would afford him support by the German Tennis Association.  His father who believed in his son’s talent brought together a few friends, created a company with his son Tommy, as the main asset and raised $100,000 to support a drive to turn him into a professional athlete.

Haas, now 35, the highest ranked German tennis player, is in the twilight of a career that has spurned almost two decades, earned him more than $12m and paid off his initial backers many times over.

"The President’s millions are welcome – after all its not everyday that we are celebrating gold medalists but a more institutionalized process of nurturing and rewarding our athletes will be welcome as well...

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