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Uganda Sports Excellence, Failure Over Past 50 Years

Posted Oct 10 2012 7:42am

An Olympic gold medal was the perfect gift for Uganda's Golden jubilee celebrations.

There were all signs that Uganda was headed for yet another fruitless year on the sports arena. Then came athlete Stephen Kiprotich.

The lean runner from Kapchorwa proved at the London 2012 Olympic Games that world class talent still exists in this country. He sped past some of the biggest names in the men's marathon to take gold.

The excitement in Uganda was understandable. This was the country's first Olympic gold medal in 40 years.

Uganda's anthem had last been played at the prestigious games in 1972 when John Akii-Bua won gold at the Munich games.

Prior to Kiprotich's amazing run, Uganda had last made it to the Olympic medal podium in 1996 when quarter miler Davis Kamoga won bronze at the Atlanta games.

Kiprotich races to gold

So, Kiprotich's achievement came 16 years after Uganda's last Olympic medal. That Kamoga's bronze had also come 16 years after the country's previous Olympic medal, says volumes about Uganda's performance on the big stage.

Uganda has a total of six medals from the prestigious quadrennial event. Four of these, were however won at three editions of the games between 1968 and 1972.

Therefore, as Ugandans toast to Kiprotich's achievement, they should also be awakened to the fact that their sports performance has been on a steady decline over the past 26 years.

As athletics coach Absolom Ojwang put it, Kiprotich's gold medal was more of an accident. It was not a result of a deliberate government programme.

President Yoweri Museveni concedes that not much has been invested in the sports sector.

At the opening of the refurbished MTN Lugogo Arena in 2010, Museveni explained that the NRM government's emphasis had been on more pressing sectors like education, security, health, energy and transport.

However, there is more government interest in the sports sector now.

While rewarding Kiprotich with a sh200m cheque for the gold medal, Museveni directed that athletes who excel at Africa level and beyond would get a sh1m monthly stipend.

Museveni has also offered job placements in the forces and intelligence services to athletes. These measures were further boosted with a sh700m annual offer to athletics and football.

These are good gestures. But the sector could do even much better.

Experts believe that what sports needs is not only a more serious policy but more investment.

The sh3bn that is allocated to sports annually is peanuts.

"We need a minimum of sh10bn to comfortably run our programmes," acting sports commissioner Omara Apitta said before the 2012-13 budget was read.

Golden era

The 1962-1980 period is a time that is usually referred to as the golden era of Uganda's sports.

Several World Championship Commonwealth, Africa and East and Central medals were won by Ugandans on top of the four Olympic medals.

Boxer Leo Rwabwogo punched his way to Uganda's first Olympic medal, a bronze, at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Another pugilist Eridad Mukwanga won silver at the same games.

Rwabwogo bounced back at the next games. He won silver before another boxer John "The Beast" Mugabi also getting a similar medal at the 1980 Moscow games.

Uganda's national soccer side was also regular at the continent's top soccer competition -- the Africa Cup of Nations tournament. The Cranes last qualified for competition in 1978. That time Uganda lost to Ghana in the final.

Signs of Uganda as a force on the international sports scene were evident as early as 1954 in the country's first appearance at the Commonwealth Games. High jumper Patrick Etolu, a primary school teacher from Soroti, won silver.

That marked the start of a glorious run at these games, considered as the second biggest multi-discipline event after the Olympics.

Uganda has won a total of 12 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze medals at the Commonwealth.

But just like in the Olympics, there has been a steady decline in the number of Uganda's medals from these games over the past three decades.

Boxer Muhammad Muruli and athlete Moses Kipsiro (5000 and 10000m), who have two gold medals each, are Uganda's biggest achievers at these games.

Dan Tamwesigire, a retired commissioner in the education and sports ministry, is confident Uganda can return to its golden era.

More work needed

He however says that much more needs to be done than just boosting the sports ministry's finances.

"There is need for a multi-sectoral approach," explains Tamwesigire saying that there is a sports aspect in every ministry.

He cites the local government, health and education ministries.

"Local authorities should stop selling off sports facilities to private developers just like the health and education ministries should ensure that people are not only healthy, but also have enough time for sports ."

Tamwesigire says with such an approach, it will be a matter of time before several athletes of Kiprotich's calibre start emerging.

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