I am watching this World Cup in Brazil and thinking, surely it is time for Uganda to parade the flag at, and not 2018 tournament, but possibly 2022 and 2026 is a must.
That is easy to say, but how do we actually get there? Half the great footballers start their journey after they are born, but the other half, I believe, become footballers in their mothers’ wombs. So, the first thing we need to do is catch these future footballers when they are still unborn. There is a fairly simple intervention—establish a programme to give pregnant Ugandan women iron and vitamin supplements.
But after the kids are born, they waste away with hunger and illness. Here, I would say, the most important thing is to invest in the mothers, because when they have money and food, they spend more on the children than men. So mothers should get cash payments or vouchers.
However, the best approach is to get to the children directly, through school feeding programmes.
Still all this will not help, if diseases like malaria will attack the kids. So a big campaign against malaria must be launched. There is a reason Kenya’s top athletes live in parts of central Kenya and the Rift Valley that are too cold for mosquitoes.
And when they happen to catch malaria, they don’t take highly toxic treatments. A top marathoner once told me that some old women in the Rift Valley have become very adept at herbal anti-malaria therapies. An athlete drinks it, collapses in a massive sweat, and wakes up some hours later and the malaria is gone.
Anyway, now that we have strong healthy kids, how do we get the talented ones into football? In fact, we should not just seek excellence in football, but in athletics too.
Therefore, we should build regional sports schools with the best fields, training facilities, and some of the best trainers in the region. We could start with four – one in central, one in the west, one in the north, and one in the east of Uganda. All the kids who show talent in any globally significant sport, would get fully paid scholarships to these sports schools.
We need to pause though, at this point, to ask the question of where the money for supplements, school meals, and new sports schools will come from.
I suggest we cut the UPE budget by 50 per cent. There is too much corruption and waste in education—and as many reports have indicated recently, most UPE “graduates” are coming out still illiterate. UPE needs more reforms, and competition to raise standards.
In the meantime, we can start with sponsoring 100 Ugandan students who have shown promise every year to universities abroad with the best sports programmes – football, athletics, rugby, cricket, volleyball, women’s football, etc. But how do we ensure there is no corruption, with officials sending their girlfriends and children without a drop of sports talents out of the scholarships?
The best way is to keep the government and sports authorities out of it. I suggest that Ugandans earning more than Sh5 million a month should pay 0.01 per cent of their salary into a sports development fund. A mirror Diaspora fund should be established. I would be happy to pay more - 0.1 per cent.
An investment committee set up by banks operating in Uganda should oversee the fund. The banks would get a small cut, of course, for their services and could split the money to sit in their banks as they think is appropriate.
For drawing up a list of the best students for the sports scholarships, we should contract an external talent scout company. A large part of their selection shall come from the yearly contests between our regional sports schools. And for the placement of the sports talents, another professional agency would be hired to find universities for them and handle their placement issues.
Our regional sports schools, meanwhile, will get tax exemptions for investments in facilities, and their staff too would not have their salaries taxed.
Again, to avoid abuse of the system, the tax exemption licences shall be reviewed every two years and renewed only if at least 10 per cent of the final class has gone on to find local or international stardom of some sort.
There is something we need to throw in here to sweeten this. Apart from iron and vitamin supplements, the parents have been given no incentives later. Most parents are happy to see their children shine, but that is not enough…parents cannot eat the fame of their children.
Therefore, the parents of the children who are good enough should get a juicy payment from the sports development fund, as a way of encouraging more parents to channel their children who are talented to the fields.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa (mgafrica.com): Twitter:cobbo3