Sunday February 9 2014

Entebbe leads the way on the sporting front

Homegirl Irene Nakalembe (L) chips on the

Homegirl Irene Nakalembe (L) chips on the Entebbe course and Mongers players (R) size down Kobs’ Brian Odong. PHOTOs BY EDDIE CHICCO 

By Robert Madoi

Last week, I returned to one of my favourite towns in Uganda. There’s something about Entebbe that soothes the soul. It could be down to that distinctive Lake Victoria breeze or even the town’s plethora of tourist magnets. To be frank, putting a finger on the exact spellbinding effect of this town that sits on the northern shores of Lake Victoria is difficult.

Well, Entebbe looks set to add another feather in its cap. Another marvel looks set to be piled on the back of its contemporaries. A sports marvel moreover! We all know that the Entebbe golf course, which is a tee shot away from Uganda’s only international airport, is such a beauty to behold. Its undulations and board tree-lined fairways are soft on the eyes.
This par-71 course with four doglegs that plays all of 6,684 yards is the oldest amongst all links in East Africa.
It doesn’t offer that many birdie, eagle, let alone albatross opportunities. What it offers is a close to well-manicured setting that stubbornly doesn’t always get the putter going.

The golf course has done its best to put the sleepy town of Entebbe on the back pages. It will continue to do just that when it hosts the prestigious World University Cross-Country Championship in March. All this shows that having sports facilities that are in rosy good health is worth the bother. Kudos to the Entebbe Municipality for noticing this salient fact.

The municipality now looks set to make sports the bedrock of its tourism industry. Preferential treatment has been given to sports that attract tourists. Golf is one such sport. Rugby is another. The municipality has leased a 1.3 acre piece of land to Entebbe Mongers to construct a rugby football club similar to those in Lugogo (Kyadondo RFC and Legends Club).

While in Entebbe last week, I got to check out the sprawling piece of land where Mongers will roll out its project. The land has a picturesque backdrop of Lake Victoria and will no doubt be a hit with rugby enthusiasts as much as tourists. It was refreshing -- I must admit -- to learn that in a dark era where sports grounds are being given away with alarming frequency, an inverse could well and truly take centre-stage!

Entebbe Mongers, however, have it all to do if their project is to see the light of day. A cool Shs80m is needed to hit the ground running, so to speak. All the stops have to be pulled to ensure that Mongers’ pet project comes to fruition. For rugby to thrive in Uganda, it is imperative that the ‘catchment area’ straddles beyond the confines of Kampala. The game’s tentacles have to be stretched to glean potential players that dot this country.

Cranes striker Ssentamu has it all to do

Proper planning. The municipality now looks set to make sports the bedrock of its tourism industry. Preferential treatment has been given to sports; golf and rugby, that attract more tourists.

After he struck three goals in the group stages of this year’s African Nations Championship, suitors were bound to come knocking at Yunus Ssentamu’s door.
Whether the three well-taken goals that Ssentamu struck against Burkina Faso (two) and Morocco neatly encapsulate his potential as a striker is up for debate. What’s not debatable, though, is that the 19-year-old striker has an empty book in which he could possibly write out his greatest or, on the flip side, darkest chapters yet.

The narrative that Ssentamu frames will solely depend on how he handles himself both on and off the pitch.
If he lets fame get to his head, it will doubtless be curtains for the young exciting talent. The reverse will be true if the former St. Mary’s Kitende SS student keeps his feet firm on the ground.

No smooth landing
The South African topflight league -- where Ssentamu will (if you believe the grapevine: Vipers SC top brass insist the deal hangs in the balance) be hoping to learn on the job while turning out for Amazulu -- has over the years proven to be a graveyard for Ugandan hotshots.

The travails of the likes of Brian Umony and Benjamin Ochan in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League have reinforced that stereotype.
Ssentamu could well tread a different path principally because national football coach, Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic, has played a big brother role.
Micho made it crystal clear that he will choose a team for Sentamu which he reckons will stand him in good stead.

This explains why overtures from Soweto giants Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates were dead-batted. Micho believed, and rightly so, that Ssentamu wouldn’t get enough game time at the two South African Box Office clubs. The striker’s growth trajectory would henceforth take a nosedive.
It will be fascinating to see how Ssentamu negotiates this second phase in his career. It could make or break him.
The youngster has shown incredible mental fortitude in scripting what is by all measures a Cinderella story.

But if he wants to find that metaphorical Prince Charming, he will have to avoid thinking that he has arrived. There’s still a lot more to be done!

What we now know....

We now know that Thomas ‘Smatts’ Olumbo is being spoken of in the past tense. The renowned basketball coach succumbed to a long illness in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi last weekend.

We know that Smatts will be a big miss! He leaves behind big slippers. Such was his terrific brain that he imprinted an indelible mark on all basketball ports of call in East Africa.
The 2007 Fuba Finals were what marked Smatts out for greatness in this hinterland of Uganda. We all know that Smatts took on a Falcons side that was in a rut.

Trailing in the semifinal series against fancied UCU Canons, the odds were stacked against Ugandan basketball’s most successful side. We know that Smatts went on to mastermind one of the game’s greatest comebacks -- heists even! That comeback only pales in comparison to the one that Falcons mustered in best-of-five finals series against Warriors that year.
We know that Olumbo was by the touchline as Falcons rallied from a 2-0 hole in the finals, winning three on the bounce to seal their sixth title! Olumbo’s rich trove of knowledge will sorely be missed. This we know for sure!