Paralympic sport in 2017: Emong gold a medal for all

Regatta in Gavirate, Italy, the regional goalball event and Blaze Sports workshop and the inclusive sports gala

World no.1: Emong after returning from London where he won gold. PHOTO BY ISMAIL KEZAALA 

BY ABDUL-NASSER SSEMUGABI

IN SUMMARY

KAMPALA.

2017 has been an eventful and historic year for adaptive sports. Besides the annual gala (this year it was hosted by Gulu), there has been business since the launch of the Blaze Sports International project in January, through the national trials for the World Para-Athletics Championships, the para-rowers’ entry into the International Regatta in Gavirate, Italy, the regional goalball event and Blaze Sports workshop and the inclusive sports gala.

Emong’s silver bullet
At first, it was a frustration and uncertainty as David Emong and three others who had qualified for the World Para-Athletes Championship were left guessing as administrators exchanged mails and calls in addition to meetings, in what bureaucratic speak calls correspondence.
The major problem was funds, as usual, actually the lack of it. Eventually, Christine Akullo, Al-Bashir Bwaga and Sam Mubajje missed the trip because none of the Uganda Paralympic Committee, the National Council of Sports, or the athletes’ mother institutions—Makerere University and UPDF—could raise the funds.
Luckily, Emong, the only one who travelled to London, finished the job in less than four minutes. He won the 1500m T46 with a personal best of 3:58:36 minutes, for the first time beating arch-rival and multiple world champion Samir Nouioua of Algeria, who finished second on 3:58:78 minutes.
That was Uganda’s first gold medal in para-sport history. Equate that to John Akii-Bua’s gold at the 1972 Olympics.
Emong had got silver and bronze at the 2015 and 2011 All-Africa Para-Games both events at which Christine Akullo bagged gold.
A lone ranger with the proverbial silver bullet, Emong was the only Ugandan at Rio 2016 when he won Uganda’s first ever Paralympic (silver) medal. He was alone in London
Any sector without a role model will always, unless otherwise, suffer media marginalisation.
Disability sport has over the years been a victim, until Emong systematically forced himself into the limelight. He is an instant newsmaker, one whose accolades and calm character give even the most average reporter an assortment of (laudatory) adjectives to explore. He is a deserved contender for the sportsman of the year award alongside world silver medallist Joshua Cheptegei.
If disability sport was a damsel in distress, Emong is the knight in shining armour, saving it in the nick of time.
With the 2018 Commonwealth Games coming, Emong has another chance to shine. He is keen to break the world record of 3:50.15 minutes, held by Australia’s Michael Roeger. Muhammad Abdallah, his college coach and mentor, believes it will take him sooner than later.

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Inaugural goalball tournament
In November, Uganda hosted the first ever East African Goalball Championship which entertained Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Tanzania. In respective finals inside the MTN Arena-Lugogo, Ugandan ladies took the trophy after beating Kenya 10-0, while Kenyan men avenged by thrashing Uganda 20-10.
Uganda’s coaches Innocent Tumwesigye and Irene Nabisenke praised their team’s performances, especially against a Kenyan team which had just been to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt for the 2017 IBSA Goalball African Championships.
The four-day foundational tournament was preceded by a training course for umpires and coaches. The International Blind Sport Association (IBSA), the chief facilitator, also provided teams with balls, eyeshades, education equipment, some of which they can use in the future.
Alexey Baryaev, IBSA goalball sporting director, praised Uganda’s talent, their understanding of the game, and advised that consistent practice at all levels and funding for bigger tournaments will make them even better.

Floor hockey kings
In March, Uganda’s Special Olympics team (of people with intellectual disabilities) defended their floor hockey trophy at the 2017 Special Olympics Winter Games in Graz, Austria. After a bad start, being thrashed by Bangladesh 6-2, coach Sam Kiggundu’s boys revenged by edging Bangladesh 2-1 in a tense final.
Credit Julius Lubega and Jimmy Muyomba who the scored the opener and the winner respectively as much as goalkeeper Willy Kyambadde who suffocated the opponents to retain the title they won in the 2013 edition in Korea.

Blaze Sport Gala
In January, Blaze Sports International and Uganda Paralympic Committee with supports from USAID, launched the Sports for Youth with Disabilities Initiative, a three-year project to run in Kampala and Gulu. The project’s prime goal is improving physical literacy of children and youth with physical disabilities, especially girls, and increasing their involvement in sports and recreational programs.
The coalition is steered by an advisory committee, a communications and awareness working group, a training and capacity building working group, among others.
December 2-4, Blaze Sports boss Cynthia Frisina, physiotherapist Susan Eitel and recreational therapist Jill Valentine conducted a workshop in which participants learnt the importance of introducing children to fundamental movement skills like running, throwing, jumping and balancing before engaging them in competitive sports.
The facilitators also showed trainees how they can modify playing environments, equipment and game rules to accommodate all. More so trainees learnt how to make equipment from improvised material when they can’t afford the standard ones.
And what a way to cap a successful year: closing the workshop the coalition members tried some of their newly acquired skills in an inclusive sports gala at the Kampala Hockey Grounds, Lugogo.
Children with and without disability played together in athletics, boccia, sitting volleyball, among other games. The same workshop happened in Gulu.
Emong, the newly appointed Blaze Sports ambassador, gave the children an inspirational speech, urging discipline, fear of God and focus.

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