They trained for several days without adequate refreshments. After days of uncertainty, the She Cranes yesterday left Kampala for Blantyre, Malawi where they will represent Uganda in the Africa Netball Championship.
Their road journey, covering over 2300 kilometres, will take the national team more than three days. “We have been told we’ll get to Malawi on Sunday,” coach Fred Mugerwa said as his team set off from Kisekka aboard Speedway Coach.
“We are travelling because we have to. We love this game, we love our country and must represent. But it’s going to be a draining journey,”Mugerwa admitted.
It has been a hectic fortnight or so for the players and Uganda Netball Federation (UNF) officials. Financially squeezed, UNF briefly called off training last Wednesday.
Players only returned to the non-residential camp after National Insurance Corporation netball club executive member Joseline Uchanda gave them Shs500,000 to cater for basics like water, food and players’ transport allowances. Actually some players admitted to surviving on one meal a day during camp.
“We are now relying on goodwill from the public to sustain the team,” UNF secretary Annet Kisomose said after calling off the training.
The public hasn’t been that helpful. A fundraising game scheduled for Lugogo on Tuesday flopped after the legislators failed to show up.
Government and Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) chipped in but their contributions were a drop in the ocean for the team that needed at least Shs100m to travel by air.
“We only managed to raise Shs40m. We doubt it will see us through,” Mugerwa revealed. “We have asked the players to sacrifice and play without allowances. This money is for transport, accommodation, participation fees and affiliation fees to the international body.”
Crucially, the She Cranes management insisted on travelling because this is a tournament of high magnitude. “Currently we are out of the world rankings. This is a ranking tournament which we couldn’t miss,” Mugerwa noted. Although sports generally remains a neglected sector in Uganda, netball is one of the hardest hit disciplines.
Yet, netballers continue to excel amid the hardships. In 2011, they overpowered big continental sides to win the All Africa Games.
Although only four of the players that played at the All Africa Games are making the Malawi trip, Mugerwa is keeping the faith.
“I am sure we’ll do well,” he said. “Before travelling to Maputo for the All Africa Games, we had similar financial troubles in camp. I think the problems somehow inspired us. If the journey goes well, expect another good show from us.”
With the tournament starting next Monday, the She Cranes will have to contend with fatigue in case they get to Blantyre on Sunday.
Even with the possibility of weariness, the eagerness among the players to don the Ugandan shirt is not dead. “We’ll play to our best despite the circumstances,” Martha Soigi, one of the team stars, promised.
Teargas emanating from Kisekka where police were fighting running battles with Opposition guru Dr Kizza Besigye and Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago gave the players a rude goodbye.
Some players left with teary eyes, others choking on the dreaded smoke. They hope to return with smiles on their faces and victorious. But the psychological torture they have endured won’t go away soon.