KAMPALA- When I asked legendary Kenyan steeplechaser Ezekiel Kemboi what advice he had for Ugandan athletes aspiring to walk (make that run and jump) in his gigantic footsteps, he cut straight to chase and dropped the ‘f’ word - funding.
Kemboi was a special guest at the USPA Awards Saturday, and as host of this night of sports glitterati and glamour I was privileged to be holding the mic to his face to prod and provoke.
I say privileged because Kemboi had been accompanied to the stage by his close buddy Stephen Kiprotich, and in the moment before I asked this particular question it had dawned on me that I was actually sharing a platform with sporting immortals; you wouldn’t tell though from seeing their visible humility or listening to their sobering modesty, and let us just say that their gyrating wasn’t quite the model scene from ‘Dancing With The Stars’.
I had prompted the advice out of Kemboi by invoking the sentiment that blood is thicker than borders, in reference to the long distance runners from Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya only separated by a border but united by everything else from proximity, culture and language to nomenclature and genetic construct.
Where I might have expected the advice from a multiple Olympic and World champion to his wannabe young brothers and sisters to go along the largely predictable lines of training and dietary regimes, personal and collective discipline, ambition and dedication etc, that advice instead went to the minders of these athletes, and it was along the lines of availing more cash for preparation, as well as for incentive and reward.
Predictable that too I concur, but perhaps taken for granted and to easily brushed aside repeatedly, to the country’s detriment.
Kemboi directed his plea at Rt. Hon. Speaker Of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, presiding over the gala as Guest Of Honour, challenging her to use the August House to champion the cause by in turn prompting government to come good.
Government of course has a duty to oblige and stands to gain a lot more than it seems to realise or is willing to admit; but the private sector (read corporate bodies) have to get on board as they are much better mobilisers of funding and stand to reap even more from the endeavour, as underlined by former rally champion Charles Muhangi who implored the sponsors to add cash to the trophies they were dishing out; to show the way, Muhangi pledged $100 to each winner on the night.
It is a call I have continually made here, and even if the response from a section of the corporates has been significant, it all still amounts to drop-in-the-ocean levels.
The companies that have conceptualised and contextualised how it is worth to sink money into sports continue to reap just reward from it.
Constantly flashed across the back pages and centre spreads without needing to buy advertising space, bellowed over the radio and television airwaves and hailed by all and sundry, Nile Breweries through their Nile Special brand will only beef up their packages for USPA, the Uganda Cranes and several sports disciplines, from rugby to pool.
They cannot go wrong, and the rest should take heed.
Afcon 2015 group stages are a must
Knowing, even as I made the announcement that Kenyan-based Daniel Sserunkuuma could not have made the trip here to pick up his Footballer Of The Year award at the Uspa Gala Saturday night, I scoured the guest-gathering for someone to collect on his behalf.
It would have been easy to pick out Sserunkuuma’s national team coach Micho Sredojevic from the crowd, but my eyes couldn’t quite make him out and therefore settled on Edgar Watson, who duly obliged.
At the time, I wasn’t to know that Micho had been denied entry into the hall for adorning attire deemed unsavoury by the organisers, but whatever he felt about that decision he must quickly move onto a series of occasions for which he can’t be locked out on the basis of his kit, unless for some weird reason he chooses to show up in Adam’s Suit.
The series of occasions I refer to here are the two legs against Madagascar which will allow The Cranes to get into one of the groups for the Africa Cup Of Nations qualifiers proper.
There is a big difference between being cocky and being confident, and I am certain that I speak on behalf of all when I declare without any arrogance but matter-of-factly that we expect to be in the group stages when the time comes.
For whatever it is worth, Ugandans have got to the stage where they look towards going into the last game of the groups with a great chance of qualifying.