Reviews & Profiles
Netball, an ignored sport: The She Cranes tell their story
Posted Thursday, December 19 2013 at 02:00
From having hardly any transport means to ferry them to destinations, to getting little to no allowances, it is amazing how the She Cranes have managed to do so well in various championships.
In a country that once typified itself as a sporting nation back in the 1970s during Idd Amin’s regime, today, women sports is still struggling to survive. While some African countries are able to boast about their professional status in sports, there are countless athletes across the country facing many challenges and are far from making their mark on the international scene.
Netball which was introduced in the country in the early 1960s, has been one of those sports. We look at the challenges the She Cranes have faced over the past few years but which they have surpassed and found victory.
TOUGH PLAYING CONDITIONS
Caroline Nyafwono, a star player for She Cranes is honest about the hardships the world netball queens have gone through to reach where they are today.
“I was selected in the national team in 2010 after consistently posting remarkable results for my club, National Insurance Corporation. It was the most amazing feeling because it was a dream come true. However, my first experience in the team was very challenging and life has been so hard for the team.
Many times before we even travel, we barely have enough to eat since our mother body, Uganda Netball Federation (UNF), gives us an allowance of Shs3,000 each during our training sessions. This money is supposed to help us buy lunch and water during training, but usually that money is not enough to cater for both so most of us opt for cold water and forego our lunch,” says Nyafwono.
This is a regular reality for the netballers, and has also occurred for a number of athletes in other less recognised sports. Most of them do intensive training without having proper meals which is dangerous to their health.
They also do not receive government sponsorship to boost their morale while others pay from their own pocket to train. “We missed so many international events due to lack of sponsorship for those tournaments but we still went ahead to train for them. “The federation can select a team to represent the country then two days to the event, they tell us that they have to reduce the number since they have failed to secure funds for all of us. Such incidents demoralise us but because of our love for the game we always go for training the next time they call on us,” Nyafwono states.
One of the underlying reasons for such incidents appears to be media coverage and the culture of sport in Uganda. The top sports in the country like basketball and football receive an abundance of media coverage, from newspapers and magazines to television and radio which in turn generates sponsorship, fans and overall money for the sports. But this does not happen for netball. Most of the men’s league games are fully sponsored unlike the women’s sports who even struggle to access means of transport to take them to the airport for international events.
“It is a different story whenever we win these events. For instance when we were going to Singapore we struggled to get a bus to take us to the airport but we were surprised to find the press, a police convoy and a stand-by bus at the airport when we came back. “We were received like queens and in fact next week on Tuesday we are going to be honoured in Parliament,” adds Esther Awayo a player for She Cranes.
POOR MEANS OF TRAVEL
“Traveling far distances by road is another challenge that we have encountered and not just once but on countless occasions. It is really absurd, spending three to four days and nights on the road. Some countries even end up asking us which part of the world Uganda is located because we arrive for those tournaments looking disorganised, dirty and unserious. In June this year, we travelled about 2,399km by road to Malawi for the Africa Nations Cup and some of us arrived there with sore legs yet we had a game to play the same day.
However, we did our best in all our matches and managed to beat nine teams to settle in the third position which was not bad,” Nyafwono says. She adds that upon their arrival that time, most of them felt worn out due to the effect of spending more than four sleepless nights on the road. In 2009 the team also travelled by road to Botswana for the Africa Netball Championships while in 2011 and 2012 they almost failed to access funds to take them to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Zanzibar by road for the East Africa Championship and Chama Cha Mapinduzi Cup. And even when they finally managed to travel, upon their arrival to those countries, they had to share rooms. Still, they won all those events.
LITTLE TO NO PAY FOR NETBALL
As a nation we are lagging far behind African sporting nations like Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. In those countries, the athletes are paid phenomenal wages to play either in their home country or abroad. Leading sports such as athletics, football and rugby attract millions of dollars from television rights and sponsorship. Sadly, leading female sports such as netball and volleyball are hardly broadcast live. And not many players or teams are paid generous amounts of money.
“Since netball is not a professional sport in Uganda, most of us always take unpaid leave from work to go represent the country. Very few players have a reliable source of income and whenever we take unpaid leave from work, our families suffer because some of us are the bread winners,” Nyafwono explains.