There’s a new passion for young people especially at university -- woodball. Woodball came to Uganda in 2006 and has spread like wildfire. It is among the medal sports at the inter-university games since 2008.
The Uganda Woodball Federation (UWbF) estimates that 4,000 players are actively involved in the game. The 10-year anniversary at Mandela National Stadium, showed that the game has got a deep reach as more than 1,000 players attended the celebrations involving; 784 competing as juniors, 174 in the President’s Cup and 233 for the Corporate League.
Woodball is among the 37 recognised sports in Uganda with the other little known sports being; VX, lacrosse, zurkhaneh, roll ball, floorball, ultimate Frisbee.
All this thanks to an audacious chartered accountant Paul Mark Kayongo, who is the bursar of Ndejje University. He fell for the experiment to introduce the sport in Uganda after the International University Sports Federation (FISU) General Assembly in Dubai in March 2006.
Kayongo, a career finance professional, is the founding president of the Uganda Woodball Federation (UWbF) and won the green light to introduce the game in Africa when he was appointed the vice president in charge of the sport at the world headquarters.
The starting point was the introduction of the sport at the annual inter-university games. Since he was the sports tutor at Ndejje, he sought the opportunity to use the university as the first home of the sport. “Ndejje accepted to pioneer the sport even though they did not know everything about it at the time but they used my goodwill,” he said.
Sport for all seasons
His target? To create an alternative sport which he found fit for everyone. “Anyone can play woodball anywhere,” Kayongo says.
The sport was invented in Taiwan by Weng Ming-hui and Kuang-chu Young in 1990. It takes approximately 90 minutes to complete 12 gates. The length of a gate, from the starting area to the gate, ranges from 30 yards to over 100 yards.
A team consists of two to four players. On a woodball course, the goal is to complete 12 gates, or a designated number of gates. Similar to golf, the player who completes these gates with fewest strokes is the winner. The game has a strong presence in schools, universities and also corporate companies. “I like the game because it is not rough at all. You play one at a time and you cannot be hit by an opponent. The risk of injury is limited,” Verona Naava, a player says.
Kayongo plans to take the sport across the country in the next 10 years to make it more popular. Uganda has been to the World Cup five times and will play at the World Cup this month. “Every player’s motivation is to play at the top level and woodball is an open gate since Uganda is the number one country in Africa,” he said.
He had initial fears but kept going anyway. “I instead focused on a well-designed process on where we wanted to go.”
His efforts elevated him to an improved profile. Uncannily confident, Kayongo was offered the opportunity to introduce the sport to the rest of Africa. To face initial challenges, Uganda was donated an equipment making plant. That would partly solve the problem as all playing equipment is manufactured locally in the backyard of Ndejje University.
10 years later, Kayongo thinks he has the answer. The game is embraced by South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Tanzania, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Kenya, Gabon, DR Congo and Cameroon. 44 countries play the sport worldwide.
He rejects the notion that trying to promote the game elsewhere will weigh immensely on the game’s growth at home. “We can do all this,” he says.
In harmony with nature
Kayongo says the sport has growing acclaim since it is played in harmony with nature. “We actually work with nature instead of trying to fight it. The use of wooden materials is sustainable because the wood used is legally obtained,” he says.
In the past 10 years, woodball is the leading innovation in sport with a trajectory so sharp to strangers.
The UWbF has partnered with Namboole, Kisubi beach and several universities to host their events, but to-date there are no specific woodball courses in the country. Kayongo thinks that when the sport gets its own home, the future will be sorted.
He thinks woodball offers a great alternative in an organised environment at a cheap cost. Woodball equipment made in Uganda costs a combined Shs180,000.
Kayongo is well aware that skeptics are circling his brainchild. But the greater sin, he suggests, would be not to try to dream.
“Human history is a long list of things that were impossible and then that were done,” he says.
Among the sport-savvy countrymen, Kayongo is a symbol of visionary striving. David Katende, the National Council of Sports (NCS) general secretary, actually named him “father of woodball”. “He works tirelessly to promote woodball whenever he is not sleeping and maybe he even dreams about it,” Katende says.
Facts about woodball
Woodball is played with a wooden mallet and wooden balls
It was developed in Taiwan in 1990 and introduced in Uganda by Paul Mark Kayongo in 2008. Woodball can be played indoors or outdoors, on grass, sand or asphalt surfaces.
The ball used is 9.5cm in diameter and weighs 350 grammes. The mallet is about 90cm long with a bottle shaped head.
The gate consists of three bottle-shaped blocks, with the ones at the ends a little longer than the middle.
He is the treasurer of the Association of Uganda University Sports (AUUS); Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) Big League delegate; finance committee Member of the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) and has served as Vice President of the Uganda Handball Federation (2006– 2008).