How a sense of community flipped swimming in Uganda

Saturday September 21 2019

It is very unlikely that minus this new se

It is very unlikely that minus this new sense of community and healthy competition, Namutebi would have been dared to reach the heights she did in Tunisia. FILE PHOTO 

By Moses Banturaki

All for one, one for all. Namutebi is a product of a swimming era that is best described as the coming together of the bankrolling of parents and the know-how of enterprising swimming coaches.

Teenage swimmer Kirabo Namutebi, spent last week collecting gold medals at the Africa Junior Championships in Tunisia – two at my last count. These came in the 50m freestyle and the 50m breaststroke and made her Uganda’s most decorated swimmer.

There were also a couple of near misses in the 50m butterfly and the 50m backstroke which further demonstrated that her golds were no fluke.

But at the back of all this is a more compelling story. And it is that Namutebi’s golds have been forming over a period as long as, if not longer than her tender years and that even if her events were individual, her success is communal.

Namutebi is a product of a swimming era that is best described as the coming together of the bankrolling of parents and the know-how of enterprising swimming coaches. It is these two forces and the children they represent that form the swimming clubs that have totally flipped the profile of the game.

These clubs are bound together by a unity of purpose, so much so that swimming in Uganda can hardly be called an individual sport anymore. The clubs aren’t only bearers of sprint queens, in some instances they have sprung Sacco off-shoots and in most, are also the trendy pastime through which middle class parents channel the adolescent energies of their children.

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Therefore, against a background that was once defined by a few individuals, it is very unlikely that minus this new sense of community and healthy competition, Namutebi would have been dared to reach the heights she did in Tunisia. And Tunis was a follow up to the FINA world junior championships held in Budapest last month. In fact, it is now straightforward that a swimming competition anywhere around the world, and at all levels, will have Ugandan representation. What Namutebi and others change, is that we are no longer just participating but also competing.

And yet the Namutebi’s born only 14 years ago may take such a development for granted. But it hasn’t always been likely. Going back a mere 20 years, reveals a sport whose stars were like a Namasagali old-students association or area cronies of the Jinja sailing club and Makerere University Swimming pools. In general, a Ugandan Swimmer was as infrequent as swimming pools once were.

Then something dropped. And it couldn’t have been the cost of building swimming pools. But what is undoubtable is that the growth spurt is so dramatic that the ‘Fast and Furious’ swimming gala hosted by Dolphins club at GEMS a fortnight ago, attracted 600 kids from 25 club.

Not all these children will make podium finishes. That path is littered with examples of those who failed to endure a daily routine that juggles schoolwork and a double-session training regime, six days a week, all year round. But for those who stay the course, it is worth remembering that for Uganda, it took years of consistent support from Parents and instructors, to get here. It is also why any swimming success in this country is communal.

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