KAMPALA- Badminton ace Aisha Nakiyemba started the year with a dream to win Uganda a medal at last month’s All Africa Games in Morocco.
Partly because it is every player’s dream to win big medals but also, for her, the Presidential pledge to give athletes who win continental and international medals a monthly stipend meant a lot of financial support would come he way.
Her dream came alive when she scooped bronze in the women’s doubles alongside Gladys Mbabazi. Now she awaits to hear from government.
“I also wanted to play at the Games and other international tournaments on the continent in order to collect more points,” Nakiyemba shares in a discussion we hold at Kampala Club on her return from Morocco.
The points are supposed to help her cause to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She currently ranks 94th in the world with 7,064points.
Africa’s fourth ranked player will need to break into the world’s top 50 with about 10,000 more points to stand a chance of making it to Tokyo. And she has found out, qualification is a lonely venture that usually requires one to dig deep into their pockets.
In fact in May, under-secretary for the Ministry of Education and Sports Aggrey Kibenge, put it quite plainly at the first National Council of Sports (NCS) and National Sports Association/Federations (NA/Fs) Forum in Lugogo.
“Growth requires initial investment at athlete or federation level especially in terms of qualification then add-ons from government can come depending on performance.”
Road to Morocco
The journey has been even tougher for Nakiyemba, who has dreams to play in Europe’s professional clubs but has no local coach to hone her skills. She has made do with playing against male players like Daniel Mihigo to refine her act.
When funds permit, she travels abroad either to compete in a tournament or train. In 2018, she went to Malaysia, where she spent a month only to return and lose to Mbabazi in the East Africa Tournament.
2019 for her started in India, where her Malaysian coach Khrishnan Yogendran had moved to. Training in this camp, apparently, costs her $600 (about Shs2.2m) per month.
“Sometimes the journeys are scary because I go alone. I sat for 36 hours on a train from Hyderabad to Trivandrum in the south of India.
I went without enough money for feeding settling for one meal per day despite having two gruelling sessions each day,” Nakiyemba shared.
While at it, she missed national team trials for the Africa Senior Championships and All Africa Games back home. But since she was ranked fifth in Africa, she made a deliberate effort with the blessing of Uganda Badminton Association chief executive officer Simon Mugabi, to go for the seniors in Nigeria.
She was beaten by South Africa’s Johanita Scholtz in the last 16 putting paid to another chance of making it to Morocco 2020.
Fortunately for her, the local governing body organized more trials on July 1, where she beat all local opponents to qualify as seed one for the country.
She went on to play a couple of tournaments in Ivory Coast, Ghana (made it quarterfinals at both) and Nigeria (first round) in July before she travelled back to India and then to the All Africa Games last month.
“I had promised myself to quit if I did not get a medal from Morocco. When I lost the singles to Johanita (again), I thought that was it.”
It was a tough night. I did not sleep but I prayed and reflected on how training for four years had come down to not getting a singles’ medal. I cried a lot yet we had a match the next day.
But then we won all our matches the next day and we got into the quarter finals of the doubles.”
Calling for support
The bronze came after a semi-finals loss to Egypt’s Doha Hany and Hadia Hosny to a career that was on the brink. She now makes a rallying call for support towards her Olympic dream.
“I cannot make it without the support of my fellow Ugandans. I have four months to accumulate another 10,000 points.”
Nakiyemba puts the money she has spent on tickets this year at Shs22m and it’s only a start as she plans to train for two more months abroad before she can compete for more points at six events in Algeria, Dubai, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Cameroon.
“Not all of it is cash. Tour and Travel Centre, sometimes give me the tickets on credit as long as I can meet half the price up front but it seems I now need Shs30m to be on a safe side this time.”
The travel agency is owned by a member of Kampala Club, where Nakiyemba trains. Her association with the sports club has helped her cultivate contacts so much so that she can rely on financial assistance from the Attorney General William Byaruhanga and counsel Oscar Kambona.
When her mother Faridah Nalukwago cannot foot the accommodation bills, Uganda’s number one female player has to rely on the goodwill of friends she has made on her badminton expeditions.
She also used to work with her brother Saddam Buyondo in Kikuubo, where they operated a wholesale shop, for an extra wage. With her constant travelling, she can no longer offer her services. Things can only get tougher before they get better for her.