“National Council of Sports (NCS) is a bigger playing field,” Dr Donald Rukare said in the aftermath of the public announcement that took him from just president of Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) to leader of the country’s second most powerful sports governing body a week ago.
For someone who has spent the better part of his sports administration life trying to have a positive influence on how sports is run in this country, challenges do not come more exciting than this.
He comes at a time when sports federations are crying out for more funding especially for national teams, enhancement of existing facilities and setting up more. There is also demand for better laws to improve greatly on the outdated 1964 Sports Act.
“I am ready to take it on,” Rukare, 51, vowed after sports minister Hamson Dennis Obua appointed him as chairman of the NCS board for the next two years.
Rukare’s journey as a sports administrator started over 15 years ago, when he took over from Dr. Maggie Kigozi as head of the swimming fraternity, and it has kept pushing him to new and diverse destinations.
The two had been in the trenches together to oust the problematic reign of deceased president Jerome Dralega.
Rukare, commonly referred to as Don, has been a swimmer since childhood. He is now a masters’ swimmer – currently representing the country at the Cana Zone IV Championships in Botswana – and also plays squash.
In swimming circles, Rukare’s legacy is the increased participation in the sport that is now spreading to Jinja and Masaka.
From two clubs in 2003, Uganda currently has about 1000 active competitive swimmers in over 40 clubs and schools – with some also involved in open water swimming and water polo.
Uganda is also a regular at regional, continental and international competitions with Rebecca Ssengonzi and Kirabo Namutebi winning medals at the Africa Junior Championships.
Don’s leadership skills have seen him become Cana Zone III president, vice president of Cana (Africa swimming) and a member of the Fina Bureau (since 2014) – a technical decision-making and planning body for the world aquatics governing organization.
That is just to mention a few of his roles in the sport, whose local leadership he leaves with probably one major regret – not securing a national aquatic centre.
But as Fina Bureau member, he is an ex-officio member of the USF executive, and therefore still has time to widen his legacy.
Earlier in 2013, Dr. Rukare was elected general secretary of Uganda Olympic Committee – a position he holds to date. He has also held various portfolios on the; Commonwealth Games Federation ethics commission, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (Anoca) while he is also an arbiter at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).
“Most of these are voluntary jobs which we are appointed to. Most of them are really supervisory so no one should have the perception that they are complicated and require a lot of time,” Don, a lawyer by profession, explained to SCORE.
Apart from USF, which I have to resign from anyway, most of these committees sit once or twice year when we go for Games. It is only my day job that is full time while at UOC, I work with a secretariat that is very supportive.
Generally, I look at my calendar as a dashboard with an integrated profile. Besides, most of the sports activities are taken care of in the evenings and weekends,” Don explained how he balances out his roles.
His time at the UOC has brought out the best of his qualities. In his profession, Don has served as a senior legal officer and advisor in government and international platforms.
He is a part-time and guest lecturer at local and international universities and also served as chief executive officer of the Governance and Public Policy Centre and chief of party at USAID Rights and Rule of Law Program.
This wealth of experience and interaction from other spheres of life has shaped the astute communicator in him and probably his obsession with the advancement of sports law every time he interacts with members of the sports fraternity.
Such is his commitment to abide by the law that when NCS rolled out a mass registration of sports federations under the NCS Statutory Instrument 38 gazetted in April 2014, USF where the very first to heed to the call.
When he told his wife; “you have hardly been seeing me on weekends when I had just one federation to run. Now I have 51 so it might get worse,” at last weekend’s USF awards, it could have passed as a light moment but knowing Don, he was delicately making clear his commitment to a better sports sector.
From his diverse education Dr. Rukare has also developed a passion of passing knowledge onto the next breed of sports leaders. Having graduated as a lawyer at Makerere University, he attained his practice diploma at Law Development Centre. His education journey took him to Hague (post graduate diploma), Lunds (Master’s) and University of Pretoria (Doctors of Law in Human Rights).
He was also to the Harvard School of Governance in 2012 before returning to the Business School in 2016.
As far as sports is concerned, he attained a Master’s degree in Sports Management and Organisation and an Executive Masters in Sports Management from the University of Louvain in 2015.
He also attained a Certificate in International Sports Law from the University of Cambridge in 2015. Three years later, he completed an Executive Masters in International Sports Law at ISDE Law and Business School in Madrid, Spain.
For his persistent pursuit for academic excellence, he has earned the moniker “professional student” but more importantly, he has sacrificed personal time to champion, as a lecturer, capacity building through sports administrators’ courses funded by UOC.
His NCS platform, which partly silences claims he was eyeing the UOC presidency come next year, will help him follow up and ensure that federations put into practice what they learn.
“He settled issues for our federation, he is always available and has worked with everyone from the grassroots up to the international level,” Uganda Cycling Association’s Samuel Mahaba, said in a precise appraisal.
Dr. Rukare has also played a key role in ending the long known feuds between UOC and NCS. He and vice president Ambrose Tashobya signed, on behalf of UOC, a Memorandum of Understanding with NCS in May 2017. This MoU was meant to establish a cordial partnership between the bodies to advance sports in the country.
The jury is still out there on how far they have come and there will be tests on how loyal both camps are to the MoU ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but at least the past two years have seen the two bodies work harmoniously.
Harmony is just one thing he will be required to bring to the sector. Rukare will be judged by even higher standards than he set at USF and UOC and his aforementioned personal and selfless achievements.
Some sections of the sector have referred to him as the “sports messiah” as he inherits a bleeding but also budding sector. He has got to get the ball rolling and unfortunately, for him, he does not have 15 years like he had with USF.
RUKARE’S SPORTING CV
Born: November 4, 1968
2015 – To date: Arbitrator
International Court of Arbitration for Sport
2014 – To date: Fina Bureau Member
2013 – 2014: Member of Masters Committee
International Swimming Federation (Fina)
2013 – To date: Secretary General
Uganda Olympic Committee
2012 – 2014: Vice president
African Swimming Federation (Cana)
2003 – 2020: President
Uganda Swimming Federation
2018: ISDE Law and Business School – Madrid
Executive Masters in International Sports Law
2015: University of Cambridge
Certificate in International Sports Law Program
2014-15: University of Louvain
Master’s Degree in Sports Management and Organisation (With Distintion)
Executive Masters in Sports Management (MEMOS XVIII programme).