Tom Hanks, Putin, Museveni and tennis court gladiators

Sunday April 19 2020
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President Museveni tweeted this photo on April 9, 2020 demonstrating to Ugandans how to exercise indoors during the country's virus lockdown. COURTESY PHOTO

If you did not cast Brad Pitt as a gladiator, Tom Hanks would have probably been just as competent at playing an ancient tough guy. Hollywood stuff. But Hanks had a real life encounter with Covid-19 in Australia and beat it off.
There must be times when Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni imagine themselves as gladiators.

If Mr Putin does not already have a large specially made curved mirror before which he stands (apparently taller and bigger) to flex and admire his muscles, then a suitably elevated friend should send him such a mirror at his next birthday.
Until very recently, long after many other European countries had been humbled by Covid-19, Putin (or Russia) had been presented as too tough a guy to be shaken by a mere virus.

President Museveni may have fled the football field, perhaps because the people who play the game nowadays tint and twist their hair in weird styles instead of wearing serious cowboy hats, but he is still a tough guy. And there is video evidence.
If a serving president claimed another year in power for every press-up filmed (and counted?) in a physical exercise session, then Ugandans would be blessed – or stuck – with Mr Museveni for another 30 years; a number our presidential publicists have milked.

For even if 35 years of NRM rule have made Ugandans such idiots that they boast of only one living person with a vision, I doubt whether they needed a video to grasp the simple idea that they can do some basic physical exercises in their houses or compounds. Many already knew. These needed only a reminder in two sentences.
Otherwise the citizens would also need a presidential video showing how people can sit at home and have a three-course meal after being prohibited from eating at crowded restaurants.
Now, even in the old celluloid days, experts could make frames shot at different times flow into one another almost seamlessly. Just imagine what one can do with today’s digital tools!

You do not need 30 press-ups executed in a continuous session to prepare a video where the performer (appears) to do the 30 press-ups without resting.
Moreover, the body tends to adapt to specific tasks and exercises that the performer enjoys and keeps working at. There are 75-year-olds who still climb mountains. Others run and complete marathons, although they probably do not win gold.
If, therefore, the magic number of 30 is not generated by technical tricks, it can genuinely come from the President’s practiced upper body strength, and he must be congratulated. It was a much harder PR job to stretch 70km (or less) into a 195km walk in Garamba.

So, Hanks has his actor’s gift and Hollywood’s fictions. Putin has (or must get) his curved mirror, although the virus and hundreds of deaths have started bending his cold steel instincts. And Museveni has his Bush War-hardened iron body, with or without camera tricksters.
However, there is a species of gladiator that generally despises cheating, and in practice almost cannot cheat: the professional tennis player. The umpire, several linesmen and a video camera-based ball-tracking electronic system ensure that a player’s win or defeat is fair and square. Most of the time.


This would be the clay court season, with several tournaments in Europe; all cancelled. The would-be climax, the French open, has been moved from May/June to September, just after the US Open. The grass courts at Wimbledon (June/July) will not see any combat this year.
The game has not seen such havoc since World War II. The toughest champions of our day have shown respect for the new virus. And tennis addicts who follow the professional game on radio and television are now condemned to follow the battles between Covid-19 and State House-gym ‘gladiators’.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.