The smiles on their faces can be deceptive. They appear lively and determined to make it to the top as elite athletes.
Every morning, they wake up to train with the hope of flying Uganda’s flag in international competitions. But some of these national long distance runners are nursing deep wounds in their hearts.
In the aftermath of the Africa Cross-country Championships held at Kololo Airstrip where Uganda performed below average, several female athletes have accused a national coach of harassing them sexually and physically. Daily Monitor has withheld the coach’s identity for legal reasons.
The female runners spent a month camping in Kapchorwa alongside their male counterparts preparing for the continental competition, which was dominated by Kenya on Sunday. Three male coaches conducted the camp.
“He would wake up in the middle of the night and come to our room,” a runner told Daily Monitor but preferred anonymity for the fear of being reprimanded. “He threatened to chase us from camp if we ever said anything or turned him down. We didn’t have any female coach to run to. It was horrible,” the female runner added. “On some days, he would call one or two of us to his nearby house. If you refused to do what he wanted, he would beat you up.”
The coach’s actions put him at loggerheads with his other two counterparts and team captain Moses Kipsiro.
But it’s only Kipsiro who took it upon himself to save the girls from the horrifying ordeal.
“When one of the girls confided in me, I was so bitter,” Kipsiro, who finished 10th in the 12km senior men’s race, revealed. “I confronted him but that resulted in a big wrangle. What I discovered after engaging the girls was so shocking. One day, I think it was March 4th; he gathered the junior women’s team in a secret place and told them that to run well, they must have sex or give birth.
His theory was that if a woman’s private parts are wide, their legs move easily. I was so shocked to hear such silly talk. Unfortunately some people believe he is a good coach. They continue to defend him,” Kipsiro added.
Junior runners are aged 19 or younger. Three of the girls confirmed to Daily Monitor that the coach advised them to engage in sexual activity and get pregnant.
Kipsiro is furious that the Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF) didn’t assign a female coach to handle the women athletes in camp.
“There is no way male coaches can handle females. I have been in running for a long time but I haven’t seen something like this in my life. I even feel ashamed to talk about some of the things that happened in that camp. We were told there are very few female coaches in Uganda but that can’t be an excuse,” the former world 5,000m bronze medalist, said. UAF general secretary Beatrice Ayikoru refused to admit that it was a mistake not to send a female coach to the camp.
“In most cases when we have senior women athletes in camp, we ask them to take care of their junior counterparts,” Ayikoru told us on Monday. “But those accusations against the coach are false. I met the athletes in Kampala and no one mentioned such a thing.”
The runners though revealed they had informed UAF verbally and through a letter, copied to other authorities including Central Police Station (CPS).
Daily Monitor obtained a copy of the letter, dated January 21, 2014. In the letter, the athletes claim that the coach has for many years engaged in uncouth behaviour.
“He has been persuading our ladies to get pregnant and abort at three months so they can run better,” the letter, typed in broken English, reads in part. “He is the reason, Uganda is not performing better on the side of ladies,” added the letter.
It is also copied to the RDC-Kapchorwa, Chairman LC5 Kapchorwa, DPC Kapchorwa and Assistant IGP Andrew Sorowen.
Ayikoru and Sorowen, the director of general duties in Uganda Police, both denied knowledge of the letter. “I haven’t seen the letter but will inquire from my people at office in case they have come across it,” Sorowen noted. “But I have heard about the rumours.
I never believe in rumours though. That’s why I want to go there (Kapchorwa) and find out what is on the ground. I would have gone there earlier but I didn’t want to interfere with the athletes’ residential training,” added Sorowen, who was hugely involved in the awards ceremony during the Sunday event. For long, the athletes, most of them naïve, claimed they have tried to seek help in vain.
“UAF promised to deal with the matter but there is no hope because some of the officials support the coach,” one of the runners, offered.
On Monday, after they checked out of Imperial Royale Hotel where they had stayed for four days and freed themselves from the watchful eyes of UAF officials, the aggrieved runners said they went to CPS but left without making a statement.
They claimed they were made to wait for far too long at the station. One of the runners said they then headed to Makerere University police post where they met Robert Chelimo, the OC CID. Chelimo hails from Sebei Region like most of the aggrieved athletes. Chelimo, however, told Daily Monitor he was busy and couldn’t meet the runners.
“There was a strike at the university which we were trying to quell. The runners called me and said they had an issue to discuss with me but I couldn’t meet them. I got some time in the evening but they had left. They were impatient and wanted to travel back to Kapchorwa,” Chelimo said. “But I am going to find time and get in touch with them on phone and find out what’s wrong.”
Kipsiro led the athletes for a meeting with the Kapchorwa RDC and LC5 chairman yesterday.