In sport, hope and despair tend to live side by side. For the Cranes, very much so. This past week, Uganda’s senior men football team introduced us to the deeply charmless profession of -- stay with me -- a chiropractor. This healthcare professional that tends to neuromuscular ailments by manually adjusting and manipulating the spine appears to have drawn such complicated love from Cranes fans.
The reaction could be down to the fact that the Cranes’ maiden chiropractor, Dr. Charles Sebwana wears quite an impassive mask.
Or maybe picturing him on the job provides a cathartic kind of horror if not for the fans then certainly the players. This is not to say that there is little warmth for chiropractors in the locker room. It is perfectly acceptable to prepare for neuromuscular injuries in sport because -- much like death and taxes -- they retain a dark grip on those that push the limits of their performances.
Cranes coach Sebastien Desabre will of course be sufficiently concerned about injuries rearing an ugly head with the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations well and truly on the horizon. Many footballing outfits have been shocked to the point of uncharacteristic humility after losing the odd important player before business commences proper. This, however, hardly means that we should immerse ourselves into the murky world of injuries. We should prepare to make a fist of it, and our messaging ought to say as much.
Former Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic has always understood the importance of good preparations. The Serbian tactician is known to obsess about even the most granular detail of his opponents. In a recent blog written for the Sandals for Goalposts website, Micho made it abundantly clear that a good coach should not be blind to the risks associated with leaving matters to chance.
In line with reading an opponent like a book, the Serbian proffered thus: “If you will be facing Mohamed Salah [as indeed the Cranes will be], you will know he usually plays on the right and tends to cut inside on his left foot. So you prepare the left back, centre backs and left-sided midfielders accordingly.”
If that sounds like Micho is telling us that the Pope is Catholic, then how about the persistence in his urging that setting up tent in the Persian Gulf -- as the Cranes are doing -- could well be an exercise in fruition. By Micho’s reading, the temperature differential between Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula to the tune of four degrees Celsius throws a spanner in the works.
It effectively means holding training sessions and friendly matches in the evenings to experience temperatures akin to those in Egypt. Yet the Cranes are holding morning sessions under the unforgiving Abu Dhabi heat. Football as we know it is a game of fine margins. Just as a chiropractor reads spinal nerves, so does a coach their opponents.
World ranking status could challenge athletics coaches
The Akii Bua Memorial National Championships entered their 21st staging at the Mandela National Stadium yesterday. This was a staging like no other. It came on the back of the event -- along with the National Track and Field Championships -- being granted world ranking status.
The Uganda Athletics Federation staked a prize kitty of Shs 14m that some observers who are candid to the point of being mean have dismissed as ludicrously pitiful. In truth, though, the size of the prize kitty matters less than the symbolism of getting a badge of honour from the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Many opportunities will doubtless offshoot from having two events with a world ranking status. The Akii Bua Memorial could for one be tailored -- as Uganda Athletics Federation has alluded -- to attract athletes with decent profiles. This could translate into Uganda qualifying more athletes to global meets such as the Worlds and Olympics.
It could also provide a much-needed reflective moment for Uganda’s track and field coaches. There is a general consensus that you can count off the fingers of one palm those that have covered themselves in glory. Actually, John Akii-Bua’s backstory captures the concerns about track and field coaches dotting Uganda. Akii-Bua cemented his place in Ugandan sport’s folklore with an incredible gold medal-winning feat at the 1972 Munich Olympics Games.
Unknown to many, what Akii-Bua overcame to get to the pinnacle made his accomplishments that much more remarkable. Although it is well documented, not that many people know that before Akii-Bua won the 400m hurdles final in Munich in a then world record time of 47.82 seconds, he used to feature in the 110m hurdles.
The athletics coaching staff at the Uganda Police had led Akii-Bua to reckon that he would be no different from a fish out of water if he dared not to hurdle a short distance. It took the intervention of Malcolm Arnold – a British athletics coach – to alert Akii-Bua to the potential of making a name for himself in the ‘man-eater’ (as the 400m hurdles are known).
Arnold came to a witty conclusion that Akii-Bua’s build (lanky frame and all) was tailor-made for the more strenuous 400m hurdles. This makes one wonder how many Ugandan athletes are being pointed in the wrong direction by their good, old trusted coaches.
The global approach that will be brought to the Akii-Bua Memorial as well as National Track and Field Championships could go a long way in righting wrongs.
What we now know....
We know that the Africa Men’s Sevens do not blip on the radar until November. Fourteen countries will congregate in Johannesburg, South Africa to not just battle for supremacy but also a direct ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games.
We now know that powerhouse South Africa won’t be in that mix. A top four finish in the ongoing World Series has guaranteed qualification to the Olympics.
This leaves the defending champions Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Madagascar with the small matter of trying to get that lucrative direct ticket to Tokyo.
Other countries in the running will be Zambia, Tunisia, Senegal, Morocco, Namibia, Ghana, Botswana, Mauritius, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria. We also know that the teams that place second and third at the qualifying event will have a second bite at the cherry via a world repechage tournament.