Sport starts long walk back to life

Wednesday June 3 2020

Daring. Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko

Daring. Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko at the 2018 Gold Coast Games. He cannot wait to return to action. PHOTO/AFP 

By ANDREW MWANGUHYA

President Museveni’s national address on steady easing of the lockdown on Monday saw public transport, among other items, allowed to resume operations - but with strict guidelines.

However, the noose on mass gatherings such as schools, churches, mosques and sporting activities among others remained tight as they are not seen to easily observe social distancing rules in the immediate fight against further spread of the Coronavirus.

Uganda’s cases stood at 457 on Monday. The continued lockdown on the aforementioned leaves them pondering further on how they can work their way back to operations, with the National Council of Sports (NCS) taking the first step of enabling sports resume while observing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

The plan
“We are planning for a post-Covid life and what we have to do even if the virus is still with us,” said NCS chairman Don Rukare.

“Working with the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) and all national associations, we are formulating SOPs which we shall discuss with the Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Health and the National Task Force.

“So we thought it would be important to engage national associations and task them to each tell us how they intend to work within the SOPs to resume activity.

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“As you know, we cannot resume now but as sports, we have to make our case to the authorities with scientific research, we want to show that we have a plan that falls within SOPs from the Health Ministry and WHO.”

At least 16 out of 51 associations affiliated to NCS had by Tuesday submitted their working templates since a circular was sent out on May 22 asking them to tender in their calculated plans on how they will resume their calendars.

The task drivers
More were expected to beat tomorrow’s provisional deadline in order for the working committee to submit a combined draft to the Council before it advances it to the line ministry, and then that of health and the national task force.

The 12-man committee charged with compressing plans of all associations into one working SOPs document, with different sporting disciplines needs coded into high, low or medium risks on resumption, has members from NCS, UOC, athletics, stadiums, basketball and TV.

It is led by Council member Dr. George Galiwango, with 10,000m world champion Joshua Cheptegei the active athlete there.

“The SOPs will cover a wide range of areas in regard to sporting activities, including stadia – both inside and outside,” said Dr. Galiwango.

“The good thing is that some of these international bodies like football, for example, already drew up their SOPs in conformity with WHO. So it’s a matter of national associations putting them in the Ugandan context.

“Of course different sports will be coded differently. We have high risk, low risk and medium. For example we have contact sport like rugby and football… How do they resume? How do they train small groups?”

Galiwango added: “Then you have golf which is non-contact, but they have a club house where members converge… SOPs must be followed there, too. You have gyms, which are not part of NCS, but we know that when sport resumes, gyms are needed. So we are also talking to those.

Funding
“We know we have a mammoth task on our hands but one we are ready to take on.” Of course following all known SOPs, like what the German Bundesliga has used to resume action, and one the English Premier League are employing to restart on June 17, requires big money.

Things like quarantining players from all sports disciplines, and testing them twice a week for example, costs a lot of money, which public knowledge Ugandan sport may not afford. Does this mean government comes in to fund the exercise? “I know we have those challenges,” admitted Rukare, “But for now we want to have some way back. Let us first position ourselves well in order to get green light from authorities. We shall get to the funding when we cross the bridge.”

Rukare and team have at least 21 more days starting from yesterday to prove to authorities that they have a solid plan to resume, a plan that satisfies the health ministry and World Health Organisation. Until then, sport watches on expectantly.

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