Where must Ugandan athletes go from here?

Sunday April 5 2020

Ugandan athletes will have some

Ugandan athletes will have some tough decisions to make in the post pandemic period. PHOTO BY EDDIE CHICCO 

By Robert Madoi

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cast a sweeping gaze on the globe, the wails of many athletes plying their trade in Uganda remain a signal drowned by a sea of noise. The athletes’ pulses have quickened faster following a grim realisation that there could be no safety net as Covid-19 rampages on.

There is scant consolation in the fact that sports administrators have been more candid about the challenges that athletes in this part of the world face. The growing consensus is that a hand-to-mouth existence will see many local athletes fall through the cracks into the dark abyss. This as the solitude of lockdown sets a series of dark truths in motion.

With no safety net, the vast bulk of athletes that use sport to butter their bread now find themselves susceptible to engaging in crime.

Most of the aforementioned athletes come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds where survival is the name of the game. Last month, a rugby player turning out in the topflight Nile Stout Premier League had a brush with the law that attracted an aggravated robbery charge.

The player hails from a rundown place and is known not to have the luxury of putting money aside for a rainy day.

There have been moments of refreshing honesty — about the likely severity of what is to come — as athletes continue to have no steady source of income. Having been lulled into a false sense of security when the sun was out, the Ugandan sport ecosystem has been exposed as woefully naked with the rain pouring.


The reasons for this dark outlook are obvious but also strangely ineffable. For starters, no-one forecasted Covid-19 leaving behind the trail of devastation it has. But above all the absence of a safety net for our athletes is largely because sport in this part of the world reeks of amateurism. The amateur categorisation is bang on even as sections of Ugandan sport (football, for one) lay a jurisdictional claim to being professional.

Now that we know it is anything but professional, what should the reaction of the athletes be once we come out of this apocalypse? If they decide to treat sport as a pastime — as indeed they should — then a fallback position will be of great utility. This could possibly mean taking their formal education seriously. After all jobs in the formal sector are known to have a semblance of security.

If the sports sub sector finds itself in this quandary in the post pandemic period, some tough decisions will have to be taken. Either it embraces wholesale reforms or, as your columnist suspects, continues to launch a charm offensive against those from not well-to-do communities.

If it turns out to be a case of the latter over former then lessons will not have been taken from this extraordinary time. The beat will sadly go on with a domino effect of loss perpetuating loss.

Why lockdown ought to be seen as a vital timeout

Congregational prayers will for a third time today be televised and streamed online as Uganda continues to battle an invisible enemy — the coronavirus pandemic. With a ban on mass gatherings part of the public health measures taken to be ahead of the curve, preachers will take to the pulpit to talk to empty pews.

They will quite possibly — as has been the case the past two Sundays — attempt to biblically ground concepts such as lockdown to an increasingly weary audience.

As streets across the country go quiet with few human and automobile traffic, sporting metaphors could help stop faces from scrunching into frowns. With lockdown fast-becoming something of a dirty word, how about we sanitise it with, well, a sporting parlance! How? By looking at it through the lens of a timeout. Basketball fans will be familiar with the term.

While the term lockdown evokes negative connotations of some kind of restriction — even confinement — a timeout is the quite the opposite. Timeouts allow for one to press the pause button and plot for the downfall of an enemy. Covid-19, the devastating strain of coronavirus, is in many respects an enemy.

Or be it an invisible one. It has forced the world to stand in nervous silence after spreading so rapidly and damagingly. A timeout is definitely that antidote that the doctor ordered in a bid to get a handle on the rising sense of panic.
Maybe switching our minds to view this most stringent of measures as a timeout will ultimately have a calming effect.
Maybe not. Regardless, stay safe in between the four walls that you, dear reader, call home.

What we now know....

We now know that Italy and Spain are the only countries whose Covid-19 death toll has breached the grim milestone of 10,000.
The two European countries are locked in as an awkward embrace as worrying hotspots of the global pandemic.

Chaotic cocktail
We know that while pandemic does not refer to the lethality of a virus but its transmissibility, Italy and Spain have had a chaotic cocktail of both.

We also know that with Covid-19 having stampeded through Italy’s northern Lombardy region, the first leg of a Uefa Champions League tie between Atalanta and Valencia was switched from Bergamo to Milan in late February.
Cause of worry
We know that almost 3,000 Valencia fans travelled from Spain to Milan and mixed with some 40,000 Italians from in and around Lombardy.

This provided to be a trigger for the diffusion of the virus in Spain.
A football game made the two countries, which don’t share a border, strikingly malleable in their contours.