Love for physical activities must not fade post pandemic

While President Museveni’s workout session has gone viral, it remains to be seen if physical education will be taken seriously post pandemic. PPU PHOTO

The coronavirus pandemic has created a void in human beings that some have sought to fill with physical exercises. Cranes coach Johnathan McKinstry caught the bug this past week, posting a video on Twitter daring players and fans to beat 24 push-ups he made in 30 seconds.
In a matter of minutes,
Farouk Miya eclipsed the tally by four. Emma Okwi’s valiant effort, however, got a red flag from Jamal Salim Magoola flying. Arms were not deemed straight enough, apparently. It was a pedantic observation that you would come to expect from a goalkeeper as indeed Magoola is!

All these exercises were done in solitude, and would have been appreciated by President Museveni; who was also working up a sweat of his own between four walls of a room. Museveni had enforced a ban on outdoor exercise the previous day (Wednesday). It was in reaction to Ugandans — with a new-found gargantuan appetite for workouts — congregating in open spaces and leafy suburbs.

The congregations were an outrage that deserved to be condemned because they flew in the face of measures known to level off the Covid-19 curve. The president had good reason to be sufficiently concerned by this morbid love for aerobics and more.

Volatile security officers, known to have a penchant for intimidation, now have leeway to clamp down on those for whom warnings go unheeded. Public spaces will be policed aggressively. While this adds another dimension of anxiety and fear to an already nightmarish situation, its potential to garner lasting gains cannot be airbrushed.

So indoors it is! The hashtag ‘stay in workout’ will keep trending even if we do not have as much legroom as Museveni. Certainly not the majestic grandeur of his office! We can only dream of the splendour of such imperial things. We can also only dream about seeing the back of Covid-19. To get to that position (flat curve and all) there will be no shortcuts. In fact, there will have to be a concentrated effort to rally behind public health measures outlined by authorities.

The hope also is that post pandemic Ugandans do not shed their burning interest in physical activity. It after all is known to have significant benefits for both mental and physical health. Sport and exercise can help either prevent or manage chronic conditions and diseases.

They can also help us get a handle on our critical faculties. All of this makes government’s decision to hand physical education if not a poisoned chalice then certainly the short end of the stick a curious one. How about we work toward ensuring that schools have space for dangerously obese pupils to exercise?

And then there is that lopsided battle between sporting disciplines and so-called investors over green spaces. It should not be likened to one of two bald-headed men jostling over a comb. The man standing in sport’s corner has hair. A full head of it. The comb should duly be handed to him. But that’s all in good time. For now, the existential threat that is Covid-19 looms large.

Of sport gatherings & biological bombs

Recently, health minister Jane Ruth Aceng revealed that Uganda would be grappling with a caseload of nearly 20,000 Covid-19 infections at the end of April had stringent restrictions not kicked in. While the algorithm used to arrive at the conservative figure is open to debate, the mistake is in imagining that physical distancing is an exercise in futility.

For most if not all sporting disciplines, the element of contact is certain to happen; not just for players but spectators as well. This provides a fertile breeding ground for the novel coronavirus strain as Italy and Spain have chillingly come to learn. The Uefa Champions League in Milan that pitted Atalanta against Valencia — 50 days after the first Covid-19 case blipped on the radar — has been dubbed ‘Game Zero.’
While generally an unhelpful term, the construction goes to punishing lengths to show how the game was a major catalyst in spreading the virus. Both Italy and Spain have realised with awful irrevocable certainty that a sporting event can drop what now continues to be described as a biological bomb. Uganda became alive to the potentially devastating impact of sports gatherings 78 days after the detection of the index Covid-19 case at a South China seafood wholesale market in Wuhan.

Four days before President Museveni enforced a ban on — among other things — sports events, a horde of fans had squeezed into StarTimes Stadium in Lugogo to watch Uganda face Tanzania in a 2020 Fifa U-17 Women’s World Cup qualifier.

Despite a growing body of evidence showing the wisdom of slamming the brakes on having people corralled (the dire after-effects of South Korea’s secretive megachurch had long come to light), Fufa opened the turnstiles at Lugogo for fans. They wouldn’t have to pay a cent to watch leading lights like Juliet Nalukenge and Fauzia Najjemba in action. What ensued was Lugogo was packed to the rafters. Uganda consequently used a runaway win to overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit.

Hunt is on
Seven days later, Uganda reported its index case — a 36-year-old male returning from Dubai. Since then, as well as a great heft of cases being traced back to Dubai, life has never been the same. Authorities are currently hunting down risky contacts numbering in their thousands. The hope is that none comes out of the horde that descended on StarTimes Stadium on that second sun-drenched Saturday of March. It would be quite embarrassing for Fufa, frail attempts at hand washing and better cough etiquette on that day notwithstanding.

What we now know....

We know that despite the Uefa Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia having made the mental exercise of denial harder, football still continues in Burundi, Belarus, Nicaragua and Tajikistan.

We also know that there are couple of rounds left before the current season of Burundi’s topflight league reaches its fag end.
We know that Burundi’s top brass has brought in a slew of measures to shield players from the deadly virus. Handshakes at matches have been outlawed. As indeed has hailing a goal in groups.

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