Mandela National Stadium, as far as I’m able to tell, is the cradle of international football in Uganda. Staging Cranes matches outside Namboole would be a tough sell, replicating its reputation as a fortress no easier. Yet this is a prospect that Ugandans should not balk at after Caf’s red flag went flying in April.
An inspection by the African football governing body in March found the stadium lacking in many aspects. Some of the glaring deficits include floodlights that burn dimly, an abjectly poor playing surface, changing rooms in a state of disrepair and a media tribune that puts no effort into its appearance.
The stadium, which is in its 23rd year of existence, has found comfort in wearing a modest garb at a time African football is trying to be glamorous without being ostentatious.
The story of how Mandela National Stadium has bonded awkwardly with mediocrity is one that has been developing enigmatically, and in near-silence. It is a story that does not reflect well on government. Severe underfunding followed by relentless budget cuts and finally a divestiture in 2002 all contrived to leave the stadium inherently vulnerable to a litany of ills. Such an eye-widening display of neglect should not come as a deeply disturbing surprise.
It is a dominant lament with many public playing fields suffering at the hands of government’s scything cuts to local authority budgets.
The promise to give Namboole a fresh coat of paint does not accentuate the neglect of sporting facilities in ways you might expect. The Russian Roulette government continues to play with the said facilities limits options and rarely in ways that make sport safer.
This is hugely regrettable if anything because sport is known to have soft-power benefits. Staging a sporting event gives the host in question immeasurable soft power. A change of tack would undoubtedly have rich rewards. But above all it is the right thing to do.
Government’s policy of divesting itself of national sporting facilities has registered no more than alarming results. Mandela National Stadium’s travails have brought this sharply into focus. Since the divestiture of state-owned assets in the sports sub-sector has proven to be of questionable utility, government has to rethink its plans.
Fortress. Fufa president Moses Magogo says the psyche Namboole gives to Cranes players could be lost. He says Namboole is about history - a divine place where Cranes are hard to beat.