Namboole renovation takes bold steps

National pride. Namboole is a pale reflection of its original plan but the current refurbishment is expected to bring life back to the national stadium that is the only facility in the country with tartan tracks for athletes. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • Resurrection. Experts say the stadium in its current state is “dead” as it does not facilitate growth of sports in the area but the refurbishment is bringing a lease of life.

There were high hopes and fears alike. On a foggy February 2, 2022 mid-morning, Brig Gen Eng Besigye Bekunda the commander, UPDF Engineers Brigade, detailed the competence of his team. He promised to erect the 8.5km wall fence in a matter of just four months. 

Four months later, most of the boundary line of Namboole is marked by concrete bricks with clear demarcations of the stadium land.

It is an achievement Sports minister Hamson Obua envisioned upon his appointment in December 2019. He made what seemed like ludicrous statements promising to deliver a new Namboole. In 2020, he got a setback when the land title he was hoping to get did not yield but pressed on until when it was secured.

Namboole, then a treatment centre for Covid-19 patients, was blacklisted by Africa’s football governing body, Caf. It was declared unfit to host international games.

The race had just begun. Namboole stadium, which is shrouded in mystery just like the Nelson Mandela statue that remains in wraps for more than four years, was recommended for an overhaul.

Caf recommended a new green playing surface, decent changing rooms for both players and officials, a modern LED scoreboard, floodlights, pavilion and the media centre, with an all-seater capacity. As a matter of requirement, the outdated new tartan needed to be replaced.

A battle for funds ensued and early this year, Shs97b was approved, setting the ball rolling.

Current status

The renovation works received a Shs97b approval with Shs67b released in the supplementary budget.

The 8.5km wall fencing, which is part of the first phase, is almost done. 

There was anticipation that former Kira mayor Mamerito Mugerwa and the Sports View Hotel owner would cause encumbrances, yet it passed without any mayhem. 

Namboole had more than 200 encroachers according to Jamil Ssewanyana, the stadium managing director.

In a private chat, Gen Eng Bekunda wondered how they were going to deal with the encroachers.
“Are we going to demolish even those houses?” he posed, pointing at the Kireka side where Sports View Hotel sits.

But he had the answer. “We shall follow the map and build where we have to,” he said. The minister had advised the engineers to end with the Kireka end which had the biggest number of encroachers.

Mugerwa’s Bweyogerere container warehouses near the market were demolished and so is his house at Mamerito Hotel. Sports View Hotel paved way for the construction works by building an extension along the highway in anticipation for the demolition of the lower part that took the swimming pool and the gym.

The lower side near Palace Junior School adjacent to the railway line which was occupied by war veterans is almost sealed off with the washing bay moved outside the fence. Some of the homeowners are yet to move despite the construction of the perimeter wall fencing expected to be complete in two months.

Inside the stadium, the seats are rotten after close to three years without use. But according to the initial plan, they are expected to be replaced as the stadium becomes an all-seater.

No extra seats are expected to be created inside the stadium. Although figures were not readily available, the seats are actually expected to become fewer than the 45,202 current capacity.

Further work will touch the playing surface. Grass-less at the moment, the turf is irrigated on a daily basis. Since there is no reserve grass in Uganda, the new grass is expected to be imported.

Sustainability

Much as a lot of work is being done, questions have been asked about the huge costs of refurbishment as well as the sustainability.

Minister Obua defended the budget, saying all technical aspects had been followed by representatives from the Ministry of Works and Transport at the request of the Sports ministry.

But for the 23 years of Namboole’s existence, funds have been generated from government and gate collections.

Experts say the stadium in its current state is “dead” as it does not facilitate growth of sports in the area.

Maybe it is something lacking in their corporate social responsibility manual. But the coronavirus pandemic just showed how it is important for such facilities as Namboole to become self-sustaining. During the pandemic, fans were barred from attending games.

With the gym vandalised, the hotel rotten and the tennis courts non-functional, Namboole only relies on football and athletics activities and sometimes netball and handball for gate collections.

Although most private facilities are established with economic benefits in sight by charging users, Gunter Lange, special presidential assistant, suggested that stadiums need to look at viable options of generating income.

He said there is an industry around sports facilities such as shops, museums, food vending, sale of sports equipment, medical support or parking which can be associated with the stadium.

“You can generate some money but please don’t get it from the mass of those you want to benefit. You can make money with special services. Once you have mass, you attract other people who can sponsor you,” Lange said.

Ssewanyana did not address the sustainability issues comprehensively but reiterated the board’s stance.

“This is the home of sports in Uganda and we want to keep improving it. We want Ugandans to be proud of it by establishing facilities like an Olympic-size swimming pool that can be used by other sports federations,” Ssewanyana said.

On last days...Outside activities to cease

The evening crowds still throng the parking yard for a variety of sports including volleyball, football, karate, and boxing but with the drive through blocked, it is a matter of time they are also excluded.



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