Rashidah Mutesi: Footballer turned invincible pool queen

Sibling rivalry. Mutesi works her shot as Nayiga watches. The Uganda women top seed says she hates playing her sister. Photos/George Katongole

What you need to know:

  • The Ugandan women top seed and surprisingly second in Africa, Mutesi’s emergence at the top of the sport runs counter to the prevailing norms in women’s pool.
  • Before Kalibbala scouted her as one for the future, renowned player Ssalongo Asuman Bukenya took Mutesi to Samona but the competition was too high to squeeze herself in the team at the time.

Feared. Respected. Loved. Rashidah Mutesi is an embodiment of all those elements. Most players dread the idea of playing Uganda’s female top seed Mutesi for her menacing attacks, yet she remains humble and open to learning.
Usually dressed in a long dress in respect of her Muslim religious values, Mutesi, commonly known as Kikadde among peers, is a pure joy to watch.
The back-to-back Nile Special USPA female player of the year has set the bar high on the local pool scene and now has set her sights on even bigger things.

“I have won everything I need to win in Uganda. I now want a bigger challenge maybe to play at the World Championships,” said Mutesi, who is itching for the opportunity to participate in the World Blackball Championships due in Tangier, Morocco, from October 8th to 15th.
Uganda have confirmed participation in the event where they are expected to make a debut.
Although she was a finalist in the prestigious National Open in 2018 losing to Ritah Nimusiima 7-4 in a race to eight, Mutesi, voted by the Pool Association of Uganda (PAU) as the best upcoming female player in her breakout year in 2017, has gone ahead to win the Kampala Open and Christmas Cup, both in 2018. 
She is the two-time PAU Grand Open champion; a title she has lifted during its two years of existence while she was crowned the undisputed queen of the table last year in Masaka.

Early days
Mutesi, who started out her sporting career as playing football as a striker, hesitated taking up pool despite pleas from her elder sister Lukia Nayiga. Yet fate dragged her on the green bed.
“In 2017, I got a bad injury while playing football. I could not walk and throughout the healing time, I would use a cue stick for support. It was during this time that I picked interest in pool and joined my sister. Since then, I have not looked back,” said Mutesi, who traces her early days in a local pub near her home in Ndeeba, Kampala.

Her first victory came during the national team trials when she won against the cream of the country but had to wait for a whole season to announce her arrival in competitive pool.
In 2018, probably her best year, Mutesi won the Temuseewo Open. Since then winning has become her second name.
On four occasions that year, she was crowned champion at a time when the likes of Victoria Namuyanja, whom she describes as her idol, as well as Nimusiima, Jacinta Kajubi, Zaimatt Nambafu and the ilk, were on top of their game.
“I was motivated to play well. By the time I came in, Nayiga had just won the Christmas Cup and I had a feeling that I could win since I considered myself better than her. Above all, Ismail Kalibbala – a long-serving pool association executive – kept encouraging me. The conditions were right for me to thrive,” she said.

Before Kalibbala scouted her as one for the future, renowned player Ssalongo Asuman Bukenya took Mutesi to Samona but the competition was too high to squeeze herself in the team at the time.
Her first professional contract was signed with Sinkers in 2017. She would stay for one season and jump ship to CKI as one for the future to compliment the venomous Nimusiima, Namuyanja, Angela Busingye and her sister Nayiga.
With looks of a school girl and her ears hanging out of the short hair shaved head, she was among the Galacticos that made CKI a force to reckon with. 
CKI coach Bob Menani heaped praises on the teen sensation saying during a press conference that: “I saw a lot of potential in her”.
2018 would mark her first and only league title although it was the best in her individual pursuits. In 2019, she played for Kampala Central before committing to Ntinda Giants.

Rashidah Mutesi

Made of steel
But for the 22-year-old, reaching these great heights in such a short time is the culmination of hard work and competitiveness as her high-risk aggressive game is finally paying dividends.
Currently, she hates playing her sister, for emotional reasons, but the emergence of Ankah Sheila is disturbing her peace at the top of the table.
In the recent weekly tournaments in Mukono, Mutesi has lost both finals to the Jinja-based defensive player. A similar approach is normally employed by her sister whenever they meet. Even in surrendering the African title to her elder sister, it was the defensive approach that ruined her championship.

“I build my game on attack. This means having a good break. If the break does not favour me, I end up losing most of such games,” said Mutesi.
For her sister, whom she normally beats in local competitions, Mutesi said it is a draw she dreads.
“It is a terrible match-up,” she said of the many times she has had to face her sister. “You may come wanting the win badly and end up losing. It sucks. You may spend days without talking or calling each other.”

Before they are pitted together, the sisters share almost everything, including handbag.
She emotionally recalled the loss she suffered in Zambia during the African championships when Nayiga beat her 5-3 in the singles final. Nayiga told Daily Monitor then that her sister did not talk to her for weeks and they never congratulated each other after the win.

“It hurt me a lot to lose the African title. From the start it was mine to lose. I am a very competitive person but losing that final almost made me quit pool. I had trained so hard and I was the favourite yet I ended up losing. I took a lot of time to recover from that loss,” Mutesi said.
The go-for-broke game that Mutesi possesses has always made her one of the most enjoyable players for fans to watch. And while most of the highly-ranked women in Uganda have ferocious potting abilities, what makes Mutesi unique is that she is as adept at attacking, allowing her to finish in swift fashion.
She marries attack with strategic acumen and mental focus making her one of the most dangerous players to face.

Survival game
The Ugandan women top seed and surprisingly second in Africa, Mutesi’s emergence at the top of the sport runs counter to the prevailing norms in women’s pool. Compared to her Southern African peers who have reached a high level of success and earning big money from the sport, Mutesi plays pool for passion.

“You must have a side source of income. Pool does not pay us. Even when we win with the national team, we go home empty-handed,” she said.
Coming from a Muslim background in what is mainly regarded as a bar game has not limited Mutesi from reaching great heights.
“At first our parents were not supportive. They looked at pool as a game of bayaye (lumpen). But when Nayiga won in 2017, they now even pray for us when we go for tournaments,” said Mutesi, who trains from Pot It Bar in Najjanankumbi.

Having finished second at the National Open in Lugogo in 2018, Mutesi was offered a top class pool table and cash prize. The table has since been her main source of income and the collections gained have helped her buy a second table.
“I have a feeling that pool can change my life but currently we survive on playing tournaments,” said Mutesi, who has two tables; one in Rubaga and the other in Kibuye to compliment her earnings from playing.
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