Swimming drowns in ‘deep losses’

Friday January 01 2021
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Swimmers prepare for the dip at last year’s Uganda Swimming Federation National Age Group Championships. When the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown was lifted in September, some swimmers started to visit swimming pools for private lessons but club and school activities have largely struggled to emerge from the period of zero activity. PHOTO/ISMAIL KEZAALA

By Makhtum Muziransa

The swimming year started with the shocking news that then Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) president Dr. Donald Rukare had been appointed chairman of National Council of Sports (NCS) for the next two years in a reshuffle made by new sports minister Denis Hamson Obua.

Rukare, who has ended the year with re-election to the Cana (Africa swimming body) vice presidency had led USF since 2003 and replaced Bosco Onyik who had served NCS for two full terms since 2016. Rukare’s last duty as USF president was to crown Atuhaire Ambala and Kirabo Namutebi overall best male and female swimmers of 2019 at the second Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) DStv Awards Gala held at GEMS Cambridge International School Butabiika in February.

Records for fun
Thailand-based Atuhaire broke national and age group records for fun in 2019 while Namutebi won the country’s first ever continental gold at the Africa Junior Championships in September 2019 and also holds the national record (26.98) in the girls’ 50m freestyle made at the World Junior Championships in Budapest, Hungary in August 2019.

Back to the boardroom, for the sake of continuity ahead of next year’s election, an extra-ordinary executive meeting endorsed Moses Mwase, who had served as general secretary from 2013, as president through Clause C 17.5 of the body’s constitution that reads “the Executive shall have the power to fill vacant positions on the Executive and shall thereafter report to the next Assembly of the Federation.” 

Mwase’s previous position is currently occupied by his former assistant Albert Shinosuke Wasswa, who is deputized by competitions secretary Max Kanyerezi.

Quickly, they got down to work taking the national team to Botswana for a tough experience at the Cana Zone IV Championships in Gaborone.

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Here, the personal bests were far between for Uganda’s 21 competitive swimmers who had to bear the brunt of temperatures exceeding 32 degrees Celsius. But things got better as Namutebi won silver in the 50m breaststroke (34.40) and two bronze medals in the 50m butterfly (29.97) and backstroke (32.27). She then sealed it with two gold medals in the girls’ 15-16 years 100m (1:00.45) and 50m freestyle (27.07).

Her efforts over the years earned Namutebi a nomination by USF to benefit from the 2020/21 Fina scholarship – just like her brother Tendo Mukalazi (for 2019/20) and Joshua Ekirikubinza before 2016.

The scholarships, which offer technical support but without education, are usually extended to swimmers close to hitting qualification times for Fina’s prime events and the Olympics. This would have been a huge boost for Namutebi as she must qualify to make the grade for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics due in July next year. But like her brother, it has been hard to enforce the pact in the midst of the pandemic

Meanwhile, as the event in Botswana neared a climax, team captain Avice Meya – who has to contend with the postponement of the Olympics (the only swimming event she has not been to) also got to the podium after clocking 3:27.75 in the 200m butterfly.  Uganda had slightly better fortunes in the Masters’ Championship where all three team members Peter Ssebanakita, Dr. Rukare and team coach Joseph Kabogoza won medals.

Rukare got bronze in the 50m breaststroke (46.83), while there were silver medals for Kabogoza in the 50m butterfly (30.54) and Ssebanakita in the 100m breast (2:03.77).

 The local calendar also picked up weeks later with hosts Greenhill Academy – Kibuli winning their fourth successive and fifth overall crown at the packed USF Midland Primary Schools Gala by just 60 points.  Greenhill were challenged all the way by Kampala Junior Academy (KJA), who garnered 1,506 points in the sixth edition that saw 78 meet records re-set.

Locked down
But that was the last time we would have a swimming competition this year as the Coronavirus pandemic forced sports into lockdown eventually wiping out the calendar that also had Uganda hosting the Cana Zone III Championships in November.

Swimmers were restricted to dryland activities for the better part of March till September. Such was the impact that even the fourth Fina Aquatic Day was celebrated through a dryland competition dubbed ‘Swimming Without Water.’  

While there were few participants, Sailfish Swim Club emerged winners of the virtual challenge meant to celebrate and encourage the power of aquatic sports for social wellbeing and development.

Dolphins ranked second and Mak (Makerere) Sharks pipped Altona Swim Club to the podium while in the Guest Team category, that attracted seven participating teams, Whales Swimming Academy from Entebbe emerged victors.

Also within that period, there was even a bigger shocker as GEMS Cambridge International School – Butabiika, an institution that had thrown its weight behind local swimming in terms of sponsorship and scholarships, announced they would be closing their operations here.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to affect families, businesses and all industries around the world – and our school is no exception. The pandemic and the resulting uncertainties have proved exceptionally testing, and our enrolment numbers have been severely impacted as well as our ability to sustain our operations, despite our best efforts,” GEMS Africa CEO Riz Ahmed, wrote in a media statement.

When the lockdown was lifted in September, some swimmers started to visit swimming pools for private lessons but club and school activities have largely struggled to emerge from the period of zero activity owing to stringent guidelines imposed on the sports sector like testing athletes every fortnight.  

As USF wait for government to ease the restrictions, they have already informed clubs that business for the fraternity will return to normal in 2021. 

“The federation, however, also predicts that swimmers will need three to four months to prepare for competitions.

SELECTED EVENTS 
Aquatic Day Challenge
Best Guest Video:
Whales Swimming Academy
How They Finished
1.  Sailfish
2. Dolphins
3. Mak Sharks
Cana Zone IV Championships
Kirabo Namutebi (Girls 15-16 Years)
100m freestyle (gold)              1:00.45
50m freestyle (gold)                27.07
50m breaststroke (silver)         34.40
50m butterfly (bronze)            29.97
50m backstroke (bronze)         32.27
2019 USF DSTV AQUATIC AWARDS
Best Female Swimmer: Kirabo Namutebi
Best Male Swimmer: Atuhaire Ambala
Most Inspiring Athlete: Husnah Kukundakwe
Best Female Coach: Cari Karugireyo
Best Male Coach:     Muzafaru Muwanguzi

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com 

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