Loss for swimming as GEMS close shop

Masters swimmers have held all their championships at the 25m and eight-lane pool at GEMS Cambridge International School - Butabiika since 2016. They, like other swimmers, will hope that their venue will not have to change when the school shuts down later this year. On the left is decorated female swimmer Kirabo Namutebi coasting to routine victory. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE

Memories of an official chasing down a parent that had broken past the barrier while wildly cheering her five-year-old son on his debut swimming competition last year are still fresh in mind.

So are the tough battles among Adnan Kabuye, Ambala Atuhaire and Tendo Mukalazi, as they made further claims for places to represent Uganda at the 2019 Fina World Championships in Gwangju – South Korea.

Eventually, the latter two did but way after causing some steer on who was the most valuable swimmer of those Nationals.

Mukalazi had played the rules to his advantage - swimming in more events to accumulate more points and take the diadem even though Atuhaire had beaten him whenever they went head to head at GEMS Cambridge International School – Butabiika.

Such is the place GEMS had taken in Ugandan swimming since it opened its doors in 2013 – a high stakes stage for the country’s elite swimmers but also one were the younger ones and their parents where eager to create memories.

The coronavirus pandemic has denied swimmers the opportunity to compete there this year and sadly, there might be no more opportunities to do so after lockdown as the school announced on Tuesday that it will close operations in Uganda by December 31.

“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.

It therefore goes without saying that the relationship between Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) and GEMS is in its evening too. “They welcomed us in their community since Day One,” USF president Moses Mwase, said.

Unrivalled home feeling
USF enjoys a good relationship with many other schools that have swimming pools but none welcomed them as freely as GEMS, which holds and sponsors the federation’s two premier competitions among other galas and also hosted their awards dinner in February.

“They gave us almost unfettered access to the pool and some other facilities, sponsored a number of our activities and also gave scholarships to some of our swimmers.

“It is very sad that they have to leave and we shall miss a very strategic partner.”
According to GEMS marketing manager Brenda Mutesi, they “will leave the facilities behind as they do not belong to the school and hopefully whoever takes over will continue to allow the sport to access them.”

With USF still struggling to get a pool of their own, the federation will miss the school’s open door policy that was fast turning GEMS into the home of Ugandan swimming – at least as far as competitions are concerned.
Masters swimmers, clubs like Dolphins and Silverfin Academy held their competitions at the venue too. You could always bet on the next swimming or water polo event being held there.


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