The grass is greener this woodball year

Mukoya follows the path of her shot enroute to bagging gold for Uganda at the African event. PHOTO | GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • Year Ender. Uganda left Kenya with 14 gold medals in the bag including the overall trophy as the Africa Woodball Championship ended in Nairobi, Kenya over the weekend. Rookie Florence Mukoya continued her good form this season with a saucy 158 strokes as Uganda women defeated hot pursuing Kenya in the second edition of the Africa event held at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. 

2020 is the year that broke everything. It was a dark time, on the cusp of a highly anticipated exciting woodball calendar, with the Kyambogo Open the only competition before our troubles.

Yet even as the sport was forced to look on as the Woodball World Cup was forfeited while mourning the passing of founder Weng Ming-hui in February, 2021 that was hoped to be a healing year, hurt.

The Uganda Woodball Federation (UWbF) Paul Mark Kayongo, announced in 2019 that since Covid-19 vaccines were on the way, there was a reason to believe that woodball would be moving into a restorative phase in 2021. He was hopeful that action we had desperately missed would resume.

To a large extent, that scenario did play out. As the vaccines rolled out, so too did the confidence in the relative safety of returning to normal activities that had been sharply curtailed due to the risk of infection. Happy days were here at last! 

Playing safe

Test events were on the way and it all started with the Corporate Circuit at Makerere University Business School (Mubs) Nakawa in April. But as the event organisers found out, the situation was still maddeningly complicated. The vaccines remain limited and even the few people that turned up did not observe the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

To further assess the potential of UWbF to hold events, a ‘Play safe’ Open tournament was held at Kyambogo Cricket Oval in May.

Collins Ssemmanda, the UWbF General Secretary was irked with defiant players.

“It is our responsibility as sports administrators to ensure that our events do not lead to the spread of Covid-19. Some teams failed on the protocols, especially social distancing and wearing of masks but from now on we are going to write memos where defiant teams lose points or even be fined,” Ssemmanda said.

As the virus gained a toehold, events were suspended during the second lockdown throwing the sport into a panic. 

The league and juniors events were to be skipped for the second year running.

One of the biggest concerns was the impact on players in schools and universities, who are actually the majority, whose learning had been disrupted while others had been thrown into social isolation.

As woodball took a jagged path back to the greens after the second lockdown, the sport was thrust into yet another new paradigm —virtual events.

The Uganda Open, which is the most prestigious national event, returned with a bang at Uganda Christian University (UCU), Mukono.

The two-day tournament was a banger with non-stop action springing up surprises here and there. The most outstanding was rookie Edison Tumwine, who took silver in the fairway singles on his senior debut after eliminating national team players enroute to the final.

Locally, it was Eminents that bossed the events while MUBS stealthily sneaked to the high table.

They have not only signed top players ahead of next year’s calendar, they also won the major international event, the Kenya Open in Nairobi. A new heroine was born in Mukoya as she steps in to fill the gap left by Denise Nanjeru.

Players have been under intense pressure to compensate for the difficulties of virtual woodball activities. Many players have spoken up about difficulties in survival. 

Giant leap

But a great leap of faith was undertaken as Uganda finally assembled the national team to participate in the African Woodball Championship in Nairobi, Kenya and the International Online Championship.

Uganda took the swag to Kenya becoming overall champions in Nairobi.

Uganda bagged 14 gold medals including the overall trophy with the women team securing gold.

The Ugandan women were at the forefront of the title quest scooping all four gold medals on offer in the singles and team events of the fairway competition.

The women were not done yet. 

The pair of Florence Mukoya and Joyce Nalubega spurred Uganda to gold in the inaugural online International Championship during the last Sunday of November beating Korea 3-2 in a second decider.

Uganda was competing against Chinese Taipei, Korea, Peru, Thailand and Singapore in the tournament that was hosted via the Voov Meeting platform.

Nalubega said the victory was rewarding. 

“It was an opportunity to play in an international event at last after a long time,” Nalubega said.

The national team will next year compete in the World Cup in Perlis, Malaysia and Uganda is preparing for the best.

As this year concludes, the jury is still out regarding how deep and long lasting the sport has been changed.

For now, perhaps the one true thing is that it will take a lot more than schools opening their doors in order to hold all national events.

But Kayongo remains stubbornly determined to look ahead with hope.

“I hope that those who haven’t yet been vaccinated will finally realise that the vaccines are the safest and surest way to put the pandemic behind us. We need to move forward and give our players hope,” Kayongo said.

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