Rukare: Sports needs a critical mass of leadership pulling together

Representing. Don Rukare, Hashama Batamuriza, and her daughter paralympic swimmer Husnah Kakundakwe, during the fifth USF National Age-group Championships 2019. Photos / Ismail Kezaala, John Batanude

What you need to know:

  • Concerned voice. Dr.  Donald Rukare’s tenure as chairman board at National Council of Sports (NCS) came to an end last month. Minister of State for Sports Denis Hamson Obua replaced Rukare with former Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) vice president and Fuba president Ambrose Tashobya

Concerned voice. Dr.  Donald Rukare’s tenure as chairman board at National Council of Sports (NCS) came to an end last month.Minister of State for Sports Denis Hamson Obua replaced Rukare with former Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) vice president and Fuba president Ambrose Tashobya. Our reporter Makhtum Muziransa caught up with Dr.  Rukare, who also serves as president of UOC, to discuss his last two years at the helm of sports administration in Uganda.

First, congratulations on completing your term but how do you sum up the two years at NCS?

The two years were fine, a good insight into how things work in government.

We started our term in February 2020 and I want to thank both the substantive Minister (Minister of State for Sports Denis Hamson Obua) and the First Lady (Minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni) for giving us that honour to be part of NCS for the last two years.

It was in many ways an opportunity to contribute to the development of sports in the country notwithstanding that Covid-19 came into the picture.

What are the key things anyone who comes to NCS must know?

One of the biggest challenges over the years is that there has been a deep rooted mistrust between NCS and federations. Everyone who gets in must bridge that gap. We did that by holding regular meetings, providing access to information like policy documents and drafts. So our first agenda was creating harmony.

Then we got to supporting federations both financially and administratively to help them professionalize. When you read the act it says the sports organizations are voluntary amateur associations. It is hard to run those.

In my view, federations need a minimum structure with an office, administrator, technical person and book keeper so they can function. How are you going to ask someone to make reports when he has no laptop?

There is a divergence of opinion that federations must first have those but I don’t come from that school of thought because these are national federations so there should be a minimum package. However, there should be a corresponding effort from federations to be organized.

My dream was to put all those that do not have offices in Lugogo then they can share boardrooms and printers but that needed five years. Then we tried to advocate for more funding and facilities. And another issue we are contributing to but isn’t really our work is to revamp and review our legal and policy framework.

We have been working on policies and a new law with the ministry; we put a gender policy in the last two years.  Others that are not there like the team selection policy should come in the future as we need all these to build sports on a strong foundation.

The big debate right now is whether Uganda should develop a policy on inclusiveness.

And what’s your take?

We should. Where would you put para-athletes? In other countries, they are fused (with federations running sports for able-bodied athletes). In others where they can get funding, they are separated.

Here we have NPC (National Paralympic Committee) which is an umbrella body for para-sports but registered as a federation. Another area that is coming up is the position of e-sports. Can you register it as a federation of it’s own as Uganda has 5000 gamers?

Then you have the sports NGOs. Why can’t we give them a letter of comfort which does not necessarily require NCS to fund them.

Why aren’t these discussions happening?

You need leaders pulling in the same direction. The Ugandan government is supposed to have a say in the Africa Sports Union that organises All Africa Games. There is a whole department on this sitting in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) but is Uganda playing an active role?

We are only focusing on our usual problem of funding.

But we need to get into those spaces. The reason why Senegal - which is hosting the Youth Olympics (in 2026) - Kenya and Ghana are getting these events is that they have leaders that get it and involve government to make the heavy investment. The legacy is that they have the stadiums to grow their sports after the Games.

Whether they will be able to sustain them or if they will turn into white elephants is another debate. We also need to forge our own path on what we want as a country.

If, say, we want a national aquatic center, the resources could flow from elsewhere but you need government to get land.

Don’t you think that we are in this dilemma because most of our sports leaders are working voluntarily. They have no incentive to think in that direction.

When you go for meetings or games, you need to go beyond sitting in a hotel.

Like when I went for my sports law course in Cambridge, paid for fully by the IOC (International Olympic Committee), I realised we were missing out on the bigger picture because I was the only black person there.

I wrote back to them saying we cannot take the bulk of Africa to Cambridge but we can bring Cambridge to Africa. That is how the genesis of the sports law seminars in Uganda started. We have now done three – training African lawyers on sports law.

We have had 120 participants (60 Ugandans) and of those three are on the Cas (Court of Arbitration for Sports) list. We are now fighting to get the regional Cas centre here in Uganda.

Federations can do the same to get regional centres of excellence here but they need to find a receptive government because land and government policies that give tax waivers is what moves things.

Another example; ITF (International Tennis Federation) wanted to revamp the Lugogo tennis courts and Cedric (Babu – chairman Uganda Tennis Association) would get over $50,000 (about Shs180m) for that but government preferred to pursue PPP (public private partnership).

We also have money for a UOC centre but we do not have land.

You speak of many positives and challenges but do you feel the latter could be easily worked on if the chairman had a bigger say in the daily running of matters at NCS than what you call being a ‘choir master’.

Let me think about this objectively. What’s the role of the board?

You tell me. What was in your appointment letter?

The board gives general direction then the secretariat implements. So it is not about the power of the chair but having the critical mass of people pulling in the same direction otherwise you’re talking to yourself.

Part of the problem right now is that the ideal polices are not well articulated. Our major problems are funding and the conflicts in federations say those in kickboxing, canoe kayak, taekwondo, FMU, netball.

And because the law is weak, what kind of order can you give?  Right now the (NCS) technical committee can only call you, pin you and persuade you to change. Our only nuclear weapon is to withdraw your registration like we have recommended for kickboxing.

But if we amend the law and have a tribunal then the sanctions would be in the law – be it a suspension, ban, fine. But now someone can ask “you’re suspending as NCS but with which rules?”

Are you happy with the composition of the board?

The Act in section Foir talks about members of council this way:

The council shall consist of a chairperson and 10 other members – four of whom shall be regional representatives.

But in the current board, who is representing which region?

We have been asking for an athletes’ representatives. It is not there but it should be and fortunately the Minister heard our prayers this time and included (Stephen) Kiprotich.

For me an ideal board should represent all stakeholders; athletes, federations, schools, ministry and so on.

So the reason I ask about the chairman’s powers is because people felt that this is Don coming in so...

Dr.  Donald Rukare

They were wrong.

(Rukare answers very fast but this reporter was trying to put it to him that the expectations were high on him as an administrator that had transformed Uganda Swimming Federaltion and made his way through the ranks in the sports up until the Fina Bureau. And had also worked with former UOC president William Blick to embellish the Olympic movement).

You need to have realistic expectations because council is not a dictatorship but 11 people working together.

Here is what Ambrose is going to do. From the 11, he is going to appoint committees; finance to look at money allocations, technical to deal with federations, business and investment to look at how much NCS makes from the facilities (in Lugogo) and audit.

They bring all their recommendations in the council meetings and we discuss as a team.

As a chairman, it’s about your ability to influence the other 10.

But you cannot force them if they say no.

Sometimes it’s not about taking a decision but coming out to take a stand as you also wear many hats beyond NCS. For example the boxing federation required athletes to sign contracts with them to take part in a competition that would double as the Commonwealth Games qualifiers.  You are the president of those Games here and I expected that you would take a stand against a federation organising a qualifier for your Games in such a manner that cuts out some participants.

We did but keep one thing in mind, it’s not Don’s show.

I think there should be a difference between Don the sportsperson, Don the chairman NCS and Don the UOC president. I might have personal views but governance does not work like that.

And that is why I have had problems with some of our government officials – a minister says one thing on a talkshow, then the government spokesperson is saying another. And you wonder what the official position of government is.

If you have personal views, take them to the council or UOC excomm (executive committee) meetings and debate them then come out with an official position.

That’s why on most of those conflicts, I have referred the media to the (NCS) general secretary (Dr. Bernard Patrick Ogwel).

You have told me to go to him on several occasions.

I can give my personal views but it is a slippery slope because my excomm will abandon me saying it’s my show.

Isn’t that bureaucratic?

It is procedure. Even at my work place; as a human rights lawyer, I cannot make public announcements without clearing them with the headquarters.

The problems with our federations is that the excomm members do not know their rights and some of our leaders have not worked in places with proper governance structures. So they prefer to work in isolation.

I am okay with giving my views of what an ideal federation should be but until I discuss with the teams, I cannot publicly answer questions about the issues in netball or the boxing.

Okay if I did and the council took a different direction, whose word would people take?

When you went to NCS there was this animosity between them and UOC. What have you discovered to be the issue?

Animosity is a big word but the difference of opinion has always been there. That is down to mistrust, mandates and personalities but, for me, there shouldn’t be any problems.

What UOC does is very specific; prepare teams for Olympic, Commonwealth and Islamic and All Africa Games. Then promote the Olympic movement.

Government is what it is, you have to respect it, NCS, and the laws of the land. We have had a unique opportunity working together to bridge the gap and that is why I warmly welcome this change. Ambrose – and I wish him all the best – is formerly from UOC and a former president of Fuba.

He understands the issues at hand and that we have more that unites than separates us.

Now onto the question you always run away from. Do you feel NCS and UOC should be one body?

There’s merit to think about it. Maybe not one body but an amalgamation as many countries have done.

The advantage is that you avoid all this bickering, bring the technical expertise and the regulatory functioning together like it is in South Africa, Germany, Lesotho among others.

But it has to be an idea whose time is ready for people to understand it.

Lastly, would you have wished to serve NCS for some more years?

No.  I was a bit ready for a change.


What was your role as chairman of the board?

When you’re chairman, you’re really the choir master so there are very few things that you’ll pass yourself. Instead, you’re working together with council (board) and secretariat. For me it was paramount that;

  • We started building blocks to establish trust between NCS and federations. I want to thank the Minister (Obua) that we held all National Sports Forums. And also managed to collaborate with UOC on a number of things.
  • In a collaborative manner with federations, we managed to draw up SOPs (standard operating procedures) to get sports running again after the first (Covid-imposed) lockdown.
  • Helped a number of athletes take part in events at the height of Covid. Most notably, we managed to get Halima Nakaayi and Joshua Cheptegei to participate (in the Diamond League in Monaco, where the latter broke the 5000m world record to 12:35.36) when airports were closed.
  • Gave Covid support worth Shs3m each to all federations.
  • Met local government sports associations and had a follow up visit to Karamoja.
  • Began discussions to start a corporate dinner. In fact we were supposed to meet the corporate companies on the night Cheptegei was running in Valencia (to lower the 10,000m world record to 26:11.02) but Ministry of Finance stopped us because of Covid.
  • We supported the Olympic team.
  • Wrote the NCS strategic plan and aligned it with the NDP (national development plan).
  • When Covid came, there were budget cuts as government was looking for Shs400bn. Sports was affected as the funding was cut from Shs25.5bn to Shs10bn but we re-engaged Parliament and through Hon. Obua, the money was reinstated. Hopefully it will be more to help us prepare for the Commonwealth Games.
  • We started the discussion on the famous funding guidelines plus the recognition and rewards scheme
  • We made amendments to the (NCS) regulations but they are still going through a bureaucratic process in the Attorney General’s office.
  • We were also establishing national colours for the national teams.
  • You mention many achievements but did you have an agenda going into office?
  • There was but it was co-created with the team (other board members) because this was not a position I actively pursued like the UOC one. Actually when I was appointed, there was a bit of apprehension and asking myself; if I really wanted to go to NCS. Up to now I have never known who put my name there.