Hello, the president is on the line!
Drama as Museveni calls Olympic teamA phone call came in at about 4.00am Beijing time on Monday, August 18. It was from State House Kampala. The message: President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni wanted to talk to Uganda's athletes at the Beijing Olympics.
At first, Uganda's sports Commissioner Dan Tamwesigire thought he was dreaming but he quickly gathered his senses and told the caller that it would not be possible for the President to speak to the athletes since they were asleep.
Tamwesigire suggested the President calls 10 hours later, 2.00pm Beijing time. Tamwesigire is a veteran teacher, a former national athlete, has headed Ugandanvolleyball and now heads the Uganda Amateur Athletics Federation.
He has also been a leading member of the Makerere University Games Union. He was your ideal spokesperson for Ugandan sport – until the President called.
He is one of the more eloquent, cool headed and brainy sports officials who cannot be easily intimidated but there are various versions of what happened after that historical call at 4.00am.
One story goes that he could not sleep again and summoned the team at 6.00am to reveal the 'vision' he had got in the night.Plan to tackle Museveni
A plan was hatched on how to handle the president when he called. Justine Lingyalingi, the team manager gave his advice as one of the top National Council of Sports officials. Uganda's Beijing Olympics attaché Norman Katende gave his input as a media expert.
Those who thought weightlifter Mubarak Kivumbi did nothing at the games, are wrong. He provided the most modern of phones in the camp to receive the call, and Tamwesigire's sim card was inserted right away. A perfect display of team spirit!
While Ligyalingi and Katende suggested that the President be engaged a little more in how he can support Ugandan sports, the athletes simply wanted to ask for more money. Tamwesigire agreed he would put all points to the president.
Alas! When the President called at 2.15pm as agreed, everyone was less than pleased when he finally said "bye-bye" without Tamwesigire having put the team's points across! He had even refused to be swayed to beg for money.
The three players Museveni had talked to - Moses Kipsiro, Geoffrey Kusuro and Benjamin Kiplagat - were clearly stunned to have got a call from the President. While some thought the president's concern was good for sport and the phone call significant, those who had wanted money, were not impressed, and even swore not to attend this month's function that the President plans, to welcome the team from Beijing.
"If he has not promised us anything now, don't expect anything when we go back home. The games will have ended so he will just give you a dinner and that will be all," said a member of the Ugandan contingent.
The mood in the camp was not helped by the fact that over 60 per cent of the PUMA kit (145kg) from the officials sponsors to the Uganda team, stayed in Beijing for 'export' back to Kampala days after the team left. The athletes were unhappy they couldn't get an extra shirt or shoes yet bags and bags of PUMA kit were waiting for're-export' to Uganda.
Museveni eager to helpAfter the August 18 call,The President again called the Ugandan ambassador to China Charles Wagidoso one more time, inquiring about the team and seeking ways to improve performance. Therein might lie the real issue.
Is the sports' call for increased government support getting to the President? That he suggests recruiting talent in the army as the main solution indicates there is a communication gap that should give the country's leading officials a headache.
In 2006, the President met Uganda's team from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games but they didn't use the opportunity to impress him. At this event, Museveni gave the sports administrators three hours to make their point but they didn't harness the chance.
The only highlights of the day were provided by Dorcus Inzikuru, who called her manager Flavio Pasqulato for his first ever meeting with Museveni, and the rugbyteam which handed the President a national team jersey.
The President's own speech, in recalling Patrick Etolu's feats in the 50s and the young SC Villa boys born around 1986, highlighted two areas that always get his attention— statistics and their relevance to Uganda today.
That Commonwealth team was full of statistics that would have caught the president's ear then. Asha Nambozo, 13, from Mbale was one of the youngest at the Melbourne games; David Okot comes from Etolu's village; half the team was born around 1986; not even Akii-Bua got gold like Inzzi and Kiprop did, in the Commonwealth.
Why none of the officials at the dinner highlighted these facts is a question that will go forever unanswered. Probably President Museveni would have used such information to justify future support to Ugandan sport.
Athletics the solution
The athletics federation UAF gets only sh8m annually from government yet the country's best chance for medals today lie in track and field.
It is the only sport in Uganda where up to six athletes are ranked in the top 30 worldwide. In fact, Moses Kipsiro, Boniface Kiprop, Abraham Chepkirwok and Dorcus Inzikuru are in the top five in the world.
What Uganda needs to match countries like Kenya is a fully-funded training centre with modern facilities for young runners in Kapchorwa, Gulu, and Arua.
That has been China's trick with training centres for athletics, table tennis and badminton spread across the country.
The country has eight facilities which are some of the best-known training bases in the world and have produced some of the most talented and decorated athletes. Uganda can take advantage of bilateral trade with countries like China to tap into such expertise. Has the President been told any of these facts? Your guess is as good as mine.
Sportsmen not eloquent?
What the sports fraternity will not need when the President hosts the Olympians this month are meaningless speeches.
Among themselves, sportsmen surely have speakers who are eloquent, never over-awed by the occasion, have a great sense of humour, yet capable of being formal, dignified and selecting their words carefully.
With such qualities, the potential for sports to market the country is boundless, more so their potential to impress the President! When you go to meet the chief, it is said, you pull out your best guns, more so if you are from the sports realm. There are numerous big guns in Ugandan sport - Aggrey Kibenge from the education and sports ministry; rugby boss Andrew Owiny; former UBL chief Baker Magunda – the list cannot be exhausted.
No substitute for accountability
Above eloquence and ability to speak for the fraternity, there should be a commitment to accountability – financial and otherwise – especially by Ugandan sports officials, and Uganda Olympic Officials. The record in sports is dismal.
This may be exhibited by the tendency for corporate sponsors to get involved in day-to-day supervision of the sports they support – and that's just an example. The lack of accountability manifests in many other ways.
A good example of the loss of focus was in Beijing. While Team Uganda was battling to get medals and ensure athletes are in the right frame of mind, other officials were busy finding ways of sending extra cargo back to Kampala, shopping or visiting the Great Wall. And to think that they all went in the spirit of managing the team…!
As questions are asked about Uganda's performance in Beijing, and officials give all kinds of excuses, they should know that....The President is still on the line!
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