By James Bakama
UAF has lately been Uganda’s most successful sports body. The success story hit new levels with Stephen Kiprotich winning Olympic and World Athletics Championship gold.
To the common man out there things couldn’t be better. Every federation aspired to emulate the Domenic Otuchet led body.
But beneath this glittering facade, is a growing wave of discontent. As veteran coach Absolom Ojwang puts it, “Things are not right in Africa’s second oldest athletics federation.”
UAF critics say that much as Kiprotich’s sparkle was a huge boost, it also hid a lot of dirt. “Attention was moved from what was going wrong in UAF,” notes Fame Athletics Club’s James Mugeni.
So, what’s it that UAF is not doing?
Marginalising of sprint and field events
Ojwang says UAF has chosen the easy route of long distance events. These require minimal investment. But this has also come at the expense of the huge potential that Uganda has in the events.
Ojwang puts this imbalance into perspective : “If Uganda could win a high jump silver medal at the 1954 Commonwealth Games(Patrick Etolu), why can’t we ever get to the podium again in this event?”
He adds that it is also not by accident that in the throws, Uganda’s Justin Arop was once among the world’s best.
That two of Uganda’s three athletics medals at the Olympics were in the 400 metre hurdles and 400m, says volumes about the urgent need to spread the net. Ojwang, who coached Olympic bronze medalist Davis Kamoga, says that much as grooming sprint and field talent might be more scientifically and financially demanding, they shouldn’t be ignored.
But even in the long distances not enough has been done. “We are depending on Kenyan facilities. If it wasn’t for high altitude camps across the border and the resident coaches, Kiprotich wouldn’t have triumphed,” insists Mugeni. There is also nothing to show from Uganda’s other high altitude regions like Rwenzori and Kigezi.
“As the supreme athletics body, the federation is obliged to be broadbased,” insists Ojwang.
Uganda’s lack of depth is highlighted by its continued presence in 11 of the 16 main track and field events at major competitions.
Lack of grassroot presence
UAF like most Ugandan sports bodies, lacks a national presence.
Save for active district associations like Kampala, Kapchorwa and Gulu, most of the other associations only surface at election time. Many of these districts are also represented by Kampala based people.
This has been made evident in the run up to tomorrow’s election with districts claiming to be unaware of district associations.
UAF has been saved by schools, but even then, there are minimal linkages between the federation and these institutions.
Schools also have their limitations in that their students have limited time for sports. That is, for instance, not the case for Kenya where most of the athletes are fully employed for sports.
Lack of motivation
Motivation is the thing that drives athletics today. If you win a competition in Uganda you get sh30,000 ($12). Second-placed get sh20,000 ($8) and third position sh10,000 ($4). Compare this to the Kenyan scenario where the winner gets the equivalent of sh90,000.
The runner-up 75,000 and third placed 60,000. While UAF has prize money at only three competitions, Kenya has it in all its six main competitions and the national championships.
True, UAF employs an administrator. But that’s for normal office work. When it comes to professionally administering national affairs, there is need for a bigger and full time administrative force.
Otuchet, who is for instance a head teacher, can’t have ample time to fully attend to issues in the respective regions. It also becomes complicated for him to engage Government officials under whom he serves in the civil service.
Failure to capture the corporate world
UAF is funded by MTN. But it has the potential to attract even much more corporate funding.
Even with Kiprotich’s success, UAF has failed to strategically position itself. National competitions are still staged with virtually empty stands. The federation has in the process failed to generate revenue through advertisement and TV rights.
Lack of facilities
UAF is one of the oldest sports bodies but to date it has only one standard track at Namboole. But even accessing it, is not easy. Athletes find it almost impossible to pay the sh3000 for a training session.
As a result, you have athletes who can’t position themselves on starting blocks at national championships.