By Carolyne Muyama
When a little known Stephen Kiprotich, a Prison Warder won gold in the 2012 London marathon, all Ugandans were overjoyed. I know of some people who shed tears of joy.
Bars were engulfed with roars of celebrations. I was at home resting on my bed when I heard the announcement over the radio. By the time I reached the television set that was in another room, the action was over but thank God for replays.
Years after the 2012 London Olympics, Uganda is still celebrating Kiprotich’s hard work. Of course Stephen Kiprotich’s life changed immediately. He is now a Superintendent of Prisons up from the Prison Warder he was before the Olympics. He has bagged enormous ‘gifts’ from several corporate companies around the city. Kiprotich is now a brand name!
However, Kiprotich’s achievement didn’t just happen. From his testimony, it was hard work and sacrifice. He stayed away for long from his family to train. Thank God it paid off. I am sure all athletes or sportsmen/ women will testify that it takes a lot of hard work to break through let alone keep on the athletic scene. Needless to say the sports sector in Uganda is faced with scores of challenges ranging from financial to mismanagement of the sector and now sexually harassing female athletes.
For the past few weeks, the media has carried stories of female athletes accusing their male coaches of sexually harassing them. The most recent cases happened during a recent training camp in Kapchorwa. Apparently this wasn’t news amongst the female athletes as they have always been sexually harassed and everything swept under the carpet. Nobody at the federations seems to take them seriously when they try to raise such issues.
At the recently concluded Africa Cross Country Championships in Kampala, female athletes complained of being sexually harassed during the training camp by their male coach who demanded to have sex with them and they were not to tell anyone or else they would be dropped from the competition. This is outright abuse of office by the coach and should be severely punished by the concerned authorities. I hope the Police does a thorough job with the investigations and the culprit is treated as he deserves.
As the situation is, there are few female athletes than the male because they keep dropping off to either found families or others are raped and forced to have children against their will. It would, therefore, be the work of the Uganda Athletics Federation to encourage these girls to work hard and also protect them from sexual harassment, especially during camp.
I was shocked and disappointed in the Uganda Athletic Federation Secretary Beatrice Ayikoru who didn’t show any remorse for the girls when the rumour made rounds but instead blamed these girls for making up stories. This is not only demoralising to these girls who are affected but it also puts questions on the kind of management that there is at UAF. Whether they were making up stories or not, these girls needed to be listened to instead of being mocked.
Being a coach for a female team doesn’t give you rights to prey on your trainees. Very many sports women across the world are trained by male coaches but there are rules they observe. UAF should be able to hold all their coaches responsible for breaking any given rule.
If Uganda is to nurture female athletic talents such issues need to be firmly addressed so that more girls are encouraged to join the sport. Talented girls who have been identified should be nurtured to become better not raped and defiled as reported. With such a trend, parents may start discouraging their daughters from joining sports for fear of being preyed on by people who are supposed to guide and protect them.
There should be clear mechanisms in place for sports girls to log complaints in such cases and they should be heard and the complaint addressed. During trainings, these girls should be educated and empowered to be able to speak their minds without fear.
Politicians in Sebei should do something about rich men in their areas who opt to have sex with underage female athletes for prestige, communities should be encouraged to report such cases and such men should be dealt with by law.
Like campaigns were carried out in these communities educating people the dangers of female genital mutilation, the same campaigns should be carried out urging parents to protect their children from being preyed on by men and also encourage the girls to report cases of rape and defilement in their communities.
With Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE), parents and guardians should be encouraged to take their children especially the girl child to school and ensure they stay there. When children go to school, they are exposed to knowledge that can help them make positive decisions and it is also a good way of delaying marriage.
The problem at hand is not only for the athletic community but all of us as Ugandans. Sports is the most unifying activity in this country, we can’t sit by and watch it sink. Let us demand for justice for the affected female athletes and also encourage more talented girls and boys to come out and exploit their talents.
The writer works with Uganda Media Centre