Rugby in 2020: Heathens keep life in dead year
The Heathens, crowned champions with five games to spare, can be excused for feeling slightly awkward about their record ...
Hima Cement Heathens need no favours in the glossy art of trophy-cabin population, but the coronavirus pandemic forced a boardroom title upon the record rugby champions in one of few headlines from a year with very little.
"2020 was almost a dead year," Uganda Rugby Union (URU) Secretary Peter Odongo summed up the outgoing rugby season.
The Heathens, crowned champions with five games to spare, can be excused for feeling slightly awkward about their record-extending 15th title, but there can be few qualms about their brilliance in the 13 of the 18 games they played ahead of the Coronavirus-enforced shutdown.
They may have been within striking distance of eternal rivals Betway Kobs, who were five points adrift, but having gone unbeaten in the first 13 games, the Heathens were favourites to go on and defend their title anyway.
The decision by URU to crown Heathens was justified under the unique circumstances, and it ultimately ensured that the little action enjoyed at the start of the year did not go to waste.
That action included women's league rugby, which enjoyed the privilege of completion unlike the men's, with some familiar outcomes. Record champions Thunderbirds needed a last-day 18-12 victory away to Avengers to clinch the Central Women's Rugby League title, while the Kitgum Queens won the Northern Women's Rugby League.
That meant that of the 11 events scheduled on the 2020 URU calendar, only two were completed, and only one on the pitch.
Locally, the Uganda Cup, National 7s circuit, Championship League, Schools League, Schools Independence Cup, and Franchise Rugby to select the National teams fell victim, not to mention the appetising international menu including the Rugby World Cup Qualifiers, Rugby 7s Olympic Qualifiers, Elgon Cup (Uganda vs Kenya games), and the Victoria Cup.
Hopes are high of a looming return to the old normal, which, as URU CEO Ramsey Olinga observed, will engineer a quick re-engagement of all local and international events. That that will call for enormous efficiency on the part of the URU and the players is an acknowledged fear.
"It will be a tough year for us, but we will make every effort to get to the top," Olinga said.
"The national teams will be very busy, and we appeal for all support so that we can facilitate them with the best environment for them to succeed in all these important tournaments.''
Whether that support will be secured in the required quantities, and on time, is a whole different matter. Moreover, it is not clear whether it is feasible to go into 2021 with the mindset of taking on countless activities. The economic effects of COVID-19 cannot be expected to go away as soon the all-clear on the pandemic is given by the medical fraternity.
The recovery will in all likelihood take time, and it is thus more practical for national sports like rugby to pace their return from 2020, from the dead year.