Uganda’s track and field hit by a spectator crisis

By James Bakama

Part of me was celebrating the resurgence of our sprints and some of the field events.

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 By James Bakama

I left the just concluded National Athletics Championships at Namboole with mixed feelings.

Part of me was celebrating the resurgence of our sprints and some of the field events.

Then, I was again also disappointed by the very poor spectator turn up.

It seemed like local track and field’s biggest event was only for the athletes, club and federation officials plus a handful of journalists.

It is only fair to start off with the positive side. Gone are the days when the sprints had sunk levels where shortage of runners would have sprinters going straight into a final.

This time we had athletes contesting in several heats before being sieved into a final.

And it wasn’t just a case of quantity but also quality. The fact that athletes like Shida Leni could break a record twice in a day said volumes about the class of our sprinters today.

Then you also have good talents like Scovia Ayikoru, Leonard Opiny, Dennis Opio, Pius Adome, Musa Isabirye, Benson Okot and Eugene Omalla.

But the fact that these athletes could run that fast in a virtually empty stadium says volumes about their potential.

What if they had been running in a packed stadium with say 40,000 fans cheering? Aren’t we missing records?

The last time I raised this issue Uganda Athletics Federation officials weren’t happy. They insisted that I was being insensitive. They said there is no way athletics can attract a crowd.

Just for mobilization sake, I have some tips for UAF. They could for starters use drives through for instance crowded Kiira Municipality informing people of what is at Namooble.

I live in Bweyogerere but I must say not a soul in that area seemed to know what was happening a stone throw away in Namboole.

The over 100 schools in Kiira could serve as the other point of mobilization.

Most schools would for instance scramble for a chance to see Olympic and World champion Stephen Cheptegei run.

What about the easy to mobilise group- the forces also bringing in supporters?

UAF could also do with some changes in race scheduling. Some events involving heats also had their finals on the same day.

Well, maybe that could pass for the sprints but not the longer races. Both the 1500m heats and final were on the same day. It is simply too exhausting.

If I remember right, I think even world athletics governing body IAAF does not allow this.

Isn’t it also time that UAF, just like our neighbours Athletics Kenya, ensured that all our top athletes are present at its biggest event of the year?

I also find it disturbing that the education and sports ministry doesn’t seem to be coordinating with UAF.

Otherwise how would you have the Namboole event was taking place, running concurrently with the national schools athletics championship in Arua?