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In a belated honour of Women’s Day, The Observer sports desk compiled a list of the most prestigious women in Ugandan sport.

They were chosen based on their influence both on and off the field and their legacies will last for generations

1. Dorcus Inzikuru

The greatest achievement by a Ugandan woman in sport is Inzikuru’s 3,000m steeplechase world championship feat in 2005 - and she overcame remarkable odds to reach the top.

At just 17 in 1999, a stage when most of her peers were undecided about careers, Inzikuru hit the headlines when she struck gold in the 5,000m at the world junior championships in Chile and since then she has re-written several records.

However, between 2007 and 2010, Inzikuru was beset by injuries, while in between, she also had to take time off for maternity, briefly disrupting her career. But she is now back on track to rejuvenate her career.

2. Violet Kalisa (RIP)

She has by far the richest CV in sports administration for a woman. A national netball team star midfielder in the 60s, Kalisa served in various capacities in the local netball body UNA, where she took over the chairperson seat in 1979.

She also served on the National Council of Sports (NCS) board in the 80s and in 1992 she was appointed to head the interim committee of Uganda Amateur Athletics Federation (UAAF).

In 1991, local football body Fufa appointed her to head the probe committee into Uganda’s poor Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign. She also served on the Nakivubo Stadium Board from 1994 and in 1998 she was appointed to the Uganda Cranes fundraising committee.

However, Kalisa’s biggest influence on Ugandan sport came at her place of work – the ministry of Internal Affairs where she served as passport controller. In her capacity, she was in charge of processing passports for the sports fraternity, a task she did diligently for the various national teams – often on short notice.

There are many times when she saved the nation from dangerous embarrassments of players travelling to meets without proper documentation.

3. Catherine Adipo Wejuli

In her playing career, Wejuli featured as a centre for local volleyball giants KAVC for nearly two decades and was appointed national ladies team skipper in 1982.

In 1989, however, she switched allegiance to football refereeing – the first woman to achieve that – and officiated in several league matches before obtaining the highly coveted Fifa badge in 1995 –another first.

She officiated at the Africa Women Championship held in South Africa in 2000 and was selected again in 2002 for the same event in Nigeria. She returned to the West African country in 2003 for the All Africa Games and returned to South Africa for the women event in 2004.

She retired in 2006 and is now a referees instructor and assessor. At the same time, she is programme director for the International Olympic body IOC for Uganda and a lecturer at Kyambogo University in the Sports Science department. She also served as Kampala City Council Sports Officer from 1992-2000.

4. Mama Baker (RIP)

No woman has transcended Uganda’s football like Rebecca Namyalo Kazibwe a.k.a Mama Baker. She was Uganda’s national team cheerleader, and made her name as a diehard Express FC fan.

What made her stand out was the unrivaled vigour at matches where she led fans into singing and chanting to morale boost the team. Her giant size aside, she could dance and lead fans through songs. She was so emotional that she would shed tears if her team was on the receiving end.

Her love for Express saw her dumped into Makindye Military Police custody by soldiers in 1977 after a controversial game between Express and army side Simba FC.
Mama Baker was also one of the founders of women football and she was also a Fufa delegate representing the women for some time.

5. Margaret Bisereko Ayo

Bisereko holds the unprecedented record of the most all-round female athlete in Ugandan sport. The explosive athlete was a ‘jack of all trades’ in her heyday.

Not only was she a star at the tasking Pentathlon, Bisereko also excelled in netball, basketball, handball and volleyball, representing Uganda in all those disciplines in a career that spanned almost two decades.

She participated in several international meets but the highlight of her career was a pentathlon silver medal at the 1978 All Africa Games in Algeria. She is a qualified umpire in netball, handball and volleyball. Also a former She Cranes coach, Bisereko handled Umeme netball team.

6. Ruth Kyalisima

Her big breakthrough came at the 1978 All Africa Games, where she scooped silver in the 400m hurdles. She replicated the feat at the Commonwealth Games in 1982.

In 1988, Kyalisima was part of Uganda’s 4x400m relay team that won gold at the African Athletics Championships. Not only was she a star on the field, Kyalisima was also a natural born leader and captained the Uganda side many times at internal events – a rarity for a woman. She coached the Ugandan athletics women’s team.

7. Rebecca Kavulu

Kavulu’s legacy lies in administration, where her careful handling produced many netball officials. Having been part of Uganda’s contingency to the 1979 netball World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, she became secretary of the then UNA and succeeded Kalisa as the association boss till 1996.

She also coached KCC netball team for several years before graduating into an international umpire and instructor. She used the position to nurture many match officials and in recognition of her selflessness, she was elected Africa’s representative to the board of international netball body IFNA in 2008.

She currently sits on the executive of continental netball body Cana as a member.

8. Helen Buteme

The year was 2003. A surprise curtain raiser for the rugby Uganda Cup finale had been lined up. Never had the rugby fraternity watched women dish out tackles and hand-offs. That was about to change.

For 20 minutes, rugby fans watched first in bewilderment and then in awe as women played a 10-a-side game. One of those women was Helen Buteme, a player whose size belies her fearlessness.

A true trailblazer, Buteme was the first woman to engage in touch rugby with coach Jim Park. She made playing rugby fashionable amongst her peers who summarily jumped onto the bandwagon that was Thunderbirds RFC.

When Buteme played her first international against Rwanda in 2005, there was this feeling that her best days were still ahead of her.

And true, four years later in 2009, after so many bruises, hamstring strains and sprains, Buteme created a piece of Ugandan sporting history when she captained the national team – Lady Cranes – at the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

She had truly excelled where all Ugandan male ruggers had failed, making her a true sporting icon.

9. Susan Muwonge

Muwonge is a female rally driver and week after week, she proves to us all that we really can do anything irrespective of gender. She has excelled in a previously male-only sport where most women would be happy to compete.

Muwonge, however, has gone a step further – she has won rallies. Recently, she won the Mbarara rally and currently leads the national rally championship. That is quite an amazing accomplishment.

10. Peninah Kabenge

Kabenge is among the pioneers of women’s basketball in Uganda and, was a national team mainstay for more than a decade. She has also represented Uganda in athletics and most recently, woodball.

However, what makes Kabenge stand out is how her career in sports administration has touched hundreds of people – from upcoming players to administrators.

As a senior sports tutor at Makerere University, she is in charge of the entire sports programme at the university and her decisions are key to every budding athlete. She lectures in the Institute of Sports Science at Makerere University, Social Psychology of Sports, basketball and Track Athletics.

Kabenge is also a board member of the NCS as well as the Uganda Olympic Committee; she chaired the Sports and Environment Commission (2004-2008).

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