With Uganda's medal hopes all but resting on athletes, the Beijing Olympics looks set to become the worst ever Ugandan odyssey at the Games. Weightlifter Mubarak Kivumbi didn't break any sweat on his exit while battling badminton star Edwin Ekiring was treated to a skillful masterclass in the Round of 32.And even though boxer Ronald Serugo was yet to step into the ring by press time, odds are glaringly stuck against him progressing into the medal bracket. Yet for the swimming pair of Aya Nakitanda and Gilbert Kaburu, exposure was their highlight. All this looks set to make the Beijing Olympics more memorable for the off field sagas that threaten to overshadow the competition.
Kivumbi hot air
The elimination of weightlifter Mubarak Kivumbi without lifting an ounce sparked off angry protests from Uganda Olympic Committee officials (UOC) who claim that the athlete was "unjustly treated" by the Olympic organisers by not informing the team about the new rules alterations. According to local weightlifting boss Salim Musoke, also Kivumbi's father, "organisers informed Kivumbi at the eleventh hour that he was to compete in the 56kg category instead of 62kg that he's been training over the last one year." That's as far as Musoke wants to discuss the issue.
However, facts reveal that Kivumbi actually knew he was going to Beijing as a tourist and not as an athlete. In his own biography he sent to the International weightlifting body in July (iwf.net), the 17 year-old (sic) acknowledged he was scheduled to compete in the 56kg and stated that he weighed 58 kg at the time.
However, he noted that he had been involved in a car accident in June, which under normal circumstances would have ruled him out of the Games.
Further records back home indicate that Kivumbi's coach Lanny Kimbowa, also his brother, is actually a wrestler. Kimbowa is the secretary of the local wrestling body (UWF), which ironically is also headed by their dad Musoke.
A top UOC official who preferred anonymity says that the IOC 56kg tripartite invitation should have gone to Ismail Katamba but "nepotism" prevailed over sportsmanship.
As recent as last year's Africa Junior Championships, Katamba won gold for Uganda competing in the 56kg while Kivumbi participated in the 62kg division at the same tournament. A source in Beijing said that Kivumbi was not training and spent most of time visiting Beijing's tourist centres.
Officials Vis a Vis Athletes
As a result, the Ugandan delegation is dominated by team officials that outnumber the athletes by four to one. A Beijing source says that there are several businessmen and family members disguising as team officials at the Olympic village.
One NCS board member said that the presence of Sports Commissioner Daniel Tamwesigire and his assistant Omara Apita at the Games was an "abuse of office" since the pair's primary role is monitoring sports within government institutions. The member added that NCS was actually supposed to send the secretary Jasper Aligawesa but due to his bad blood with UOC, the latter's top brass decided to go with Justin Ligyalingi, whose leave, according to the source, wasn't approved by the NCS board.
The situation hasn't been helped by the reported bickering over the $50 daily allowances. Some athletes are said to have rejected it as 'peanuts.'
Every Olympic year, the IOC sends cheap return air tickets to every national Olympic association as part of the effort to boost the Olympic spirit. The tickets are meant to be allocated to Ugandans willing to go and watch the Games but they are said to have ended up in the hands of businessmen. Our source adds that these people, mainly from Kikuubo, seize the opportunity to buy cheap untaxed goods in the name of Olympic guests.
A UOC source alleged that around 800 Olympic tickets, which guarantee a Chinese Visa, were sourced to Kampala lawyer John Kaggwa to sell them to these businessmen by UOC bosses. It's said the tickets go for $2000, an eighth of their original value.
Efforts to contact Kaggwa were futile as he was said to be in South Africa on a business trip.
So while this is not the first time Uganda is embroiled in such debacles, Beijing offers a telling trend of how Ugandan officials behave at the Games.
The 1992 Barcelona Games are best remembered for the several Kampala businessmen that dominated the delegation. The leader of delegation, then sports minister Amanya Mushega arrived at the Olympic village only to find his room occupied by continental football body (CAF) president Issa Hayatou who had been booked in by then FUFA president John Semanobe. As a result, Mushega squeezed into an athlete's rooms.
That said, there is little the ministry or NCS can do because UOC is an independent body and it's even harder accessing damning information the mere fact that it employs personnel from the media.