There was a time the Commonwealth Games meant everything to Uganda. Indeed, the games provided one of the most famous sports quotes in Ugandan history.
Shortly after the Ugandan contingent returned from the 1974 games in Christchurch, New Zealand, delegation leader Rev Pollycarp Kakooza lamented before President Amin that Uganda would have returned with a bigger medal haul had it not been for the poor officiating, especially in boxing.
The statement drew loud cheers of consolation from the team but Amin didn’t buy the excuse, instead, he said: “You should not leave the decision to the judges…knock out your opponent and remove all doubt.”
Such was Commonwealth Games aura that Ugandans looked forward with anticipation every four years. Even through the eighties and nineties, there used to be a distinctive hype surrounding the games.
However, I have observed in recent years that the games have lost a bit of steam, particularly in regard to how local sports administrators rate their relevance. Ugandans have been left to praise medal winners but with little regard to other participants who don’t win medals.
At the ongoing Games in Gold Coast, Joshua Cheptegei and Stella Chesang have already won gold. However, it is quite clear they achieved the feats not because of the best efforts by the relevant authorities, but through their personal hard work and desire to win.
This indignation can best be seen in the composition of the delegation that travelled to Gold Coast. In the build-up, there was a loud cry from various sports administrators for government funding.
I would have expected various bodies such as Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC) and the National Council of Sports (NCS) to lobby for the inclusion of more athletes given that the games have a relatively low qualification mark across sports disciplines. Besides, several other sports prospects would get valuable international exposure.
Instead, Uganda’s contingent to Gold Coast had the number of officials (56) nearly matching that of athletes (69).
At the moment, the sports sector, particularly NCS, has come to a standstill because the top brass from Charles Bakkabulindi, the state minister for sports, to the NCS chairman Bosco Onyik and his general secretary Nicholas Muramagi is all camped in Gold Coast. When you factor in the fact that Muramagi’s assistant David Katende is also away, it is evident there is no top-level business at Lugogo NCS headquarters.
It is the same situation at UOC where president William Blick, his vice Ambrose Tashobya, treasurer Donald Rukare and secretary Dunstan Nsubuga all travelled.
In what looks like a free holiday retreat for the top sports administrators, several other sports administrators who could not get direct accreditation travelled disguised as coaches, managers or media attaches. That’s how Uganda ended up with five netball coaches! Need I mention that the team also had five members of parliament?
At the end of the day, government will have spent nearly Shs 5bn by April 14 when the games end, with almost a quarter of that going on officials’ travel expenses, per diem, and shopping.
I know a former personal assistant to then sports minister Henry Okello Oryem who took his mother to the 2002 Manchester games as an official.
This time round, the same officials will be back to marvel about the state-of-the-art facilities in Australia yet about Shs 1bn would have been saved to cater for the improvement of local sports facilities. For instance, Uganda still lacks a modern netball court while local boxing body UBF doesn’t even own a ring.
When the dust settles, focus will switch to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the same officials will start plotting who goes and who is left out. Don’t be surprised if the same people will again be the ones to travel.
In other words, such international competitions offer a free tourism getaway for officials.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.