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SPORTS CULTURE: A forgotten ingredient in Ugandan schools

Jinja Secondary School players celebrate wildly after winning the much sought after 2017 Copa Coca Cola national schools football championship

Jinja Secondary School players celebrate wildly after winning the much sought-after 2017 Copa Coca-Cola national schools football championship (PHOTO/File)

Outstanding sports personalities such as Dennis Onyango, David Obua, and Joshua Cheptegei among others have constantly reminded Ugandans that amidst all the struggle the sports fraternity goes through, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

These personalities have gained recognition in Uganda and beyond for their unique talent. For instance, in 2016, Onyango helped Mamelodi Sundown win four trophies, including the Premier Soccer League, the Champions League, the CAF Super Cup, and Telkom Knockout. In that same year, he was named African football player of the year, a milestone he holds in high regard. Obua was instrumental in helping Kaizer Chiefs win the Absa Cup and SAA Supa cup in 2006. Cheptegei became the tenth man in history to hold the 5000m and 10000m world records concurrently. He also set a world record for the 15-kilometer road race and became the world cross country champion in 2019.

If you take time and trace the journeys of the above sports personalities, you are likely to find out that non was in a conducive environment while growing up. Individual effort and to a certain extent luck, you will find out, have played a key role in propelling them to where they are today.

There’s a belief that Uganda has the ability to churn out more outstanding sports personalities if the environment in which talented young men and women grow up is conducive to nurturing talent.

What is disheartening lately is the fading sports culture in most schools. Schools are often regarded as places a country’s young ones can discover what they are good at. Sports, entertainment, networking, and ingenuity to mention but a few. Schools today are not paying enough attention to things like nurturing sports talent in schools something likely to cost the country in the near future.

Where is the problem?

Maggie Lubega, a parent to four school-going children, says part of the problem is the laxity by the Ugandan Government to promote sports in schools. She says however much a child is talented in a particular sport, it becomes hard if they are not getting enough support at the schools where they go to.

“There hasn’t been enough government effort to promote sports. The government is supposed to equip schools with the necessary equipment to enable sports activities to run smoothly, but they haven’t. It has looked on as schools drop sports in schools,” she says.

Asked whether she thinks parents have done enough to support talented children, Lubega says most Ugandan parents are disadvantaged by a lack of enough finances to support their children. She says in such circumstances, the Ugandan Government has to step up and support talented children who are from poor family backgrounds.

Namubiru Gladys, a parent to two school-going children, says besides Government not doing enough to promote sports in schools, some parents are not willing to support their children partly because they feel a sports career isn’t worthy.

“Our government hasn’t done enough to help promote sports in schools. Some parents too have not done enough to support their children,” she says, adding that, “lack of finances much as it is an important need should not be a limitation to supporting a talented child.”

Kawaga Abbey Jimmy, a sports and science teacher at Misindye Church of Uganda Primary School, says the mushrooming unregulated private schools have played a key role. The private schools, he says, put more emphasis on academics other than on sports.

“There are a lot of private schools that have mushroomed over the years. These schools do whatever they want. Most only focus on academics and not sports. Most have been set up in small spaces that don’t allow any kind of sports activity which has affected sports,” he says.

Additionally, Kawaga also says Government hasn’t put in place policies that would help encourage sports in schools.

“Previously, as long as a child was in primary school, they were free to participate in any kind of sports activity. This has since changed. As of now, policies have changed. There are a lot of conditions for a child to participate in any kind of sports activity. They will tell you that they need one child to participate in like seven sports leaving out a number of others. Schools used to bring a lot of children back then. Policies now don’t favor the development of sports,” he says.

Kawaga also says Government has also allocated less money to the sports sector which in turn has resulted in less revenue for schools.

“People in the sports sector earn little money partly because the sector hasn’t been supported that much. Facilities are not enough to support the development of sports. As a result, parents end up discouraging their children from participating in sports. If you look at sports personalities, most are struggling financially. No parent would encourage their children to go into sports if the few who have gone there are grassing,” he added.

Duncans Mugumya, the commissioner of physical education and sports Ministry of Education, says the sports sub-sector has been gravely affected by COVID-19 effects.

“These days the economy still has challenges because of the COVID-19  pandemic, however, the situation will not remain like that,” he says.

What needs to be done?

Mugumya says the Ministry of Education and Sports is in the process of introducing more sports activities.

“We are partnering with national federations and associations and educational institutions’ sports associations like Uganda Secondary Schools Sports Associations and others to make that more sports activities are introduced in schools,” he says.

Mugumya says that to further improve sports in schools, “we are looking at working with all stakeholders; parents, schools, religious leaders, and the media to sensitise students, parents, and communities about the importance of sports in schools.”

“Participation in sports helps in shaping character, fighting none communicable  diseases, income generating, teaches teamwork and helps reduce strikes since learners are kept busy,” says Mugumya adding that, “Sports also help in the proper functioning of the brain.”

Mugumya also says that the current improved performance of the sports subs-sector has come as a result of the moral and financial support from the head of state, President Yoweri Museveni, through the education ministry which is headed by the First Lady, Janet Museveni.

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