Uganda sent about a dozen athletes to the Olympic 2012 games in London, captained by a bright, young man of 32 named Ganzi Mugula, himself a swimmer in the 50m free style discipline.
Outside of Uganda, Mugula has really never made much of a swimming impression, despite likely having the talent and hunger to compete at the very top. He practiced in a dilapidated 25 meter pool at Makerere University and even if he had done nothing else but swim, Uganda has less than a handful of Olympic-size swimming pools in the entire country and gaining access to them can be prohibitively expensive.
Mugula’s international competition, the swimmers who actually stood a chance to win, do nothing else but prepare for such big stages, have the most qualified coaches and conditioning, dietitians, medical advisers and facilities which they take full advantage of for the entire four years before they step on the starting blocks. So, at 32, Mugula himself knew that he stood no chance at all of getting out of the qualifying rounds, and that he had gone to London merely as a tourist.
This wouldn’t have been a problem had Mugula been 20. At that age, you want to give an ambitious young man the chance to experience what could be and hope that he will get the drive to push the boulder up the mountain of national disinterest to the highest levels. But Uganda instead chose a faded, over-the-hill, has-been to not only represent us in a discipline he had no chance whatsoever at, they also asked him to carry Uganda’s flag ahead of younger men and women who could actually be inspired to excel where Mugula clearly hasn’t.
That is the tale of the tape in these third world countries that look at sport merely as a curiosity and thus pay scant attention to nurturing sporting talent.
In 1972, after only one international competition, Akii-Bua arrived at the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. His opposition in the 400-meter hurdles included Dave Hemery of Britain, the world record-holder and defending Olympic champion, and Ralph Mann, an American. His only pair of running shoes was two years old, and one shoe was missing a spike.
But he was built ideally (6 feet 2 inches and 170 pounds), and he had trained with frightening intensity. In the six months before the Olympics, his training had included wearing a vest weighted with 25 pounds in lead as he ran 1,500 meters over five hurdles that were 42 inches high — the hurdles for his race were 36 inches. He did four sets of those repetitions, twice a day, every day. (excerpt from John Akii Bua’s obituary by Frank Litsky published June 25 1997)
What has gone wrong? Simple: government disinterest. Idi Amin Dada, himself a boxer of some renown, understood what was needed to excel. He thus supported that discipline and other sports unreservedly. Uganda’s record in athletics and, especially in boxing, in the 1970s at both at the Olympics and Commonwealth games speaks for itself. Compare that with the boxing situation in 2012 and you can be forgiven for crying tears of despair.
Schools in Uganda do nothing beyond rote teaching to tests. Sports is treated as a pastime and some schools have totally given up on any kind of organized team sports activities. You thus have to ask yourself where the sporting talent is going to come from when the youth are not getting any chance at sports at games.
Clearly, what we need is an overbearingly sportive president to push the country in that area; one who will divert money away from the tried and failed rote learning into sports of all hues; one who will insist that every school has to give a serious chance to children to try out their talents in athletics, boxing, swimming, soccer etc., but especially in athletics and boxing which we already know black people (Africans) are really good at when fully prepared.
Instead, you now have the embarrassing situation of Ugandan officials awarding themselves huge per diem allowances while the athletes, overshadowed by the number of officials who accompanied them, are allocated a pittance.
Every single decision the Ugandan sports officials seem to have made in the run-up to these games has been wrong, and there is little sign that the situation will be any different in four years’ time.
Where are on earth are our senses? What on earth are our priorities?