The Uganda Olympics debacle and why Idi Amin would change things.

The recent Olympics held in Brazil as with so many others before begun with optimism for Ugandan athletes and the nation at large but ended in despair and yet again embarrassment.  Uganda’s athletics community as with much of the nation’s sports structures are somewhat of a farce. The reason for such travesty can be attributed to the lack of support systems for the sportsmen and women in the nation’s struggling competitive sports arena.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon an Aljazeera article that revealed the plight of sustaining “membership” in the fraternity of competitive sports in Uganda. The piece focused on the challenges faced by Uganda’s only female boxers whose struggles have been reduced to lack of boxing gloves, trainers and have even been denied the honor of engaging in competitions. For any sportsman or woman, to be rejected the opportunity to participate in a competition can be equated to telling a musician not to sing. This is the sad reality of some of the struggles faced by Uganda’s sports community that could be described as deflated optimism.

1Image Source: Edward Echwalu

The lack of interest or moral incline to competitive sports in the nation is embarrassing. As much as vibrant support is always evident at the time of competition, as witnessed with the enthusiasm of a Uganda Cranes qualifier match or a rugby tussle with our neighbors Kenya, this by no means shows that we ignore to support our men and women when they need it. The embarrassment however comes when we fail to understand the morality of sports.

The global success and attraction of the British domestic football leagues that are a captivation to many Ugandans is not a recent development but rather a long tradition of homegrown moral support. As much as financial support is the epitome of a successful sports system, we should consider that without the loyal support from Manchester, Holloway and Liverpool’s ardent residents, the English Premier League giants of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal would not be phenomenal today. For examples closer to home, we can look at Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt which all boast of vibrant domestic leagues that even attract Ugandan players who deem them lucrative platforms since they offer the opportunity to join a European football club.

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The success of these African domestic league leaders is not entirely financial but rather its radical fan base that makes it economically viable for investment. This has been the challenge faced in resurrecting Uganda’s domestic leagues with investors having a tendency of pulling out support due to lack of financial returns since the stands are almost empty of spectators. So if we fail to gain the moral support, what is there to be done?

The only thing that speaks louder to Ugandans more than even patriotism is money. By rewarding the nation’s sports competitors with financial gain could prove to be a solution. Financial motivation is largely a factor that explains the success of Kenya’s athletics community and reasons for its government support since monetary trophies attract a tax levy. Uganda has tried it a less grandeur scale as we remember with the likes of Michael Ezra’s notorious financial muscle to the Uganda Cranes and recent attempts by “city tycoon” Jack Pemba.

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Competitive sports has turned to entertainment in an attempt to forge an existence so much so that kickboxing is less attractive sport wise but more lucrative as a social event . We witness this through the success of Golala Moses a sportsman turned socialite.

Idi Amin is historically known for boosting the notoriety of Uganda’s sportsmen in the 1970s himself having been the light heavyweight boxing champion from 1951 to 1960.


It was in the era of his brutal dictatorial regime that Uganda attained Olympic gold medal glory with the world record fete of John Aki Bua. The support the Idi Amin provided transcended financial, he could relate to the sportsmen because he understood their plight and aspirations. Noted for being an ardent boxer and swimmer, he provided a mentor figurative role that created a sort of assurance among the sportsmen that their nation was behind them. Without an Idi Amin, Uganda’s sportsmen and women have to see beyond support from the nation and dig deeper within themselves to channel their plight into a resilience to overcome their obstacles and maybe attain glory that has long been denied.

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Failure at Olympics does not entirely mean that the nation has not met success in other sporting completions. We boast of being the most holder of the Cecafa regional football championship. Duncan Mugabe represents a young breed of the nation’s sportsmen, with his success placing him as East Africa’s best. The nation’s women netball team last year reached the final of the world championships and proudly represented with a first win position. Not forgetting the one time successes of Dorcas Inzikuri and Stephen Kiprotich that had almost reignited the hopes of Olympic gold among Ugandans. Some of you may not know that Uganda has some of the world’s best female chess player, that is if you know Ivy Claire Amoko and of course the one champion Phiona Mutesi that inspired a Disney movie “Queen of Katwe”.

6Woman FIDE Master holder Ivy Claire Amoko

The success stories of Ugandan sportsmen are countless and some are even unknown. To demand success from them and ridicule their failures is selfish of us and only exposes our warped mentalities of nationhood and the meaning of true sportsmanship.


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