In the wake of Uganda's dismal showing at the London Olympics, there has been a public backlash with lots of finger-pointing from various stakeholders but in my opinion, until the government draws a line regarding priority to sport, the country looks set to endure many more years of mediocrity.
Long before Ugandans started the current wave of wishful thinking and daydreaming - in other words reaping from what they didn't sow - there used to be a systematic conveyor belt that tapped talent right from the grassroots to the international stage. There were no excuses or blame game and the country used to win or lose fair and square.
It's not that the government fully participated; not that sports administrators were the most competent and there weren't even huge financial rewards. The key ingredient for success was a conducive atmosphere for talent to flourish. Shanty places such as Mulago, Naguru and Nakivubo among others, used to be breeding grounds for future sports stars. All the government provided were training facilities through recreational grounds and the rest just fell into place.
In the past, budding athletes used to access recreational facilities without any barriers. A case in point is what used to be the Lugogo sports complex (It now appears like an industrial park following government's giveaway of most plots), where track and field athletes, footballers, boxers, and hockey players used to frequent on a daily basis without much ado.
The majority of the talent used to come from impoverished areas like Naguru Go-down, Nakawa, Kamwokya and Namuwongo. From free technical advice to free training gear, prospects at the time got everything without spending a single penny and in the process; it was an easy task for coaches to groom talent.
In the process, 'Hall of Fame' legends like footballers Moses Nsereko, Peter Mazinga, Phillip Omondi, Abbey Nasur, Swalleh Waswa, Ibrahim Dafala, Rashid Mudin, Ibrahim Magala; boxers Charles Lubulwa, John Mugabi, Dick Katende and Fred Muteweta; John Oduke (Tennis) and Yayiro Kasasa (Rugby) were discovered. Cricketers include Franco Nsubuga, Lawrence Sematimba, Roger Galiwango, Ronald Semanda, Joel Olweny and Daniel Ruyange.
The list is endless. At Nakivubo alone, top football prospects like Shaban Mwinda, George Mukasa, Godfrey Kisitu, Timothy Ayiekoh, Wilson Nsobya, John Mapera, Fred Sekasi, Badru Kakembo among others were unearthed. More products include boxers Ayub Kalule, Vitaris Bbege, Edward Bbosa, Mustafa Wasajja, Ismeal Galiwango and Godfrey Nyakana to mention but a few.
Weightlifting also produced Kawayida Semakula, Ali Kavuma, John Kanyolo and Sunrise Okiror while the netballers came up with Fatuma Nakato, Sophie Babirye, Dorothy Nakiryowa and Jane Namugambe.
Things fall apart
With time, custodians of the aforementioned facilities turned their back to sports and instead focused on income generating ventures. For one, the bigger section of the once-formidable KBC has been turned into lockup shops and in the few 'rooms' left for the boxing gym, pugilists have to cough a monthly Shs 150,000 for access.
Vast areas of the stadium now serve as parking lots. Lugogo is not any better. The indoor stadium, where different sports disciplines used to take place, was recently leased to MTN, which has the final say on who uses the arena. Just a few weeks to the London Olympics, Namboole Stadium management turned away the Uganda Athletics Federation, which was going to hold Olympic trials for athletes, in favour of a gospel show because the latter event was financially rewarding.
Last week, Uganda Cricket Association was barred from accessing the Lugogo Cricket Oval for the annual "Schools Cricket Week" and the event was shifted to Makerere University and Kyambogo University Cricket Ovals. The final was allowed to take place at the Oval but still, it was inconvenienced by the men erecting a musical stage for next week's international musical show by Sisqo.
At the newly renamed "MTN Arena," the Basketball body (Fuba) which is planning to host the regional Zone Five Basketball event, was blocked out by MTN from accessing the venue, arguing that the federation has to first acquire state-of-the-art hoops.
Surprisingly, other disciplines like volleyball, kickboxing were allowed. Even after Fuba sought redress in parliament and the prime minister, the National Council for Sports could only watch with their hands tied. To this day, Fuba is awaiting a conclusive decision.
Time has come for the government to declare whether sports is on its priority list or not. Government should know that it has an obligation to support and guide sports in the country. How can the government look on as recreation grounds and public facilities are given away to investors?
For almost two decades, government has shunned sports. Poor funding, negative attitude and lack of government support led to the collapse of disciplines such as boxing where Uganda was once a powerhouse. Out of a possible 45 disciplines under the NCS, only about 10 remain competitive at any level.
The less than Shs 1billion government grants the NCS each financial year is nothing considering that just one association - Fufa - operates an annual budget of at least Shs 4billion. What government should also tackle is the issue of taxation. Government heavily taxes sports equipment and activities yet in reality, they don't generate income for individuals.
Take the last two matches Uganda Cranes played against Senegal and Congo Brazzaville; Shs 92m went to VAT, Shs 90m to Namboole Stadium and Shs 64m to Police. This left zero investment by government in those two games. Granted, a sports policy was recently unveiled but it will remain useless until government takes the lead to implement it.
Lastly government support must also extend to helping weed out poor and corrupt sports administrators who rush to "share" whatever little funding is available from local or foreign sources. Those implicated in fraud should be quickly arrested and prosecuted.
Sports administrators hiding under the cover that Uganda will be banned is nonsense because previous government intervention has proved successful without any international band. All in all, I strongly believe that if government really had the goodwill of promoting sports in Uganda, it has the capacity to effect it.
This business of carrying champions shoulder-high, holding processions through the streets and hosting them in parliament is cosmetic without any action. Alternatively, let's sit back and cheer on other stars like Usain Bolt as we continue to dreaming of reaping from where we didn't sow.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.