6 April 2014

Uganda: Address These Athletes' Sexual Abuse Claims


For nearly a month now, a scandal has been brewing in Uganda's athletics community, and it is now evolving into another national embarrassment.

First, female athletes complained that one of their coaches was sexually harassing them. The coach, who has remained unnamed, reportedly threatened to act against the women if they did not accede to his sexual demands.

Some sources have incredibly claimed that the said coach clothed his demands in supposedly noble intentions - claiming that coitus was conducive to athletic excellence.

Although these claims are scandalous in an era when women's rights and protection of the 'girl-child' are major elements of public discourse and policy, what is becoming even more scandalous is the reaction of athletics authorities and the government as a whole.

The first, most pronounced reaction from the authorities was chillingly suspicious, not least because it tackled a messenger instead of addressing the message. Team Captain Moses Kipsiro, who had spoken out against the conduct of the coach, was inexplicably omitted from the national team.

Even then, many rationally-thinking Ugandans hoped that a thorough inquiry would follow what appeared like a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, what we have got has been a ping-pong of accusations between the police, the athletes and athletics authorities.

Obviously, in this matter, it is the athletes' word against the coach's; but it is imperative that senior officials from the Uganda Police Force, ministry of Education and Sports, and national Olympic committee take a keener interest in this matter.

Both the athletics federation and the Uganda police officers concerned are too involved in a messy affair to give the aggrieved and the public confidence that justice will be served.

Intervention from above is important not just to ensure justice to the real victims of this scandal, but also to restore confidence in national structures.

In a country in which gender-based sexual offences often go unreported, the prospect that those who get the courage to report are treated as suspects without due process is chilling.

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