Uganda: Babirye Giving Netball a New Look

How does it feel being at the helm of a powerful sport like netball?

It feels great, it is an honor and I am really grateful to my delegates for trusting me this much. That is why I am going to work hard and not disappoint them. I am ready to put in my whole and do all it takes. I am not the smartest, am not special in any way, I am really humbled for the trust these people put in me.

During campaigns, what were some of the challenges you faced and what helped you to a landslide victory?

The constitution was not clear about many things meaning we need a constitutional review. It would contradict itself so much and the former executive was not following it at all.

I had to travel to every district of Uganda to look for only two delegates and it was hectic. But with my political background, it was the best option for me.

You were a netball enthusiast, as we saw you play for the Parliament team, how come you didn't give a helping hand before becoming UNF president?

I have been very helpful to this federation. When She Cranes traveled to Liverpool for World Cup, I was there and I used my money. That takes a heart.

I did not miss any of their games, I was interacting with those girls and I was lobbying for them from the Parliamentary Sports Club but each time we went to madam Anek, she did not turn up.

Each time we wrote to the federation, she never responded. What else could I do? We tried to bring different women to support the game of the girl child, all we wanted was not money but physical appearance but Anek never turned up. I was not in any position to represent the game. The best option was to re -organise and come to take over.

The national team players who won back to back African Netball Championships in 2017 and 2018, are still waiting for President Museveni's promise of Shs20m each, what are you going to do to see that this pledge is fulfilled?

Those are the reasons why we want a hand over report because if these issues are written in the report then we can follow up from there.

But being new in office and I am just hearing that from you, there is no letter, no point of reference, how do you handle it?But if we get a hand over report we can follow up from there. I know how to follow up. There are committees in parliament that are in charge of following up on government and pledges of government officials. I was a member of that committee and I know the real procedure.

What good thing have you observed and learnt from your predecessors that you are willing to carry on with?

Keeping the She Cranes at that level, they deserve a credit. I learn a lot from them as far as that issue is concerned and I pledge that I will do my best with my team and we shall talk to these girls, we shall work hard to make sure we make Uganda even improve to better placement. They have made us proud.

Which are your most dreaded mistakes by your predecessors?

There have been no transparency in everything and no team work. They have been so secretive. Their management has been characterised by lack of response to communication. They never gave their time to netball and they were not always in office. Player motivation was also unheard of. These are among the things am keen to avoid in my tenure.

Whom do you think you can work with among the previous executive?

I think all of them have their strengths and weaknesses just like any other human beings. But I will not lie to you. I do not know them because I have not worked with them before and not been near them. I do not want to say they are bad or good.

Your predecessors had a very good relationship with National Council of Sports (NCS), how is your relationship with the sports' governing body so far?

I have no problem with them. Whatever we are supposed to be sharing is official business. It is not that they are my enemies, it is not like I have had any issue with them.So I think they are okay and they are doing their work and I am not complaining because each time we have tried to reach out to them they have welcomed us.

Just as you see, we came in late and the budget was already passed. As far as UNF is concerned we did not have a budget and a work plan but they have been lenient with us and given us enough time to prepare all we need.

How are you going to improve the She Cranes team?

We have a number of talented girls and all we have to do is to re-organise. We have to set up different youthful teams of all age structures and these will feed the national team.

We need to motivate these ladies, talk to them about the importance and honour you get when playing for your country. We need to empower and encourage them and even reward excellence for players, coaches, umpires and team managers.

The national league has been criticized for being poor as well as having congested fixtures. What are you going to do about this?

We are going to re-open the league a fresh. We are in preparation but I do not know when it will re-start. I think it is not fair to gain nothing from playing the league and even at the national team the treatment is not that good.These are the things we are going to look into and see how to approach them. I am a netballer myself and I do not believe in fixture congestion because this body needs to rest. These girls are human beings, they need to rest.

Why do you think Uganda has few professional netball players and how can you help to boost those numbers?

We have not marketed our players. Believe me if we did that, the whole of Europe would be having Ugandan players.

The two professional players are there because their talent was just too much. We shall put up a system that we should be having friendly matches every year to show case what we have in as far as netball talent is concerned.

I was talking to the president of Morocco recently and he wanted me to look for some girls and he is ready to come to Uganda to see how we play and he wants their girls to learn from Uganda. Inviting other countries will help our girls land professional ranks.

Do you plan to stand for another term?

I cannot say that right now because that will depend on my performance. For sure if I accomplish 60 percent of our mission, I will come back but if I fail, I would not want to waste my time.

Why did you lower yourself from a member of parliament to a mere sports federation president?

When I am doing something that I love, I do not look at protocol. If I can serve and cause some impact, I would not want to look at protocol. I want to do something that pleases my heart. I enjoy this job the most.

Why did you decide to recruit coaches through advertising and how do you think this will impact Uganda's netball?

We want to professionalise the game and I hate this issue of appointing coaches. What if there is someone better. I want all these coaches to go for interviews, I hate this business of saying that let me pick so and so because he is my friend. If we are talking of professionalising the sports, let us give all of them a chance. I am pushing for government to pay our coaches but if they fail, we shall have to look for money because we want quality.

That will also help players to play in a good environment other than having a coach that you are not going to be paying well and he will be getting bribes from these girls to put them on the team.

What are your favourite netball moments for team Uganda?

All the time we were in Liverpool watching World Cup, the stadium was full to capacity. People would even come looking for tickets to watch Uganda's games like a week to the games but they were finished.

Meaning the netball that Uganda is playing is so good to the extent that no one would want to miss it. That really made me proud of the team and whoever was behind it. Nobody believed that Uganda could play that well, meaning we can surprise them more.

This is your first year in office, what is your administration's priority?

We have 12 priorities and these are the things we have been sharing with our voters during the campaigns. One is to play better netball.

If we are number seven in the world, my humble prayer would be that we bridge the gap from seven to five, to three, two and one. Another is securing a home for the federation. We think we need a home. Not a rented one but we need to buy land and build permanent structures. We are ladies and a lady should be having a decent home.Another issue is to take netball to the grass root. This business of netball being played in Kampala, Mukono and Wakiso bores me. I would love to see netball in all the districts of Uganda whereby we shall be able to tap talents, nurture them and market them.

We need to find other clubs outside Uganda and we connect our players to them because this helps in job creation which can make their families better and by the time this player retires, she will have made some investments for her people. We need to build capacities for our people including managers, coaches and umpires. We need to have contracts with outlined conditions regarding player transfers. We need our game to be organised.

What have you achieved in this short period of time?

We have managed to rebrand netball and also embark on securing and launching a new office for the sport.

What challenges have you faced so far?

This being a lockdown our work has been limited. We had a plan of visiting all the stake holders including member districts and clubs, club managers and discuss with them a number of issues but we have not done so.We wanted to review our constitution after meeting with the above people as well as meeting all players. However we hope to do so after the lockdown has been lifted.

I have come to netball when there are so many wrangles. People hate each other, they talk bad behind others' backs. They do not want to work together. There are so many camps and I am trying to unite all these camps such that we work as a team.

We have advertised the coaching job but the feedback am receiving is that these people are blackmailing each other. I really hate working in such an environment and I really pray that we finally get the best coach.

With whose help have you been able to re-brand netball?

First of all, it is God that is behind us. We do not have anyone behind us so far but as leaders we believe in good packaging. Once you wrongly package whatever you are selling, nobody will pick interest in it. As an executive we chose to find all means of doing this. This is not Sarah alone, this is me with my team. Whatever little resources we got from ourselves and friends is what we have used. We have not accessed any Uganda Netball Federation (UNF) funds because we are not yet signatories.

It is said that you assumed power before the old executive officially handed over to you as a previous AGM stated that the outgoing had to hand over power on August 2 because of ongoing arrangements for international tournaments . What do you say about this?

What we want from the former executive is not handing over power to us. In fact if they are claiming to be still in power that is impersonation.

After elections, the previous president was requested by the presiding officer to give her last remarks and resolve her assembly which she did and a new executive was requested to take over, and that was the handover.

All we want from Madam Susan Anek and her team is a hand over report which she is yet to provide. You cannot have two governments.

Talking about the decision of the AGM, there was no mover and seconder of the motion that former executive should keep in power till August. It was just mentioned but never debated upon. Now does that mean there was a resolution to keep them in office until August?

You and Anek recently attended an African meeting, what really transpired?

They invited the two of us and when it was time for Uganda to present, it is madam Anek who did so. They did not give me the order paper, and after that they invited me at the last minute after other presidents putting them on pressure.

I had a lot of questions for them. Questions like "Why am I here if Anek is presenting on behalf of Uganda, are we having two presidents here, are they creating sections in Uganda's netball?"

So in the end they chose to allow the both of us just to be observers. Then it came to a motion of re-electing to replace Anek on the African committee.

Personally I did not qualify for the post because the law says for someone to stand, she must have served on her country's executive for three years and I don't have that experience. But as Uganda we have people who qualify. That lot is not for me but it is for Uganda, I might have chosen to put Anek as a committee member or a board of trustee such that we retain our seat, former general secretary Annet Kisomose or Rosette Kaala also qualify.

But the outgoing executive's plan was to block me such that I do not take any other person from Uganda to claim that slot and the African committee's mission was to block Anek and our seat be taken and indeed they succeeded as Uganda had no candidates.The voting was done but we decided to petition since only five of the 19 member countries voted. I have been working upon it with my lawyer. We need to fight for that slot.

There are some men who have chosen to play the sport and they have always cried foul of being under looked and not taken care of. How are you going to help them as a president?

We need to empower them, we need to take care of them as a federation, we should also be having a league for men that is known and well facilitated just like the women's league. We need to give them equal opportunities at all levels, look for ways of them leaving Uganda and involve in competitions outside. We shall also look for more young boys to adopt the game and get them a coach.

For long netball has not had any dignified sponsors, how are you going to handle this problem?

Just like you know we were voted to office on June 5, we did not find anything. There was no work plan, no strategic plan, no budget, so we have been working on these issues.We have been talking with a number of potential people who could be our sponsors, we have just finished all those documents and we are waiting. When we get acceptance from those sponsors, we shall let you know. We have a marketing team as well as an office for that.

UNF has always had poor publicity. What is the problem and how are you going to change this?

I think there was a big gap between the UNF and media houses. This time round we have created an office where our publicity officer will be meeting media and we shall be having a press conference every week.

If you freely share information with media, they will definitely be following and understanding what is going on. But the moment you do things from under the table, they will want to hunt and look for what you are covering up and in the process a lot of mess will be seen. So we do plan to work with the media teams and this is a public office. We do not have to hide anything.

Babirye at a glance

I have a twin brother. I come from a polygamous family. We are too many children. I love all my mothers, brothers and sisters. I am a sports woman. I play netball, volleyball and golf. I also used to run before I became a mother.

Our parents did not like sports and they tried as much as possible to prevent us but I used to insist on playing netball at school. I did my primary from Luwero SDA, secondary at Mulusa Academy Wobulenzi, and graduated from Uganda Cristian University in Mukono with a first class degree in Public Administration and Management.

I was a Youth Councilor for Mukono District Council while in school, served as a Chairperson of all youth councilors in Uganda, Youth Member of Parliament for Central Region plus serving on various committees in parliament including the committee of East African Affairs, Committee of Health among others. I am married with two kids; a girl and a boy.

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