By Thomas Odongo
2018 is now water under the bridge and various individuals have made assessment of their resolutions then. Whether the resolutions were fulfilled or not, 2019 is already here and there is no hiding from it no matter your walk of life.
For the case of rugby in Uganda, 2018 had its highs and lows. The biggest moment was Uganda’s participation in the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, USA where they finished 19th out of 24 nations albeit making their global debut.
In the ladies rugby, Lady Rugby Cranes Sevens claimed silver at the Africa Sevens in Botswana after losing to neighbors Kenya Lionesses in the main cup finals.
Locally, it was interesting to witness Black Pirates complete a treble in the men’s local top tier after dominating top sides like Heathens, Buffaloes and Kobs.
However, some aspects of the game gave the eagle eyed fans sleepless nights and the issues below must be addressed if rugby is to become one of the top five sports in the country.
Elgon Cup Jinx, The annual two-legged Elgon Cup tournament between Uganda and Kenya is becoming one-sided for the men from the ‘Hakuna Matata’ land have been dominant in the last three fixtures. Uganda last won this tournament in 2015 and might take long to re-climb the mountain if they do not return to the drawing board.
For long now, some Ugandan players have crossed to Kenyan teams yet the reverse is not true. Asuman Mugerwa (Rugby Cranes Captain) - Kabras Sugar RFC, Eliphaz Emong - Kabras Sugar RFC, Aaron Ofoirwoth - Harlequins, Pius Ogena - Kabras Sugar RFC, James Odongo – Nondies, Solomon Okia – Harlequins and Philip Wokorach - Kabras Sugar RFC are Kenyan based players featuring in the Uganda national team. They all played against Kenya Simbas in last year’s Elgon Cup but failed to tame their Kenya top tier league rivals.
The first leg of the Elgon Cup is always the first international fixture of the year for Rugby Cranes and poor display in it always dictates how the teams will turn up in the Gold Cup. Hence, those concerned have a duty to ensure that the team gets off the mark first in the Elgon Cup before embarking on other outings.
Rugby Cranes Static Position at the Gold Cup tournament, For the past three years, Rugby Cranes have finished third at the Rugby Africa Gold Cup. In 2018, Rugby Cranes won only two out of five fixtures and managed nine points and finished way behind Namibia and Kenya respectively. They won at home against Morocco and Tunisia but lost on the road against Kenya and Namibia. They again lost at home against Zimbabwe in the season finale. In the final game, Uganda would have remained third whether they had otherwise won or drawn.
Ladies rugby, Lady Rugby Cranes Coach, Helen Koyokoyo Buteme was on March 8, 2018 awarded a national Golden Jubilee medal during the International Women's Day Celebrations held in Mityana District in a function graced by H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, among other top government officials. She was lauded for her devotion towards rugby in the country.
In 2018, the ladies national team participated in only one international tournament - Africa Sevens in Botswana. Their male counterparts though had more tournaments including friendly fires against foreign legions.
Never the less, Buteme has embarked on organizing rugby clinics where she inaugurates young females into the game all over Uganda but she needs a lot of support.
National team players’ arrears, Playing in the national rugby team alone cannot sustain the players’ livelihoods for the wages are reportedly very low. Sometimes these arrears do not come in full figures or even delay, something that has made players attempt to boycott international games save for the Sevens side that has a Guinness financial backing.
Unprofessional Touchline Judges, One of the ‘diseases’ affecting local rugby is lack of touchline judges. In most cases, ‘idle kids’ assume the touchline judge role especially in games away from Kampala.
During the first leg of the Jinja derby between Jinja Hippos and Walukuba Barbarians, an unprofessional judge cancelled Hippos two tries and they lost the game at the end of the day. Even the center match officials sometimes have been faulted for unfair calls.
Other issues that should be addressed this year are problems within local clubs. This way the national teams will benefit from the organization of clubs.