UGANDA NETBALL SHINES IN HON KITYOS REIGN AMIDST OBSTACLES
BY EMMANUEL SEKAGO
Some Uganda sports federations and Associations leaders hate Media not knowing it is another wing that acts as a watchdog for the works of government agencies, organizations and other fields, especially when they involve tax payers’ money.
But not the case of Uganda netball federation whose leadership under Hon Sarah Babirye Kityo embrace all critics’ and in it has made the federation shine Well, and today we look into the game of Netball, especially the first year of Hon Sarah Babirye Kityo’s leadership of Netball.
We need to understand that Hon Babirye and her team came into power on June 5th 2021, heading the game now for a year and two months plus some few days with a twelve (12) points’ manifesto when searching for trust from the stakeholders in the game of Netball.
Among the points that headlined her bid for the top leadership office in the federation were; Securing a home for the Netball family in Uganda, Taking the game to the grassroots, Marketing and sponsorship of the sport, Netball infrastructure in the country, Recognizing and awarding excellence in Netball, capacity building of Netball stakeholders, promoting Corporates in Netball, Establishment of a Netball Secretariat in line with the UNF constitution, Strengthening culture through Netball, Promotion of Equality in the game of Netball and Proper Accountability.
As watchdogs, we had to evaluate the progress of her leadership, also know some of the stumbling blocks that hindered her from achieving all the objectives according to the strategic plan and the driving forces that helped her to hit the success bar in some of them.
Before I enlighten the signs of her success as the president of Netball in Uganda which are clearly visible to the public eye, let me first pen down the challenges that she has faced from achieving ultimate success.
We all know that Hon Sarah Babirye and team found Uganda in Netball ranked seventh (7th) on the world scene and third (3rd) on Africa continent, but the number never represented the leadership and the running of the business on ground. One should understand internal wrangles were the order of the day and amazingly, they were fueled by external forces.
It’s on record that the previous leadership never wanted to leave office, though the constitution was not supporting them but Hon Sarah Babirye’s coming caught them off guard wanting to be loyal, straight forward, and over ambitious was one of the reasons that dragged her into the fights with some top officials at NCS and some at Africa Netball.
It should be noted that it all started with the National Male Netball team aka the (ROCK) trip to South Africa in 2021. The National Council of Sports (NCS) revealed that they gave UGX- 100million to the contingent, but in actual sense, it was less, and yet the NCS wanted for the accountability of UGX-100 million from the Netball Body. Before it’s settled another issue emerged in November 2021, the trip to Namibia, involving the Pent Series and Africa Netball Championship funds. That trip caused Hon Sarah Babirye problems but with the help of God and being smart enough she wouldn’t be in office by now.
The first report we received showed that Hon Babirye misbehaved while in Namibia and put the nation’s pride in dispute, and the report continued to reveal that Africa Netball wrote a letter to the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports asking the Honorable Minister to punish Babirye for indiscipline and if the First Lady wasn’t a listening mother, Hon Babirye wouldn’t be in office by now, per say, but thanks the First Lady took time and gave ears to both parties.
In her defense Hon Babirye gave her version of the issue, highlighting on syndicates which also other countries complained about and that she was fighting for the rights of the National flag, we all know our motto clearly states “FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY”.
Hon Babirye faced off Anek; The former UNF president and now the NCS Board Member, Ms. Susan Anek, in simple terms, first refused to officially hand over office to the new federation president. Earlier, I informed you that elections took place in June 2021, but the hand over came in September 2021. After a long battle which saw NCS mouth muted, as they never came in to resolve the issues, with only a WhatsApp group created to iron out those issues, and it was the Africa Netball boss, Cecilia Molokwane, who was the central to bringing about the settlement, though it also didn’t work for both parties.
Little did Hon Babirye know that in one way or the other, some NCS officials, that is, Ms. Susan Anek and Africa Netball President, were of the same agenda that is to fail her efforts, until the WhatsApp message screenshot that went viral revealed the dirty play of both.
In the screenshot, Ms. Anek message assures her that,”Hon Babirye and her team will soon be history.”
In the Annual general assembly, which was not attended by any NCS official despite being informed in time, it banned Ms. Susan Anek for life, though days later, NCS announced her as their Board Member in charge of Netball.
The Hon Babirye with some Executive Members; While coming to leadership, Hon Babirye and her team said that they will establish a functioning secretariat, but along the way, they got misunderstandings and three of the executive members Mr. Yahaya Ssengabi, Ms. Amina Mande and Mr. Richard Muhumuza dragged her to the courts of law, citing that she was taking over their responsibilities, though, later, it was found out that the “external forces” were behind them.
For the Commonwealth Games preparation ; it should noted that Uganda netball federation is the only federation that never received any quarterly release from NCS, apart from the tournament money, which also hindered the progress of this federation, On the just concluded Commonwealth Games, where the She Cranes finished fifth (5th), the best finish ever for She Cranes in this tournament.
The government revealed that it had secured UGX-7.1billion for the Commonwealth Games preparations and allowances for Team Uganda but Netball had a budget of UGX-250million and UNF received only UGX-111 million, but NCS sent that money to the abandoned UNF Stanbic Bank account, and the current regime failed to get that money until they got help from UOC. In one of her interviews, Hon Babirye revealed that they presented a new bank account to NCS, who adamantly refused to acknowledge the new account without giving any reason, which made Hon. Babirye to think that NCS is fighting her as a person and by the publication of this piece, Uganda Netball federation has not received the She Cranes residential preparation funds and they are not sure if they will ever receive it.
After finishing 5th in the concluded Commonwealth Games, and hence qualifying to the Netball World Cup 2023, the She Cranes were not even received by NCS officials, apart from the security guards at the offices, who informed them to walk away with UGX-50,000 (fifty thousand shillings only) as transport before receiving their allowances, which final all received after raising voices out. These were just among the many obstacle highlights in the unfortunate She Cranes story.
The Successes amidst all challenges, Hon Babirye and her team in the space of 440 days strived to see especially those that are in their manifesto was with equality in netball, the Male Netball team The Rock, was established and took part in the 2021 International Male Netball Championship held in South Africa and they finished second (2nd) winning Silver Medal. Like it was in their manifesto a functioning Secretariat was established headed by Chief executive officer (CEO).
In 2021, they won the Pent Series, and came second in the Africa Netball Championship due to their great performance in those two tournaments, Uganda managed to move from seventh to sixth position in the World rankings.
With grass root development manifestation, the federation introduced U12 Netball, Street Netball and U16 Netball Championships. The U12 Championship was held in December 2021, Street netball came in early 2022, and the U16 Championship coming in mid this year, with even regional tours being held in June this year. But with grass roots was to market the game and get sponsorships, something they have already started on, and so far, they have two (2) sponsors in GoTV and Plascon, and that of MTN is in the pipelines.
At the beginning of their first year, the leadership of the federation launched a fundraising campaign to build a home for the girl-dominated sport, and UGX-130million was collected out of the UGX-5billion needed to start on Phase One. The visibility of the game has increased, especially in the media, after they had a successful East Africa Netball Club Championship, accompanied by the She Cranes’ success in Birmingham, and the professionalization of the National League which will throw off in September..
In terms of awarding Excellency, the best performers of 2021 were awarded, which was also a success for the federation’s leadership. In the 2022-2023 financial year, Netball was allocated UGX-3billion “ring-fenced”, but the question remains, will they receive at least 70% of that?
Meanwhile, the sports sector got a new Minister for State in Hon. Peter Ogwang, the member of parliament for Ngariam county one of the workaholic ministers in the current cabinet, besides him being workaholic, he needs to pay keen interest at the reports coming from federation heads than the NCS, that’s if he wants to resolve especially the financial scandals in the sports sector.