My name is Isaac Rujumba, and this is my story
I experienced my first bit of injustice and unfairness at the hands of the Uganda Rugby Union in 2014. A young robust rugby player fresh out of high school, I was excited to be called up to the national U(19) team to represent the nation. Little did I know, this call up only marked the starting point of three years of pain and suffering, during which I almost lost all motor function in my right hand.
When we played against Kenya in the U(19) Elgon Cup held at Ng’ong Road, Nairobi, I got a shoulder injury that left lesions (tears) in the muscles of my shoulder. The immediate diagnosis of the doctors a week later in Kampala recommended surgery, and having gotten the injury while on national duty, it was the sole onus of the Union to cover this surgery.
Not wanting to bother my parents with the costs of me choosing to follow my passion, I chased down Union members for weeks which later turned to months, and later years. During this time, out of my unadulterated love for the sport, I started coaching at Turkish Light Academy, my alma mater, with Elvis Muhumuza, alongside whom we managed to bring the school to first division in 2016.
I also kept hope that the Union would come through with the surgery funds, and so to keep my rugby alive, I tried to play the 2015/2016 season for Black Pirates, but could only manage half the season because the lesions were not self-healing.
Again, I resumed my hunt for Rugby Union execs who avoided me like a plague. All they kept telling me was “wait” and “have faith, we will come through for you some day”.
Phone calls went unanswered, meetings unattended and at some point, I had roamed Kampala looking for these people more than Satan roamed the earth in the book of Job. At this point, I started talks with my parent club, Black Pirates, about a possible solution to the conundrum we both shared.
The club had no sponsors at the time so it was time for Harambe. As the Harambe went on, I remember reviewing options of moving to other clubs for so long as they were only willing to cover my surgery, but my loyalty and faith in my parent club refused to waver for long.
Keep in mind that at some point in 2016, my shoulder would drop out of its socket almost four times a day. It reminded me of the dolls my baby sister always played with where you could pluck out the arm and fix it back any time.
The pain had become consistent and was starting to spread to my chest. Chest pain worse than the one I felt when my first year crush asked me for my best friend’s number. I was the proverbial and Biblical Job, suffering for no apparent reason other than the fact that God (Union) wanted to test my faith (in the system).
At the end of 2016, the Harambee for cash in Pirates had reached its peak and with the help of the benevolent and very loyal Pirate, Issa Mattan, I flew to Kenya aboard Mash Poa Bus Services, stayed for a while until my surgery’s schedule date was due, got a Bankart Reconstruction Surgery on my right shoulder and came back to Uganda shortly after.
Union, which had failed to cover my surgery because they claimed they didn’t have money, failed to even deliver the 500k they had promised as a contribution to the surgery for an injury I got representing them. Hehe.
The surgery alone cost roughly 7 million shillings and my stay in Nairobi at a hotel in Hurlingham for that time cost over 4 million shillings.
The rehabilitation for the 9 or so months after is an amount id have to sit down and recalculate but anyone who has been under the knife before will tell you that rehab can take more out of your pockets over a long period of time than the actual surgery.
I must note that I am forever thankful to the Pirates Rugby Community, especially Issa for being a part of the solution to a problem that wasn’t yours to solve. Salaam.
Why did I start with my 2014 experience?
Last year I exposed and called out the Rugby Union for misusing their financial rights to budget for the country’s rugby whereby they allocated 65 million shillings to the national 7s team and 78 million to Rugby Ug fan zone, which only announces man of the match winners and gives them 6 beers and a handshake for putting their bodies on the line. (Ooh btw someone in the 7s camp recently told me they got less than even half of that 65 million, and I believe him, although I am yet to prove what he/she said).
In the same breath, I called them out for giving 180+ million to a random company in charge of advertising rugby and then giving the league just over 100 million. Keep in mind, we’ve all never seen a noteworthy rugby advert on TV to reflect such money, and data for tweeting about rugby doesn’t cost hundreds of millions. I tweet daily on a budget far less.
The league, on the other hand, has ten teams which need the money to run, and cant even afford health insurance for players who play a dangerous contact sport.
All this budgeting and spending happened in a year when we were under lock-down for covid.
All this poor allocation of funds to companies whose value we don’t see costs players like Kimono Justin and Marvin Odongo, who put their bodies on the line for club and for country but country couldn’t so much as cover their surgeries when they needed them.
Each of the above has had two surgeries for two major injuries attained in two separate team appearances and I can assure you, none of these surgeries was fully paid for by the union. In the same year when I got injured, we lobbied for the formation of the URPA (Uganda Rugby Players’ Association), which was meant to protect player rights and look out for players’ needs.
This was quickly fought by the Rugby Union using the divide and conquer methodology, where they talked some players out of this, and from what I’ve heard, bribed some of the players from the older generation to stand against this. Our efforts were futile, to say the least.
Some players wont individually come out to ask union these questions, but that is really their choice to make. Some of them because they are afraid of losing the little they earn at national level, others because they are in bed with those who gain from our suffering. My only question to the players is this: why do you choose yourself over your teammates? If the same were done to you, would you be happy? Why not speak up and end this unfairness?
Dear Union, You can’t afford a 7 million shillings surgery but you can afford ghost adverts of 180 million? Where are your loyalties, to rugby or to your pockets? Marvin and Kim J were the best players in the country at their peak, but you couldn’t take care of them. Scratch that, You Wouldn’t take care of them. If you cannot take care of those closest to you (National Team), why then should we trust you to take care of those farthest from you (the general rugby-playing fraternity)?
This is only the beginning. I am yet to talk about the racket behind this and further on, the systematic abuse of power they use to silence and eject players who speak up.
Editorial – Isaac Rujumba posted this story on his medium account.
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