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Exploring The Journey Into The Deepest Alleys Of Para-Sport in Uganda

Your columnist recently started volunteering as a coach with the wheelchair basketball community and couldn’t have imagined that the disparity was always bound to have an instant impact on her.

To be totally honest, there is incredibly so much passion in these players, something that easily comes off as a shocker-but the gesture of respect for others is truly a game changer. Each player has a fascinating story behind them that informs their harbouring of big dreams ahead.

Converging every Tuesday and Thursday in the midday scorching sun is a weekly therapy where they harness a sense of belonging as competition to reach out for a pass takes centre stage.

This will more often than not see a tire jump out of it’s wheel but these special and massively inspirational athletes are always quick enough to leap down and fix it.

The wheelchairs are not enough so they have to share in a rotational cycle until each player has sweated their backs off. One may even offer a carton of water on a good day but then again, one’s laughter at how the athletes jokingly tease each other can’t be missed.

With just a few availed balls that have since almost turned into rubber, these physically incapacitated sportsmen and women still find the resilience to turn up each training day.

The biggest funders for the majority of their equipment are wellwishers through charity gestures and grants with negligible input from the expected personnel and the state at large.

Team Uganda Wheelchair basketball team

This special team of para-athletes is under the care of Watoto basketball coach Brian Nsambu who took up the role voluntarily and has gone ahead to bring on board Pemba Warriors head coach Ronnie Mutebi as part of the coaching staff.

What Are The Paralympic Games?

The Paralympic Games are International competitions for athletes with disabilities which normally commence at the conclusion of an Olympics event. Many people worldover however neither understand nor appreciate the concept of these games though.

These take into account six different groups i.e: the visually impaired, amputees, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, spinal cord injuries and les autres (who don’t fit in any of the other categories such as dwarfism).

Just like the Olympics, the Paralympics also have summer and winter games and as a must, always take place in the same host country of the Olympic games.

David Emong is the only Para Athlete to win a medal for Uganda at the Paralympics. Courtesy photo

History About The Games

The Paralympics date to as early as 1944, around the same time as the Second World War.

A rehabilitation centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital had been established by Dr. Ludwigg Gutmann following a request by the British Government to accommodate returnees from the war.

It took a gradual process for the rehabilitation centre to evolve and become a recreational facility and the responsibility changed from not just for war returnees but also people with disabilities.

Competition soon developed among the players that were using the recreational facilities and games were organized.

During the 1948 Olympic Games, 16 ex-service men and women participated in wheelchair archery. All these efforts didn’t however help in creating popularity for the games.

It took the Dutch ex-servicemen joining in the effort of the recreational centre to create an International aspect for the games that this coveted event started earning the important fame it so badly craved.

Over the years, the games grew to attract more countries and include more sports disciplines with the first Winter Paralympic Games being held in 1976 in Stockholm Sweden.

Uganda on the other hand is one of the countries that have had athletes participate in the Summer Paralympic Games with her first contingent of athletes representing at the 1972 event in Heidelberg, Germany.

The pearl of Africa had two male athletes, one competing in javelin, and the other in shot put. The country was also represented in the 1976 event but took a sabbatical in the 1980s, only to return in 1996, fielding a male competitor in powerlifting.

The reason for this unprecedented absentia in the 1980s was thanks to the switch of allegiances from the country’s sole candidate who obtained Norwegian citizenship and was therefore rendered unfit to represent Uganda.

The number of representatives from Team Uganda have been low over the years especially in 2000 where one lady was fielded for swimming, two athletes fielded for athletics and powerlifting, and one male powerlifter in 2008.

It is also imperative to note that during the 1976 and 1980 Winter Paralympic Games, Uganda was the only African country with a representative competing in cross country skiing discipline.

Para Swimmer Husna Kukundakwe. Monitor photo

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

For the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Uganda sent a contingent of four athletes whose role was representing the country to the latter.

These athletes are Husnah Kukundakwe, who is the youngest Paralympian to represent the country at only fourteen years of age. She participated in the women’s 100m breaststroke swimming competition at the ongoing event.

Kukundakwe, whose imperfection in terms of phenotypic makeup is a congenital limb deficiency on her right forearm has attracted a lot of attention her way which came along with a BBC documentary about your inspirational story.

Ritah Asiimwe, whose deficiency is lack of a left arm, sustained through assault during an altercation with a thief represented the country in the Women’s Badminton Singles.

Peace Oroma, who has a congenital vision impairment has already participated in the two sprint events for the pearl of Africa. These are the women’s 100m and 800m.

David Emong who already holds the record as the first Ugandan to win a medal at the games, a silver at that, something he achieved at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games also made the trip to Tokyo. He won silver while competing in the Men’s 1500m race.

Emong, who acquired his left arm limb deficiency through an assault by students while still in school has already won bronze at the Tokyo games-a downgrade to his silver in Rio de Janeiro but nonetheless, a continuation of his winning streak.

It is however key to note that our representation at the games remains low which therefore poses questions about whether these games have been consciously accepted and welcomed in the country.

My hope and that of many other Ugandans is that inclusivity and recognition of people with disabilities in our country will one day gain enough traction and for the sport to grow to have more participants.

These desires will simply zero down to wimps of baseless hope unless a financial aspect is attached and when administrators that are particularly interested in growing para sports in the country become more assertive.


Elizabeth Kisolo
Elizabeth Kisolo Nagudi is a contributor at The-SportsNation. She is also a founder of WOMEN IN SPORTS: HER SPORT. Connect with her about women in sports via [email protected]
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