UCU sports department struggles during pandemic
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2021/03/ucu-sports-department-struggles-during-pandemic/
By Lule Eriah
The strange silence at the Uganda Christian University’s sports department speaks volumes about how hard COVID-19 has hit sports activities in the academic institution. Usually, around this time of the year, activities such as the university football league and the basketball league as well as the interdepartmental sports activities keep the department busy. But that is no more, at least until the threat of COVID-19 is diminished.
On March 18, 2020, the government of Uganda imposed a countrywide lockdown that left all academic institutions in the country closed. The sports department has not opened since then.
What have the people running the department been up to?
“We are doing other things to survive,” said Cornelius Engwenyu, the head of the sports department at UCU. “My wife and I have a young family to take care of and when the situation normalizes, we shall come back and work.”
He noted that he and others have started small retail businesses and ventured into farming with crops, livestock and poultry “in order to survive.”
The sports department head said that despite the lockdown, the department is in touch with all the UCU players on WhatsApp.
In October last year, universities were allowed to open for final-year students, but with stringent standard operating procedures.
UCU Director of Students Affairs (DOSA) Bridget Mugume said that due to COVID-19, the university suspended all the sports activities and halted staff contracts.
“The university couldn’t sustain the sports and its administrators because it was financially struggling,” Mrs. Mugume said.
According to the DOSA, the sports department takes 35% of the students’ activity fee, which the university could not raise. Mugume added that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that the government asked the university to implement before taking players to the pitch needed more money to put in place.
For instance, she cited the periodic mandatory testing of the athletes for Covid-19. The cost of a Covid-19 test in Uganda is a minimum of sh180,000 (about $50) per person. In some facilities, the cost is up to sh250,000 (about $68).
She noted that even if the university leagues open in the near future, the university’s participation will be determined by the capacity to raise funds for the activities. All the leagues where UCU participates on the national level, such as basketball, volleyball, netball, wood ball and women’s football are still suspended because of Covid-19.
The suspension of the sports activities also has affected students on sports scholarship. Engwenyu said the university has only allowed to continue paying tuition for the students who were on scholarship before the lockdown.
“However for the new players that are coming on board, the university can’t sponsor their education because of lack of funds and has stopped new entries to maintain the existing scholarships,” he said.
Engwenyu said among the country’s sports federations, it was only the Federation of Uganda Football Associations that gave footballers food during the lockdown last year. Uganda was under a lockdown from March to June.
The suspension of university sports activities has led the athletes to venture into other income-generating activities for survival. Former UCU guild sports minister and male football team captain for the Canons, Derrick Were, said many of the athletes have ventured into farming, trade and ICT.
“Although we are still in contact with our coaches, it is difficult to maintain the fitness levels because we don’t have pitches to practice from, and the time,” Were added.
Fred Tuhaise, a midfielder on the UCU male football team, said he has started farming to support himself.
“Covid-19 showed me that apart from football and school, I can do something else to earn a living,” he said. “I am working hard to be one of the best farmers in my area.”
Hasifa Nassuna, a former national women team captain and the forward player for UCU Lady Cardinals basketball team, said due to lack of activity, some of the players are struggling to pay rent for the houses they occupy.
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