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Runaway athletes

Athletes run during the Men’s Marathon athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS

Uganda’s top athletes; Kipsiro, Acon, reveal why they never vanished

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | How do you keep a young, ambitious, and poor athlete at an international event in a rich country that promises hope of a better life from vanishing? Ugandan officials in charge of athletes confront this dilemma often and are expected to devise ways around it.
A common tactic is to withdraw and keep the athletes’ passports as soon as they are presented to the competition area to have them verified. Then they mount very tight guard duty around the athletes at all times.

But, as the escape from camp of six of the 69 athletes that represented Uganda at the recent Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia confirmed, the holding net sometimes either breaks or is punctured. The athletes vanished – three of them without their passports.

Months before the athletes set off for Australia, the president of the Uganda Olympic Committee; William Blick, in January issued some threats.

“We are not going to tolerate such incidents where athletes disappear when they go for international events,” Blick told Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, “We shall act tough and start stopping associations whose athletes vanish from taking teams for international events.”

He also spoke about a code of conduct that athletes would have to sign. Federations also said they are coming up with stringent sanctions to punish officials who might be conniving to help athletes disappear. But it was all bark and no bite and failed to deter the vanishing athletes.

Weeks after going through the nightmare of losing the athletes, Beatrice Ayikoru, who led Uganda’s team to the Gold Coast Games, still attempts to put a brave face on it.

“No Ugandan athlete has vanished yet,”she told The Independent on April 26, “Their visas are still valid until May 15.”
Ayikoru is right, technically speaking. But for many observers, including Nicholas Muramagi, the General Secretary of the Uganda National Council of Sports (NCS), it is obvious the athletes are not returning home soon.

Muramagi is perturbed because he thinks the 69 sports men and women that were flagged off last month to compete in the XXI Commonwealth Games got what many athletes who vanish always claim to lack – money. Muramagi says this contingent was probably the best facilitated in Uganda’s recent history. They each got a relatively hefty upkeep of Shs7 million.

Muramagi blames the disappearance of the athletes on laxity of one technical official who dropped his guard. He failed to retain the passports of three athletes. But what about the other three athletes who ran off with their passports? Muramagi appears to have no answer.

“That is now beyond the control of those officials,” he says, “All this is brought about by a lack of career guidance.”

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