More Than Meets the Eye in Athletics Sex Scandal

What started as a poor excuse for Uganda’s dismal performance in the recent Africa Cross Country championships has gathered strength to put local athletics body (UAF) on the spot.

The stage had been set for Uganda to excel at the event hosted at Kololo ceremonial grounds but when the female athletes finished outside the medals, they were quick to unearth the disastrous buildup, particularly the allegations of sexual harassment from one of the coaches.

A few people dismissed the claims but when the athletes threatened to boycott upcoming events, UAF was left with no option but to be seen as working to get to the bottom of the matter. A few days ago, Dominic Otuchet, the UAF president, launched a probe committee but it remains to be seen whether it will achieve any tangible results because this is not the first of a kind.

She Kobs scandal

Back in April 1998, a similar scandal rocked Ugandan football following Egypt’s elimination of the She Kobs in the Women’s World Cup qualifiers. Some players accused both coach Paul Ssali and Issa Kyambadde, the team manager, of molestation.

Two weeks earlier, the She Kobs had won many plaudits for their resilience in holding Egypt 1-1 in Cairo and there were high hopes for Uganda to progress at Nakivubo. However, Ssali’s team put up a dispirited effort to lose the return leg 0-1 on April 22, 1998.

Furious fans questioned the team’s attitude and when pressed for answers, a group of She Kobs players led by skipper Olivia Mbekeka stormed The Monitor offices (I was working at the paper’s sports desk at the time) and spilled the beans that some officials were sexually harassing them.

They even displayed romantic chits. They vowed to boycott training for the Cecafa Cup tournament, which was due in a few weeks, until the implicated officials were replaced. Some of them alleged that they were coerced into offering sex before being selected to travel to Egypt.

More revelations

The allegations gained momentum when Kyambadde resigned and shortly afterwards, he was shockingly disowned by Fufa, which labelled him an intruder since he had never been officially appointed. Margaret Nsumba was the official team manager. Then on May 6, 1998, Fufa announced the sacking of Paul Ssali but interestingly, he had already tendered in his resignation the morning of the same day.

Days before, the embattled Ssali accused the girls of being lesbians. He alleged the girls ganged up against him when he banned the sharing of beds while in Egypt. As Twaha Kakaire’s Fufa was planning the next step, Capt Francis Edward Babu, the then state minister for Sports, asked Fufa to set up a probe committee to investigate the matter.

On June 2, Fufa named a probe committee headed by the body’s vice chairman (technical) Rev Otto Olima. Others were James Wasula, Violet Kalisa (RIP), Annet Nassali and Parry Oketch. The committee was given three weeks to produce a report.

Probe findings

On June 22, 1998, the committee handed its findings to Fufa, which in turn made the report public. The 45-page document shocked many when it ruled out any lesbianism in the camp but also dismissed allegations against Ssali as mere concoctions. Despite exonerating both parties, the committee recommended a six-month suspension for She Kobs defender Juliet Odowa for unbecoming behaviour.

The report also cautioned Fufa to desist appointing men to manage female teams but instead empower women through training to handle the team. Fast-forward to the current sex scandal in athletics, UAF’s handling of the case leaves a lot to be desired. First, the federation simply looked on as the athletes ran to the media for help and it took their brave decision to involve police for Otuchet and company to wake up with a probe.

Of recent, UAF has scored highly as one of the best-organised associations but this scandal has already created a huge dent. Therefore, UAF must come out clean on this issue.

On the other hand, I have purposely omitted the alleged culprit’s name for the simple reason that, just like the Ssali case when everyone seemed to believe the version of She Kobs players, the public has already judged him to be guilty.

Ask yourself why are these allegations made only when the athletes are under heavy criticism?

Beyond the probe, however, UAF should encourage female athletes to take coaching courses. I may be wrong but I don’t think UAF has made inroads to empower women coaches since the days of Ruth Kyalisima.

The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.

Source : The Observer

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