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Running the Ugandan Way - Part 3

Training with the next generation of athletic talent in Kapchorwa, Uganda

In the last of the series, the athlete development group celebrates International Women's Day with a visit from world champion Halima Nakaayi and friends. I also discuss with local coaches the ways that Ugandans can make a living from athletics.

International Womens Day

It was a memorable International Women's Day for our athlete development group as they were visited by Uganda's 800 metre World champion Halima Nakaayi. Halima is in Kapchorwa preparing for the Tokyo Olympics with the NN Running Team.

Halima was accompanied by friends and training partners Ronald Musagala (Ugandan 1500m national record holder) and Shadrack Kipchirchir (US 10km Olympian) to share their experiences with the young athletes.

The senior athletes provided valuable advice and inspiration for the youngsters on achieving your potential, discipline and patience in your athletic career, the importance of education and overcoming economic and cultural obstacles. They also brought kit and cake to make for a morning that most of these budding athletes will never forget.

World champion Halima Nakaayi goes for a run with the athlete development group in Kapenguria, Kapchorwa

The 'Business' of Running in Uganda

If you've read the previous posts you'll have a good idea of the standard training week up here by now:

Monday: Easy / Moderate

Tuesday: Speedwork - Track / Fartlek

Wednesday: Easy

Thursday: Long Run

Friday: Easy

Saturday: Speedwork - Track / Fartlek

Sunday: Rest / Easy

This simple training programme is used (with a few minor tweaks) by most of the athletes and camps I've spent time with up here, from 14 year olds with big dreams to current world champions.

I wanted to finish the current series by discussing how an individual can try to make an income (or fund their education) from running / athletics in a part of Uganda where household income is low and employment opportunities are severely limited. This ranges from being a funded / professional athlete or as part of the support structure that help the camps in Kapchorwa to run smoothly e.g. coaching, massage, laundry, cooking, cleaning....

Post training session with David Cherop - ex pro-marathoner and development coach

Athletic School Scholarships

Simple fact: In Uganda, kids have to pay to attend school. Many low-income families cannot afford to send their children so they simply don't go. Several of the young athletes on our programme are not currently in education as they do not have school fees.

Sports scholarships are available to young athletes who show potential across a number of sports: athletics, football, handball, basketball, rugby, woodball (a cross between croquet and golf). These scholarships are mostly given by universities but also in high school. They allow talented youngsters from ~13-21 years old to get support with their educational costs.  

I'm told that athletes under scholarship move slowly in their education so may not complete school until they reach 21. Sponsored athletes participate in the sport they qualified for e.g. athletics and are under a 'contract' to perform. High school scholarships can be a major help for children from low-income families as they are often 'total scholarships' - the student will just buy bedding, uniform etc and the institution will cover their boarding, food & education.

If an athlete is not performing against the criteria agreed with the educational institution or circumstances change (e.g. the institution can no longer afford to fund the student), the scholarship is revoked. The student would then be responsible for covering their school fees. If the student cannot pay their fees, they will no longer be able to attend school.

I'm informed that another disadvantage of this system is that the competitive nature of school & university sports means that in some schools, priority is given to sporting success over education. In this case, the students are missing classes to train which means a scholarship still results in an inadequate education.

Ugandan State Team Athletic Sponsorship

The concept of ‘state teams’ (my terminology, not theirs) is that departments of the Ugandan government have sports and athletic clubs that compete in national competitions. Some of the best known teams on the athletic circuit are Police, Prisons, KCCA (Kampala Capital City Authority), UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) and Arua.

Athletes are recruited by these organisations at aged 18 and above based on their athletic performance. They receive basic training to 'work' for the organisation but are only called upon in circumstances where there may be a need for reserves (e.g. elections). Otherwise, they are full-time athletes receiving monthly pay, food, accommodation and transport. For example, Joshua Cheptegei is a ‘policeman’ but it's highly unlikely you're going to see the world champion on the streets of Kapchorwa issuing tickets for traffic offences anytime soon.

Sponsored athletes sign contracts for one or more years. The teams expect only competitive performance from the athlete with no work in return. A few forward-thinking teams advocate for the continuation of an athletes education and will facilitate scholarships with local schools and a support fee for the purchase of books, shoes etc.

Most of the teams will have athletes on the periphery that are with the group but are not under contract or receiving support. These athletes are training with the hope that their effort and ability will be recognised and they are offered a contract. These athletes are often training full-time whilst trying to support themselves and their families with other work.

And so the big question... I ask what happens if you join a state team and are not meeting expectations? I'm told that the athlete will have to go and work in their chosen vocation in a new deployment. Also that if you're not under-performing but have a falling out with the club officials then you can also be moved into a work role.

The support of these numerous camps also brings opportunity for those seeking an income. There are coaches, massage therapists, cooks preparing three meals a day, washing the piles of kit, cleaning the accommodation and kitchen areas. Then you have all the local businesses that supply these various activities - farmers, shops, transport.... The list goes on.

As the area has become more popular and well-known as an altitude training destination, the number of camps and visitors is growing. This helps to fuel the 'business' of running which creates more income and employment opportunities for those living in Uganda's Land of Champions.

One last thing...

If you've enjoyed the content on this site and would like to support me by buying me a coffee, I would really appreciate it.​

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