THE goal of combat sports is to physically overcome your opponent. Even in controlled environments, an opponent could be left bleeding. Boxing clubs, especially, were a thing of several schools in Kampala, Jinja and Kasese during the glorious days of boxing. Other similarly aggressive sports such as rugby later entered into school sports to create an outlet for students who are not interested in traditional sports such as football, athletics or netball.
Since 1982 when the Uganda Secondary Schools Sports Association (USSSA) was started to organise school sports, combat sports took a backseat.
Patrick Okanya, the president of USSSA understands all too well the sport’s violent reputation as a seasoned sports administrator and teacher.
“A lot of people think those sports should not be in schools because they regard them as too aggressive and violent. But after a while, they see a different perspective,” says Okanya. He spoke passionately about the self-discipline required to be a fighter.
Combat sports, especially boxing, suffered a blow in 2009 when the then Commissioner of physical education and sports Dan Tamwesigire made critical statements about the brutal nature of the sport. Similarly, he voiced concerns over the heading of footballs by primary school children.
What followed was a ping-pong between the boxing federation, schools and the Ministry of Education. It became harf for the federation to organise school competitions.
Traditional giants such as Kololo High which pride in celebrated boxers such as Commonwealth gold medallist Godfrey Nyakana, former national team coach Dick Katende, 2002 Commonwealth bronze medallist Jolly Katongole, former professional boxer John Munduga, Sharif Bogere, Fred Muteweta and Hamza Ssempewo, among others, fell behind. Ripples of success were triggered by former head teacher Shaka Kamoga, who was then serving as president of the Uganda Boxing Federation (UBF).
Current Uganda Amateur Boxing Federation (UABF) president Moses Muhangi has been vocal about the return of school boxing on the annual sports calendar saying it is an arena for serious athletes.
“To succeed, a fighter must start early and by the time they make 18 years, they are national team material,” Muhangi said in an earlier interview.
In 2018, the federation organised a schools championship after several years of lull attracting 110 participants from 10 schools. The following year, the number increased to 481 (81 of whom were girls) with 27 schools taking part.
Apart from the traditional schools, new names popped up including: Margaret SS Kikaaya, Bweyogerere High School, Global Skill, Clive College, Nsangi Secondary School and Kasana Secondary School, among others.
Muhangi lobbied for the sports to be included in the Uganda Secondary Schools Sports Association (USSSA) games.
In February, during the USSSA symposium, Okanya paved the way for combat games such as kickboxing, karate, judo, boxing and taekwondo. They were expected to be included in this year’s Ball Games which have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an interview last week, Okanya said his commitment was rooted in the pursuit of professionalism by adhering to everything from correct safety measures to financing.
Muhangi in particular, pointed out that there had not been any serious injuries during the years the schools competitions were active. He says the sport emphasises safety first.
To ensure safety, amateur boxers fight at most four rounds, each of which lasts just two minutes.
“This ensures that the fights are shorter, so they get hit less,” Muhangi notes adding that amateurs use bigger gloves which are more tiring. On top of that headgear is worn to reduce injuries.
Hajjat Amina Mukasa Buyinza, who revived boxing at Kololo High when she was appointed head teacher in 2011, says “boxing was a new thing to me when I came but the closer I got to the team, the more I enjoyed it,” she says.
“My students come from underprivileged places such as Katanga, Kibuli, Kibuye, and Kivvulu. They need these skills to survive. Sport is a skill that is a source of wealth, happiness and discipline,” Buyinza says.
In 2018, the school had up to 40 female boxers who went on to win the schools and the intermediates championship ahead of established clubs such as Lukanga, Cobap, East Coast, KCCA, Police, and KBC.
Since the sport was not among school activities, she had to register as a club.
Buyinza said she was thrilled with her team’s success, in particular the students’ dedication.
“Sport is a good alternative for a successful life. Many sportsmen around the world are not living off academics. So any way we can support them, we’re going to.”
Leila Nangendo, the women light fly champion in the schools championship in 2018, was inspired by a friend with a motive to fight bullies in her hometown, Kibuye.
Nangendo says she did not like sports like netball or football because they were too slow.
“Boxing makes me feel strong. I want to box to the highest levels,” he said.
But beyond that, she did not have much approval. Her mother, Zahara Ngabire had refused her entry to the sport because she felt it was brutal especially for a girl. Ngabire was particularly concerned that people in combat sports who quit are looked down upon by classmates. “But I gave her a benefit of the doubt on the condition that her grades in class are okay,” Ngabire said.
But Nangendo slowly began to receive support especially after being awarded by then French ambassador to Uganda Stephanie Rivoal during the Women4Women awards.
“I thought it was a joke the first time I was told I was invited by the ambassador,” Nangendo said.
Nangendo, who plans to stay involved in boxing even after graduating as a doctor, said her goal was to become a world beater.
Former journalist Moses Kiwanuka, who represented Uganda in the All Africa Goju Kai Karate-Do event in Cape Town, South Africa in 2004, says basics and technique can be instilled during the early days if world-class athletes can be developed.
He says combat sports, especially self-defense focused sports, help instil in an individual the need for discipline, determination, hard work and patience.
“Karate, for instance, gives one confidence in their abilities and above all, it teaches respect for one’s teachers and opponents. In fact, a person trained in martial arts is less likely to instigate a fight outside just to prove his dominance. But if one has to excel at a sport, taking it up young is the best road to doing so and high school would provide the perfect environment for it,” Kiwanuka says.
Kiwanuka explains that the starting point would be to encourage games teachers to get involved as coaches. Teachers as coaches can improve participation, according to Kiwanuka, “as they share knowledge and actions from personal experience from the coaching process. They, can therefore, become important people,” Kiwanuka says.
(SOURCE: Daily Monitor)