The death of Jimmy Kirunda, one of the best footballers to have kicked a football for the Uganda Cranes, last week sparked a debate about the life of former sportsmen especially when the lights are off.
I am not privy to most details but the rumour among many is Kirunda was not living a glorious lifestyle he deserved and even when he lay helpless on the roadside, cars were more bothered by the traffic pile-up than helping him to quick medical access.
Since last week, it has become apparent that many of his former teammates especially from the 1970s were living destitute lives.
I will stick to Cricket that I am more familiar with. Sports in Uganda has its tentacles in schools which is the best channel of finding future stars. There are a few outliers that will not go through the system but for a sport like cricket, school is the easiest way of being discovered.
The Schools’ Development Program unearthed a lot of gems that represented the junior national teams for regional and ICC events. The few outliers in those early times were mostly children from the slums of Naguru, massively talented kids but with very little motivation for education.
Once most picked up the bat and ball, that was it for them. Lugogo became their second home and some even joined the national team as early as 16. Along the way, a few people encouraged them to stay in school but there was no real conviction to get an education.
While they bled for the country as the kingpins and, for most, the teams they featured for, they were dealt a raw deal at the end of their careers. Largely due to the fact that the game lacked proper support systems to help them out but also because they lacked employable skills due to limited education.
Education doesn’t necessarily mean getting a University degree, a high school certificate is a good enough qualification to find an entry job. For example, to be a supervisor for a beer distribution company you don’t need a degree in quantitative economics but basic math and English are requirements to interpret purchase orders and sales invoices.
There are examples of players such as Edgar Watson, the FUFA CEO, who have played at the highest level but also found time to get an education. In cricket, you have Sam Walusimbi, Guy Kimbowa, Richard Mwami, Junior Kwebiiha to mention a few names. These should be examples for the generation XY that you can play sport at the highest level as well as excel in school. There are no guarantees with education but it’s better to know God than pretend that he doesn’t exist.
Our sport is not developed enough to look after players. There are very few absorption opportunities after your national team career is over and those that are available might be political.
Many youngsters in the current generation have been allowed to ignore their education because a club gives them a few bucks now but the pain is down the road and not now. The association and schools are guilty of letting this happen for short term gain rather than looking ahead.
Schools will not care a lot about grades as long as they are winning Cricket Week. Once the student is done with his below-average education the relationship ends there, some of these children come from difficult backgrounds where education is not a means to anything. The children go to school purposely to play in the Schools Cricket Week in second term holiday and once it is done, they will only go back to school next year second term.
I am curious to know how many junior cricketers have made the leap from high school to either a technical school or University in the last 10 years.
I would never allow a junior cricketer to ignore their studies because they are good at cricket. The years might be good to you now but the journey ahead of you is tough. Cricket is a niche sport that will take a lot of time to organically grow systems to take care of players while they are active and even when they are done. We lose nearly 60% of our talent after University because they have to move on with their lives. It’s not a fault of anyone but that is the hush reality of life and eventually, these are the same people who support the game later on through their individual clubs or otherwise. Unfortunately, those that don’t bother too much with education have fallen on hard times when they stop playing, some have even lost their lives in crude manners such as Charles Lwanga (RIP).
It is important that sports administrators help upcoming cricketers to get an education at least a high school certificate with some good credits. With a fraternity full of professionals, it’s very easy to find connections to work while playing as well as a fall back position in case cricket never works out.
Players such as Emmanuel Isaneez are now ambassadors for international organizations through cricket but to deal with these people you need some basic education to write reports, respond to emails, and also read material they share with you.
The fallacy that one can be a cricketer and actually live off it is false. Cricket can only be a means but not an end in life. Therefore all sports administrators have a responsibility to look after youngsters now. You might come off as being uptight but they will definitely thank you later.