Uganda is a beautiful country situated in a region that experiences two seasons of heavy rainfall during the year separated by an unforgiving dry spell midyear.
The conditions of outdoor playing surfaces of all sports, including rugby, are greatly affected by these tough climatic conditions.
With all rugby activities suspended until further notice mid-March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, rugby grounds across the country have undergone probably the longest period of time without an activity ever.
A return date has not been confirmed yet, but there is hope that the restrictions will be eased just in time to complete the Nile Special Stout Rugby Premier League which had five matchdays left to conclude.
It is important to note that World Rugby, in the Laws of the Game and Regulations relating to the Game, does not have specific provisions for the standard of natural turf surfaces (Regulation 22 is a standard relating to the use of artificial rugby turf). And neither does the Uganda Rugby Union.
Thus, different facilities across the world maintain their playing surfaces following their own set standards.
For example, England’s Rugby Football Union in conjunction with Sport England provides guidance and support to rugby groundsmen via the Rugby Football Union Groundsmen Connected network.
The key quality performance standards for natural grass pitches set by the Rugby Football Union include flatness, drainage and grass cover.
Poor drainage and inadequate grass cover have been the biggest challenges experienced at various rugby grounds in Uganda which has significantly affected the quality of rugby played during the matches.
We, therefore, took a tour around Kampala to have a look at the current state of the rugby grounds – Legends Rugby Club and Kyadondo Rugby Club in Lugogo, The Graveyard at Makerere, the new House Of Pain at Katabi, Entebbe and Kings Park Stadium in Bweyogerere – and how close they have been kept to the generally accepted standards required for games to be played.
Legends Rugby Grounds has done commendable work to keep the playing surface rugby ready with consistent maintenance works.
Daudi Setiimba, the groundsman at Legends who has taken care of the playing surface at the Rugby Club for close to two decades says that this lockdown period came as a blessing to the grounds.
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“This surface has got enough rest during this period without games, and the turf has been able to grow and recover fully.”
In addition to being home to 3 of the 10 Nile Special Stout Rugby Premier League teams (Kobs, Warriors, Rhinos and their central region championship teams), Legends Rugby Grounds is a regular venue for sporting events like the SMACK and Budo alumni football leagues. Essentially, the surface did not have a single rest day during the week.
He adds that it has enabled him to repair the grounds by filling the holes, manuring and planting fresh grass.
Daudi has also been able to innovate temporary measures for the drainage by creating runoffs that flow into the channel behind the facility but is afraid that with Kampala’s heavy rain, it may not be sufficient to solve the problem.
Across the shopping malls and Jinja Road, the grass on the playing surface at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds has grown to 150mm in some parts of the field and up to double that height in others.
It is clear to see that maintenance of the facility is being done in phases across the pitch as the suspension of sporting activities continues as there are some sections that have been worked on as recent as just a few days prior to this date.
At Kings Park Stadium in Bweyogerere, there is a stark contrast in the status of the playing surface and the name of the facility.
By the time of our visit to the facility, the only evidence of work having been done during the lockdown period towards maintaining the quality of the playing surface and to make it better is shoots of unsuitable grass that have been weeded out and left to dry spread out across the pitch.
Speaking over a phone call with the management of the facility at Kings Park, Solomon Ssendigya, due to challenges with transportation of the grounds team, they could only do as much.
Visiting teams, especially the players, have repeatedly expressed their displeasure with the conditions of the surface at Bweyogerere which some have described as rough with stones.
Initially, we struggled with getting our people to the grounds to have work done, so there has been no major work done. However, we are planning to resume trimming and weeding soon before doing a proper assessment of the surface.Ssendigya Solomon.
At the lakeside Katabi Busambaga Playground, hitherto tagged as the “House of Pain”, the mood is serene albeit deserted.
Overlooking the gigantic Lake Victoria, this picturesque sports facility is found at the apex of Entebbe Division A.
The lockdown period came forth with heavy torrential rains that have helped irrigate the ground to allow the growth of grass in parts that were barren and devoid of green.
During this period, Ben Kigongo Ssebalamu, one of the founding members of Entebbe Mongers Rugby Club travels over 10 KM from his residence in Kiwafu to the facility to fill up the unleveled parts, regreen the grey areas and put right the fence.
The lockdown has been a period of blessing in disguise. We have been able to fill up the un-leveled parts of the ground, plant more grass and remove a rocky part on the ground.Ben Kigongo Ssebalamu
The ground has been since leveled, more grass planted and the rocky part dug up. There is also a wire mesh fencing that has been put up to avoid by-passers.
Impis Rugby Club’s The Graveyard at Makerere University appears to have been left in the hands of nature since the closure of all educational institutions.
We were unable to visit the Dam Waters Rugby Club, which is the only rugby grounds outside of Kampala that is home to a top flight club.