On September 19, the Ugandan president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, lifted the ban on sports that he had imposed after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

During his televised speech, the president said that sports competitions and events in open air venues would be allowed to take place without spectators.

“Open air activities of sports will be opened provided there are no spectators. We must learn to have games without spectators,” he stated.

Lugogo Main Court with no activity Credit: Kawowo Sports

Given that Tennis is an open air and non-contact game and one of the very few sports where social distancing is observed naturally, return to play should not be a major issue but somehow, the National Council of Sports (NCS) has made it so.

The public tennis facility within the capital – Lugogo Tennis Center – was opened on Wednesday, October 14 2020 but with strict guidelines, top of which is taking a COVID-19 test.

“The tennis courts are open but you are required to have a [negative] COVID-19 test certificate,” says Titus Kayigwa, the NCS Assistant General Secretary – Administration.

Of course following government Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) is ideal in times like these but the application should not be subjective. COVID tests and quarantine are understandably required for competitions, but social tennis is a different matter. In fact, NCS specifically wrote to the National Scientific Committee only asking for competitive sports to open.

Kawowo Sports has established that none of the staff at Lugogo Tennis Center has taken the Covid-19 tests. So, why are social tennis players required to have taken one?

There has been contention over the running of the facility for more than a decade now since NCS took over the facility from Lugogo Tennis Club.

“That place is a public facility, it’s open for everybody to come and play. We don’t charge anyone to use it although we give priority to [the] national team,” says Bernard Ogwel, the NCS General Secretary.

Tennis court at Lugogo with no activity. Credit: Kawowo Sports

Questions then arise. Why is the facility run like a private property with no clear guidelines on the use of the facility by individuals interested in playing the game? Why are people charged to use the facility? Why are groups of people required to pay a “subscription” to NCS to use the facility?

Lugogo Tennis Club’s Victor Drile who was part of the Lugogo Tennis Center management committee in the yesteryears highlights the difference in how the facility is run.

“The biggest difference which makes a huge impact on how things are done there [at Lugogo] is that back then whoever was a member, their membership meant that if they had issues with the quality of service there were people who were directly accountable. So for example if you were not happy with the way the courts were done, there was a person to attend to the issue and something would almost instantly be done,” Drile told Kawowo Sports.

Drile adds that the management structure and setup to which you have to subscribe is not clear and therein lies a big problem.

“Being a member means you have a say in the affairs but that’s not the case now. You are just a member but a member to what? There’s nothing defined. There are no rules that govern whatever that thing you are a member of is.”

There have been reports that there is an intention to lease the facility especially after the council turned down an offer for redevelopment a couple of years ago.

The Uganda Tennis Association (UTA) had secured the willingness of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to redevelop the tennis courts under the Facility Grant Programme to a tune of $50,000.

Uganda Tennis Association (UTA) Chairman Cedric Babu (4th from left) Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE

The National Council of Sports however turned down the grant offer to improve the courts at Lugogo Sports Complex into a National Training Centre.

“Initially, we wrote [to NCS] in 2018 seeking their approval for the project to take off, but they did not reply,” Cedric Babu, the president of the association, told Daily Monitor. 

And in defense of the council’s position, Ogwel says they secured a private investor to redevelop the entire Lugogo Sports Complex through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

“We have a PPP project which was approved in 2017 and it’s in effect so we are fast-tracking the developments on the project that follows in line with government regulations,” Ogwel told Kawowo Sports.

It can’t happen, that’s government property. We cannot lease that place to a third party.

Bernerd Ogwel, NCS General secretary
The tennis court at Lugogo with no activities. Credit: Kawowo Sports

Babu is baffled by the council’s decision.

“We wrote again in 2019 and still they did not reply until we asked Minister Obua to intervene.

“I don’t know why NCS would reject such an opportunity. They claim to be bringing in private investors, which makes no sense,” he told Daily Monitor.

Meanwhile the tennis courts at Lugogo lie empty, the court attendants and trainers have lost their income, and the social tennis players are unable to play on the courts they have already paid membership to use.

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