In 2020, World Rugby listed Uganda vs Kenya among the world’s top five rugby rivalries. A worthy mention, on paper, due to the history of the fixture and the proximity of the two countries in East Africa.
However, in reality, the rivalry, more popularly known as the Elgon Cup, is only riding on that aforementioned history and nostalgic memories from ages past.
I’ve watched Uganda play against Kenya for about a decade now (four of those years as a journalist) and I struggle to recall a noteworthy memory from this rivalry. It does not help matters that I am proudly Ugandan and there is nothing to enjoy when my country is always on the losing end.
Whether age-grade, men’s or women’s matches, one hand is more than enough to count the number of times Uganda has beaten Kenya in that time. Uganda last beat Kenya in Kisumu during the 2019 Elgon Cup, a competition they last won in 2015.
The prestigious Elgon Cup lost so much value in such a short time that Kenya was sometimes accused of sending their B-teams to play against Uganda in addition to contemplating if they should honour the fixture at all in the first place. What used to be a must-attend event for all nearly became unrecognisable.
At the moment, the Uganda-Kenya rivalry is surviving on social media banter and the night after-party (beer) festivities.
For a new person in the rugby space to get an idea of how big the rivalry used to be, they need to read and hear stories from people who were there back in the early 2010s and before.
However, not all hope is lost. If the COVID-19 pandemic did one good thing, it is to keep the Uganda vs Kenya fixture on the sidelines for three years between 2019 and 2023. The two countries met only once in this period – during the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup regrettably held in France.
This year, Uganda will play against Kenya twice in two successive weekends. This Sunday during the 2023 Victoria Cup title decider (doubling as Elgon Cup first leg) at Kings Park and then next Saturday during the Elgon Cup return leg in Kisumu.
The opportunity to restore the prestige and pride of the rivalry is enormous. Thus, it is important that both teams deliver an epic clash that will be etched into the history books almost immediately. Especially for the rookies (up to twenty – thirteen Kenyans and eight Ugandans) who are writing the first chapters of their international careers.
That way, the Uganda-Kenya (Elgon Cup) rivalry which has become a one-sided affair over the years can be born again.