Corruption, underfunding and the miracle that netball’s She Cranes have become

The Uganda national netball team, the She Cranes, is in Cape Town, South Africa, participating in this year’s edition of the Netball World Cup.

The Uganda national netball team, the She Cranes, is in Cape Town, South Africa, participating in this year’s edition of the Netball World Cup. In recent years, the team has consistently participated in the global event and put up good performances.

In Cape Town, the She Cranes will be appearing in their fourth Netball World Cup. They made their debut in 1979 in Trinidad & Tobago. It had to wait 36 years to make its second appearance in Australia in 2015, where it finished fourth.

From 2015, the team has made two more appearances in 2019 and 2023.

Every edition has seen the Ugandans improve. The news coming from Cape Town International Convention Centre is impressive. The team has so far beaten Singapore (79 – 37) and Trinidad & Tobago (74 – 34) but lost 54 – 44 to New Zealand in the opener and lost 61 – 49 to Jamaica on Monday in the quarterfinals.

Jamaican players defending a She Cranes player in their World Cup encounter in Cape Town, South Africa.

The defeat against Jamaica meant that the She Cranes cannot progress to the semifinals and eventually the final. Uganda will play a yet-to-be-known opponent for the classification. By any standards, the team has performed well considering the conditions it endured before the tournament.

All is not well at home 

The team is putting in the shift, impressing and getting the results in Cape Town but back home,in Kampala, the story is gloomy. For the months leading to this world cup, the Uganda Netball Federation (UNF) and the National Council of Sports (NCS) have been embroiled in a corruption scandal that threatened the team’s participation in the World Cup.

While appearing on NBS Sport early this year, Sarah Babirye Kityo, the president of the federation, blew off the lid when she informed the public that NCS’s General Secretary Dr Patrick Ogwel asked her to account for Sh425m when he indeed had given her Sh186m.

Sarah Babirye Kityo, the president of the Uganda Netball federation.

Babirye said the Sh186m was for the She Cranes’ participation at the Pent Series and Africa Netball Championship in Namibia in November 2021. Uganda won the Pent Series and scooped second place at the Africa Netball Championship.

Before the revelation on NBS Sport, Babirye had appeared before a parliamentary parliament and broke down as she narrated her frustrating ordeal with the council. She informed the Adhoc committee that Dr Ogwel had continuously frustrated her federation’s activities by not complying with the set guidelines.

A bitter Babirye further alleged corruption and bribery at the National Council of Sports. She mentioned illegal kickbacks demanded by some officials in the sports regulatory body. The NCS denied the allegation saying Babirye was avoiding accountability.

In the same NBS Sport interview, Babirye highlighted that Dr Ogwel misappropriated money for the She Cranes’ participation at Pent Series and Africa Netball Championship. She said the Namibian government had paid for the team’s accommodation.

Administration wrangles 

Amidst these counter-accusations, Dr Ogwel’s NCS, at a press conference held on 1st February 2023, made a move to illegitimatize Babirye’s netball federation executive administration. NCS said it only recognizes UNF’s executive that assumed office on 25th June 2021 after an elective assembly.

NCS’s General Secretary Dr Patrick Ogwel

“Babirye amended the federation’s constitution and changed the executive after suspending four initial members she came into office with. These are: Ms.Mande Aminah (General Secretary), Muhumuza Richard (Vice President Technical) and Yahaya Ssengabi (Publicity),” Ambrose Tashobya, the NCS Chairperson, told journalists.

The NCS also claimed that everything the federation had done after amending the constitution was null and void because an interim court order in February last year prohibited UNF from conducting any activity.

Upon all these mixed reactions, In April, Babirye was asked to step down by the Minister for Education and Sports, Janet Museveni, in a meeting attended by Dr Ogwel and the State Minister for Sports.

This followed allegations of corruption, mismanagement of funds, and mistreatment of players during the 2021 Pent Series, including serious accusations of player harassment.

Babirye Kityo suspended 

Babirye was asked to step down for three months (90 days) to allow for a thorough investigation in order to restore integrity in the federation.

Once the three months elapsed last week on 21st July 2023, Babirye Kityo returned to her office where she was surprised to find armed policemen.

The officers ordered her to leave the premises without disclosing the source of their instructions. It is alleged that Brig Flavia Byekwaso, the Vice President of the federation, and Babirye’s deputy, had plotted a coup while Babirye was on suspension.

Babirye returned to her duties as the federation president and interacted with the She Cranes before the start of the World Cup.

Shortly after making a phone call, allegedly to Maj. Gen Kahinda Otafiire, the Internal Affairs Minister, Brig Byekwaso, along with the armed police officers, left the premises and Babirye returned to her office to serve as the federation president.

Speaking to journalist, Babirye said she was the elected president and no one would remove her from office apart from delegates.

“I am the elected president, not the appointed. The First Lady [sports minister] or State Minister [for sports] or National Council of Sports, constitutionally have no right to order me to step aside. It’s only the delegates who voted me in who can vote me out. I did step aside on mutual understanding because I knew I was innocent,” she told journalists.

She cranes welfare in Cape Town 

By Ugandan standards, especially netball, the She Cranes seem to be well facilitated. The team was given Sh150m in bonuses and allowances for the 2023 Netball World Cup campaign in Cape Town.

Ugandans in Cape Town cheering their team during a World Cup match.

The government rewarded each member of the She Cranes team with Sh10m. The team comprises 15 players including the three reserves. All the players will as well receive Sh250, 000 in allowances for their training period before the World Cup.

State Minister for Sports Peter Ogwang confirmed this development while flagging off the team to Cape Town. He challenged the netball federation to wire the money directly to their personal accounts.

Ogwang is hopeful that the allowances for players will not be diverted. He left behind his personal phone number for the players to call if any of them does not get their money.

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