Mon pi Mon in conversation with woman sports journalist Usher Komugisha

The Sports space is dominated by men even though for every men’s sports team in Uganda, there is a women’s team too. Almost every team. Mon pi Mon looked through the Sports pages everyday for about three months to see if there were any women’s bylines. (This was done with just the two English national dailies). There were hardly any. There was Jacinta Odongo in Daily Monitor. Beyond these papers, we have Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC)’s Jane Kasumba.

We exchanged a couple of emails with Usher Komugisha who used to report for The New Vision and is currently stationed in Rwanda, with The Rwanda Focus.

Mon: How long have you been reporting in the field?
Usher Komugisha: I have been a sports journalist since October 2008. My first introduction to sports journalism was with Touchdown, an evening show aired on weekdays. I started out as part of a Saturday sports show on Power FM where I sometimes got the opportunity to sit with Joseph Kabuleta and Mark Ssali who I still look up to.

It was an interesting start. One day I was at Watoto church in the afternoon, sipping on yoghurt when a gentleman sat next to me and said hullo. I replied. We were upstairs, you know that part where you can watch the traffic down. I got into a conversation with him and he told me that he worked on a sports show at Power FM, and I was thinking how cool that was. I told him I played basketball in the league and I offered to always give him information after basketball games: statistics and results. As we continued the conversation, he mentioned that he thought I had a good voice and offered to host me on the radio show. I told him he is a joker. He insisted and said, “Go and think about it and when you make up your mind, come back and start.”

I went home and thought about it then I came back after a few days. I figured I could go into the studio and just listen as those guys went on with their show. I got into the studio and met Mark and Joseph and pulled up a chair after introductions. When the show started he was like, “A very good evening to all you listeners, welcome to Touchdown. With me in the studio are the usual suspects Mark Ssali, Joseph Kabuleta and John Kusolo and today we have a visitor…” Now when he said that I made signs at him to stay quiet about my presence, but he continued and “…oh she does not want me to mention her name, well, we have Usher Komugisha.” I almost collapsed.

Mon: Have you always been involved in sports?

UK: Yes, I have always been a sports person. In primary school back in Kasese where I grew up, I used to run at district competitions. I would win or sometimes be runner-up in the long distance races. I played literally every game from dodgeball (kwepena) to volleyball to netball. In my Senior Three, I started playing basketball at Kibuli SS.

I do not think I have a favourite sport because all sporting disciplines have a similar effect on me, be it Formula One, cricket, rugby, basketball, volleyball. I could end up naming all of them.

Mon: What was being on the talkshow like? Considering you were just breaking into the field and your co-hosts were male, and already popular in the Sports field.Usher Komugisha

UK: As the show progressed, I was amazed about their vast knowledge of sports. I wwould stare at them and wonder if one day I will ever be that informed. Jeez.

That is when I made up my mind that I wanted to be a sports journalist. I did not grow up with the ambition to be a sports journalist. But given that I loved- and have been involved in- sports from when I was young, and also enjoyed writing and being informed, it fit. When you bring the two together, well it was just the recipe.

Mon: What is it about Mark Ssali that makes you look up to him?

UK: Mark Ssali is an inspiration to me because he played football and basketball at the top level and when he is speaking about something, he knows exactly what he is talking about. From a players’ perspective, he knows what he is saying. And I can relate to that since I am actively involved in sports which helps me to understand certain aspects of reporting. Mark Ssali also has a good choice of words. He is a good writer and so is Kabuleta. And as a writer, words are your best asset.

Mon: What are your thoughts on sports reporting in Uganda?

UK: First of all, yes for the print newspapers, they are trying to do their best and Daily Monitor has stepped up their reporting and also their former boss gave the sports desk some priority which works for them. A daily column to express the writer’s opinion is a rare and most welcome sight in this section.

Generally, in Uganda, anyone who knows a thing or two about football especially foreign football like the English Premier League thinks they can become a journalist. Yet, honestly, sports journalism is bigger than just knowing football. Listeners especially on radio want to know more about football so the journalists are also forced to take of their listeners’ needs. But the general familiarity with other sport like cricket, rugby, chess, golf, taekwondo is low. So when a reporter- who in some cases does not also understand these games- tries to talk about them especially on the stations that broadcast in the local languages, there is a problem. So why not tell us that Mesuit Ozil is going to be the force behind Arsenal getting a trophy after an eight year drought instead of trying to explain that Uganda beat Namibia by five wickets? (cricket) There is no language for the games either. How do you translate the terms in these games say runs overs, which is empikyi in Luganda but what about other languages?

Then again, most federations are based in the central region and are only recently trying to spread out to the upcountry districts but are limited by financial constraints. It is a whole cycle of issues.

I think that sports reporting in Uganda can be better. For example, the sports journalists’ body, USPA, has taken big steps and is a respected body. It is known for staging the biggest sports awards in Uganda (USPA awards)- the sports personality of the month as well as female and male sports personalities in each sporting disciplines at the end of the year and an overall one. USPA has always tried to keep the standard of sports reporting but in the end, it is up to the individuals to achieve their ambitions, to work hard, to emulate some of the world’s best sports reporters.

Mon: Sometimes we have games played by both Uganda Cranes teams and Lady Cranes, in various sports. There is however a huge discrepancy in the country’s awareness of either games with the male teams getting more publicity. To my understanding, several Lady Cranes teams have been on an even better winning streak than their male counterparts. (for example the Lady Rugby Cranes and the Uganda Cranes rugby team). Is this something that sports reporters struggle with? That people will pay more attention to a men’s team than a women’s team.

UK: Well, it is true that the Lady Rugby Cranes are the only senior team to have represented Uganda at the World Cup (Dubai, January 2009) and were also playing a World Cup qualifier but almost everyone turns a blind eye. When they had their World Cup qualifier in South Africa, it coincided with the Uganda Cranes match against Senegal in Morocco. Everything that weekend was about the Uganda Cranes. Government of Uganda chartered a plane for fans to go and watch the Uganda Cranes match against Senegal in Morocco but early last year, the Uganda She Cranes (netball team) travelled almost 1800km to Blantyre, Malawi by road to represent the country at the Africa Netball Championships! Can you imagine four days on the road? They came back on road- another four days. How absurd can that be? And they are expected to compete favourably like their opponents who have all the facilities back home? They finished third in that championship.

Uganda has very talented female football players but FUFA has not done much to start a women’s league. And then a national team is assembled after about three years to play World Cup Qualifiers when they have not been playing active football. The team is expected to beat a Congolese team whose players have been playing professional football. Our neighbor Rwanda has a professional women’s league with nine teams but Uganda does not even have a three-team league.

There are many frustrations but ultimately, this is a general mindset about women’s sports in Uganda. The teams are good and have the ability to put the Pearl of Africa on the world map but they lack facilities and support from all stakeholders. I believe that sports reporting towards women’s sport can change with time and get better than it is currently. There is a glimmer of hope.

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