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Rugby in Western Uganda is eyeing a revamp and the administrators insist they have to go back to basics.

Western Uganda Rugby Union is one of the regional decentralized bodies to help the Uganda Rugby Union realize the goal of at least 100,000 Ugandans actively involved in Rugby.

URU split into 4 regional bodies to help run the game i.e Western, Eastern, Northern and Central. Different unions are faced with different problems and President Kalimba believes will be a huge force to reckon with.

Along with URU’s goal of involvement, the West is tackling this with a top-to-bottom approach. Their most immediate plan is targeting primary institutions, to post-primary and tertiary before the club thoughts come in.

“We have our target of Schools that includes primary, secondary and tertiary, and clubs to hit, the target is similar for all RUs. We are seeing Western Uganda Rugby going back to basics. The aim is to grow numbers out of the central region and that’s how we fall in,” remarked Stephen Kalimba, Western Rugby Chair.

Rugby in Uganda is majorly a central region’s game. At least 50% of the teams in the premiership now subscribe to a Lugogo home. Heathens and Buffaloes have been joined by Rams at Kyadondo. Rhinos, Warriors and Betway Kobs call Legends (Kampala Rugby Club) home. Black Pirates are now more than a year old in Bweyogerere after ditching Legends.

Impis have a fully gazetted university rugby field to call home while Mongers roam about Entebbe searching for a permanent home. Jinja Hippos are the other side with a home, without extra tenants.

From the above stats, given that the major attraction stars are about Kampala, URU’s decision to grow beyond the central region has probable cause.

Owing to various factors, economic, social, political and financial, the Western region calls for a non-similar approach. Mbarara has Ntare, Mbarara high dominance and that is a gateway. Masaka’s football attachment is a glue rugby looks to exploit.

“Rugby has been largely an affair of Ntare School and Mbarara High School (Chappa) but we had to add to that duo. If we have to take Western Uganda Rugby back to basics, we need more schools. With the help of the RDO, Tim Iraka, we’ve spread the game to other schools. City High and Katatumba Academy have joined in,” says a proud Stephen Kalimba.

“We’re moving on to St Elizabeth Girls S.S not to mention, various primary schools. We are not leaving the girls behind. Women’s rugby in Uganda is also as vital as the men’s.”

Tim Iraka oversees the Mbarara section, while Patrick Kagimu Kasule heads the Masaka section. Sam Rukundo heads the development in Kabale, as Traton heads the Fort Portal development area.

“These above sub-regions have their unique dynamics that can be handled best by the locals. The heads are maintaining regular programs in the schools. These include training sessions like 2 or 3 times a week, and growing their team numbers. This isn’t to say programs haven’t been there but the emphasis is on registration then tournaments. This will help retain numbers and maintain participation.”

Although schools build attachments, the Western Rugby Union does not plan on leaving the communities behind. The rooting of communities is underway with the hope of establishing local clubs.

“Community Engagement has been most successful in Masaka. With Masaka Rugby Club having a home and close proximity to an urban area (Nyendo), the advantage is huge. We are consulting for ideas but it will take a lot for other sub-regions without a rugby home. A rugby home aside, there’s still a lot to achieve on our plate.”

Pirates and Kobs players bundle up after a successful Buddu 7s at Masaka Rugby Grounds in 2019 (Kratos Sports Photo)

About competing nationally and regularly, the Union’s bosses admit the student nature of most of the players affects their retention, not to mention the financial incapacitation of the game nationwide.

“Back in time, we had Bobby Bibangamba and Roger Mwine down here in the early 2010s. They harbored ambition but dropped it due to challenges of holding onto player numbers. For a long time, we have had just players coming from Ntare, Chappa, MUST and KIU Ishaka and the odd working professional. It may look like a good base for a club but year after year, they move on to other things.”

The Western Titans have been the most sounding team from the Western Union and they have since gotten company from Buddu. The plan is to develop a string of actively involved teams, competing nationally.

“Seeing what Jinja Hippos and the Walukuba Barbarians have done shows that this is possible. We have to organize a successful league and grow a crop of players specifically for that goal. We are also working on a plan to raise finances. We need to e self-sustaining to get strong. It’s a new plan but we will execute it because it’s achievable.”

The Western Rugby Union has had the privilege of working with different figures, players, and administrators in order to realize these goals. The list includes Ivan Magomu, Dr. Guma, Sam Acellam, Frank Walugembe, and many others.

A lot was in place and already underway but just the rest of the world, Uganda sports in on hold owing to the Corona Virus Pandemic. Owing to Government directives, URU temporarily suspended all national rugby activities.

The shutdown saw the postponement of activities like friendly games, and officials training and equipment sessions.

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