KAMPALA - More young people in the East African nation of Uganda are tackling the sport of American football after learning the game from American volunteers in the country. Some schools want to include the game into their sports curriculum but there is an urgent need for coaches.
Ugandan Steven Okeng was visiting a friend at an orphanage in 2014 when he noticed American volunteers introducing the children to a game he had only watched on TV.
The 27-year-old architect asked if he could also play and quickly became hooked on American football.
Okeng started organizing players and in 2015 formed the American Football Federation – Uganda. There are now four teams around the country, each with 23 players.
“As the game continues to grow, we have very many institutions and secondary schools that are willing to have the game adopted into the sports curriculum. But you find that our biggest challenge are the coaches. We don’t have the resources, the human power to go and help us with the sport,” Okeng said.
The teams also lack helmets and pads, forcing them to play flag football instead of the full-contact tackle version of the game.
Nevertheless, in 2018 Uganda’s National Council of Sports recognized the sport’s growing popularity with $10,000 to help fund the federation.
Council spokesman Ismail Dhakaba says American football has shown great potential in schools, especially those teaching English.
“The language that you’re going to use to teach the sport is very important. It’s a sport whose technicalities are entirely in English. Touchdown, quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, those do not have anywhere in local dialect that you’re going to be able to translate them. So, it’s easier when you introduce them within the school system where people are studying English. Because then it’s very easy for them to interpret what’s happening,” Dhakaba said.
While most players are male, women also are playing.
They include the Kyambogo University’s team captain, Caroline Ajidru.
She says it’s a challenge to convince Ugandan women that American football is not too rough of a game.
I think girls will join, only that we’ve not been having that routine training. That has kept them away. But some have come. We’re like five. Others are still coming and (I) am still convincing them,” Ajidru said.
Imran Ssumujju, who coaches the Kyambogo team, says players have shown great promise in regional competitions.
“We are in flag football, whereby these players need to first understand the routes they are running, the formation they are installing within the game. Whether defense or offense or running backward receiver. But when you look at the players, the way they catch, they are good, only that they lack some facilities that we use in these techniques,” Ssumujju said.