If only we had more Elgon Cups to play for
As the weekend approached, many football lovers were rubbing their fingers for what is considered to be arguably the most interesting football contest in Europe, El classic it is called.
I am talking about the duels between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The contest has become more interesting especially now that the two Spanish football giants boast of probably the two finest football stars in Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo.
The other major sports rivalry that comes to mind in almost equal measure is the contests between India and Pakistan on the cricket field. At one such game during the Cricket World Cup in South Africa, the Indian cabinet was flown in to attend the match.
When it comes to the East African region, we first have to acknowledge that apart from the athletic prowess of the Kenyans in the long distance races, the region is no sporting haven. Uganda used to be rated alongside Cuba in boxing but that is now more of a historical accolade.
Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi are yet to curve a sporting niche worth talking about. When it comes to football we are the region with the worst success compared to North, West and recently Southern Africa.
However, Kenya has managed to go beyond long distance races to register a mark in the game of Cricket by becoming a regular at the World Cup tournaments especially when they reached the semi final of the 2003 Cricket World Cup. The Kenyans have also been successful when it comes to rugby especially in the 7s A side version of the game.
It is also in the game of rugby that East Africa now has a sports duel that is gradually gaining importance that may eventually qualify it to our version of El classico status.
The Elgon Cup is contested between the rugby union teams of Uganda and Kenya. The men’s and women’s teams of these countries compete annually for their respective cups on a home and away basis.
This year’s contest was kicked off on Saturday at Kyadondo Rugby Grounds in Kampala, while the games in Kenya are usually played at the RFUEA Ground in Nairobi. The competition is named after Mount Elgon, a mountain on the border of the two countries. The men’s version started in 2004 while the women’s started in 2006.
This game always attracts huge crowds and lots of interest between the two countries. When held in Kampala, the Kenyans supporters come out in large numbers thanks to the huge Kenyan population especially of students attending Ugandan universities like Kampala International University.
The brotherly atmosphere during such games, is probably what we need to promote the EAC to the sports lovers in our countries. Each year rugby fans in Uganda and Kenya look forward to the Elgon Cup.
How about we think of Akagera (Kagera) Cup where Uganda and Rwanda football teams meet annually at Namboole and Amahoro stadiums? Already the two countries are crazy about the game and the rivalry seems to be growing over the years. The cup will be named after a river that is shared by both countries.
Burundi could also have a Tanganyika Cup with the Tanzanians in a football contest in Dar and Bujumbura. The two countries share the lake and could just as well share some sporting passion.
On a grander scale, we can have a Victoria Cup for the countries that share Lake Victoria and this could also include Rwanda and Burundi who are part of the larger Victoria basin. Such contests will clearly offer more EAC interest and news beyond the ubiquitous EAC summits that ordinary people find little resonance with.
A game between Uganda and Rwanda at Amahoro stadium is guaranteed to have more interest than an EAC summit on integration held at the Serena hotel. Even without going as far as national sporting competitions, we could also encourage contests between schools or universities in different countries.
I know for example that schools run by the same religious body or under similar ideals in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda could organise contests between these schools and thus boost integration among the youth. That way we shall have more than just the El Classico to look out for.
Contact email: Email: ssenyonga[at]gmail.com Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com Twitter: [at]ssojo81