Sunday, August 17, 2008

Idi Amin Dada: a curse in the political arena, a hero in the sporting field

It was on the 16th of August 2003 when Uganda was hit by the death of former president, Idi Amin Dada in Saudi Arabia. I know many of you know Amin as a man whom many ills have been documented against, but he is no doubt a hero in the sports arena.

Stories of the towering field marshal dishing out cash, offering his personal jet to sportsmen before and after any triumph, visiting sports camps to morale boost players or athletes among others during his reign as president are as common. Amin's love for sports dated way back during his youth stage. Standing at 6' 4" and weighing 280 pounds, he was once an East African heavy boxing champion, a swimmer, basketball and rugby player as well. One of the most vivid images of the sporting head of state, was in 1974 when he rolled up his sleeves, mounted the podium at Lugogo to contest with Peter Sseruwagi, the then national boxing tactician in an under card fight that the big man won with a knockout.

Amin and knockouts seemed to be synonymous and when he received complaints from Ugandan boxers that white judges were cheating them. He paved an immediate solution for this. He advised the boxers to knock out their opponents as a means of countering the controversial decisions. During his regime, the national boxing team, the Bombers, was ranked 3rd in the world amateur boxing and facing any Ugandan pugilist was like any team being drawn against Brazil in football.

Former Uganda Amateur Boxing Federation, President David Agong says Amin was a master of psychological warfare. He recalls when Amin scared off a British opponent in the Millington Drake Championship in Nairobi before even entering the ring. "As he was shadow boxing, he timed when a Briton was with in ear shot and said loudly that he had the previous night got a vision to kill his opponent in the ring. The muzungu, already shaken up by the size of the Ugandan, had no option other than taking off," Narrates Agong.

Agong, adds that one afternoon in 1976, President Amin offered 10,000 Shillings (the equivalent of what is now over a million) for anyone who could beat him in the breast stroke duel at Kampala Intenational Hotel swimming pool, which Agong did and earned the prize. In 1978, because of his foundation, the Uganda national soccer team, the Cranes qualified for the Ghana African Cup of Nations finals and the team surprised every one when it reached the finals only to lose to the hosts by 2-0. Up to now the cranes have failed to fly back to the finals of Africa's most prestigious soccer show piece.

When Akii Bua, scooped a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Amin rewarded him with a city bungalow. A street and a stadium in Lira, northern Uganda, were also named after the country's legendary runner. Just ask and you will see how many sports personalities have good memories of Amin and his desire to promote the practice and enjoyment of sports in Uganda. Former Cranes superstar Polly Ouma , is among those praising the Nubian born President. "As far as he was concerned, sportsmen's welfare was his first priority," says Ouma. He recalls a time at the height of the Tanzania-Uganda tension, when Amin hosted the Cranes before the Uganda vs Taifa stars CECAFA encounter in Zanzibar. "He wanted us to completely demolish the Tanzanians by not only defeating them on the football pitch but also to defeat the hearts of their wives. That's what we did exactly," Ouma told Ultimate Media.

For Amin, defeating Tanzania, his long term adversary, in sports, was like defeating them on the war front. He fired Voice of Uganda news paper sports editor (RIP) Sam Katerega after visiting the Cranes camp at Kyambogo and star player Denis Obua informed him that everything in the camp was okay save for Katerega's acidic pen. Amin couldn't wait for even a second. He immediately axed the scribe on the radio and its alleged that after the editor hearing his sacking on the 1pm news bulletin, Katerega failed even to clear his desk before fleeing to Kenya to escape a possible further 'punishment' from the well remembered notorious president.

However his despotism, which seemed to be inborn did not remain only in his political offices, but Amin carried it to all sports he engaged in. In sports, the title 'President' for heads of sports federations is common but to him this had to stop forthwith in Uganda. There was only one President in Uganda- Amin. He also wanted to be a champion of every game he engaged in, and you could only beat him at your peril. Many sports figures in the country at that time are united in their belief that the big man was a good promoter of sports, an entertainer, and less of a sadist that many people know him to be.

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