Moses Ddungu wants skating to keep rolling
Ice skating is a relatively young sport in Uganda that tries to leave a mark on young people. Moses Ddungu, who is at the helm of the sport, tries to put all the pieces together to create a better platform for skaters to compete and be able to become professionals. But he has a balancing act to get everyone on board as the competing faction based in Kampala wants to keep going its course. He is so passionate that his daughter Fathuma Nassaazi, as well as his sons Yahaya Katongole and Ali Sekyangi, fly high in the sport. George Catongole talked to an experienced sports administrator about the future of ice skating in Uganda.
First of all, Who is Moses Ddungu?
I am the founder and president of the Uganda Speed Skating Federation. As a young man in high school, I participated in boxing and kickboxing. I didn't win anything there because by the time I wanted to get to the peak, that is, when I went to university. I focused on learning. I used to keep training with KBC, but my mind left the sport. I would also still hang out around Eddie Gombya, the founder of the kickboxing federation. I became interested in ice skating during a visit with my brother Julius Mugabi to South Africa in December 2010. We went to visit and found there a federation that was founded in 1975, Roller Sport South Africa. Here at home my brother was engaged in leisure-only skating, then I asked him why we weren't bringing back the federation home.
What was your perception of ice skating at the time?
I had a lot of questions. I asked myself if it was a sport or something for leisure. I used to ask him to teach me. When I got to South Africa, there was a lady named Wendy Gila, founder of Roller Sport South Africa, who encouraged me to try it. She answered most of my questions and I was amazed at the number of people skating on the streets in South Africa. She promised to support us. On my return, my brother, brother and friend Yahya Kamya (RIP) and I held a meeting and agreed to streamline our thoughts to form a federation. At that time there were many young people skating, but they were not organized. The first steps we took was a trip to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011 to appreciate because at the time Kenyans were 10 years ahead of us. In Kenya, we met with skaters from France who agreed to share with us the equipment we had previously started. They also helped us with refereeing skills. That's how we started the Uganda Speed Skating Federation. Jasper Aligavesa, then secretary general of the National Sports Council (NCS), helped us a lot in those early days.
In December 2011, we were invited to the African Championships in South Africa. But first I moved to India with the Rollball team for the World Cup. At that time, Rolball was part of our federation.
After the World Cup, Aligavesa advised us to separate Rolball from skating because the former has its own mother body in India.
In December 2011, we went to the first African Speed Skating Championships, where my brother Mugabi took part.
We were shocked to get to South Africa because South Africa has a ice skating stadium. South Africa paid a lot of attention to speed skating and we could only come back with experience and lessons.
We then mobilized boys who skated on the streets to join us and develop the sport. By then, my brother knew most of them, as he once rolled during ad campaigns. Few people joined us because the perception was still negative because they knew that getting paid was easier from promotions. A few that we received, we organized training and events in the parking lot of nambule stadium. It was ours home for built-in skaters since then because it is most appropriate. Some of our pioneer athletes are still with us, such as Janet Birungi and Nur Nakaiza.
How have you moved on since those early days?
Earlier during my visit to India, I contacted a company that gave us boots for only $500 and I bought a dozen pairs. By then, we had stepped up the sport through donations from Kenya and eventually we became the best performers in East Africa.
Our first win came in January 2012 during the Kasarani Roller Skating Championships in Kenya, where my brother and young girl Patricia Namuvaya won silver medals.
In November of that year, we returned to Kenya for the African Championships, where South Africa took almost half of all medals.
To test your Abilities, in 2013 we hosted two championships every December, the East African Championship and the Tupendane Cup. In the end, we reached a point where we didn't have the money around 2016 and we couldn't have a championship. In the section, morale went down and in 2017 we only had one race for freestyle.
We returned in 2018 to the club championship in Nambul to revive the sport again. In 2019, skateboarding was included in the program of the Olympic Games. At that time, we had something to prepare for a new discipline for the new World Skate bodysuit.
This announcement energized us again and we contacted people who had skate parks. We contacted Gerald Nsubuga, Jackson Mubiru, and David Keyza of Mukono, who founded the park at St. Noah Vantoni Elementary School. We started holding championships in Muconi after we got some resistance in Kitintale, where the owner wanted us to pay for the park. These people in Kitintale received help from Skate Aid and wanted to monetize the park, and the athletes joined the federation. So we moved to Mukono.
There are a number of disciplines of roller sports, where do you place accents?
On the advice of the NCS and the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC), right now we have speed skating and skateboarding. Last year, Uganda took part in the World Speed Skating Championships in Colombia for the first time. We had one athlete, Imran Seraga, who finished 76th out of 160 athletes. Around 2020, we were supposed to qualify, but due to limited travel, we were advised to host the national championships as qualifiers for the Olympics.
After covid lockdowns, the government supported us in hosting two national championships for qualifying purposes and the last qualifying matches in Italy around May 2021. Due to limited funding, we had a small team that included Douglas Mwesigwa, the highest-rated athlete in Uganda, Brian Bukenja and Rashid Sserunjogi.
Many people were surprised to see Ugandan athletes in the selection. The nature of the tracks in Italy, which are about half an acre, worried the athletes. Only Mwesigwa put up a commendable speech on the circumstances.
What have you achieved so far since the formation of the federation?
Ice skating was like a culture in Europe and the United States. When it became an Olympic sport, it gave a run to all federations around the world. Skateboarding is more common in South America, where Colombia are nine-time champions.
Like Uganda, this momentum has helped us develop as a sport. That's why we got a technical course [The five-day course was hosted at Buziga Country Resort to train judges and umpires. It was the first of its kind by World Skate in Africa] with the support of our Olympic Committee and government. Even though we don't have facilities and judges here, we're growing.
If we talk about perception, it is a sport where many parents scare away their children. In 2016, police even banned skating, calling it a public nuisance. What do you do about it?
We work with the KCCA and the Uganda police to make them aware of ice skating as a sport. That's why you're seeing a decrease in street skaters in the city. Now this power sanctions skaters, especially during promotional activities. We are slowly encouraging athletes to join the federation so that we can integrate them into the sport. For parents, we need media sensitization to portray ice skating as a positive sport. We have a lot to do in this area, but we try our best. We need to create a better image.
First, it's for relaxation as well as fitness, fun and competition as a sport. Before they start skating, they need to undergo basic training to limit injuries. We teach them about first aid. At the competition, we take precautions – we have a backup ambulance and a contact hospital in case of a serious injury. On the day of the event, we invite parents while for minors sign consent forms.
How many organized clubs do we have in Uganda?
We have only eight clubs. This is a small number because at our recent AGM in January 2022, we deregistered some clubs. We had 12 clubs, but most of them weren't on the ground. We have called for fresh applications that need to be completed. Current signatory clubs include Makerere, Uganda Skateboarding Society, Kampala Skating Club, Entebbe Roller Club, Costa Skating Academy, Cabalagala and Kampala Skating Club, among others. We have 250 registered athletes at these clubs.
Isn't that slow growth for the federation?
We're just getting started. The number of athletes continues to fall. During Covid-19, we have lost a lot of athletes looking for survival. We need to do more to addand more young athletes. We need to find athletes who can take us to the big championships. We want more clubs with trained coaches and referees. We also need at least a standard object. What we have here, people have them in their backyards elsewhere.
What are the main challenges facing you to give the world speed skating?
As the international federation is also transforming, we have few judges in Uganda. Only me and Gerald Nsubuga can judge skateboarding and speed skating, but I can't do everything. I can't be a judge, a president and a coach. Athletes are still the judges in speed skating. That's why we need more courses here. The second person, Camia, died. We need to train more judges who can meet international standards. When you miss the technical aspects, athletes miss a lot. We need to have more judges and coaches to share responsibilities.
The nature of skating is based on championships. We can't have leagues. We should have regular championships. Athletes must compete locally and internationally. At home, we have eight championships, four each in skateboarding and speed skating.
You are now paying a lot of attention to educating women. What is the place for women in ice skating, extreme sports?
Let me tell you about women. We need to play a lot of sports because the screening level in skating is high. Sometimes we recruit 20 athletes, but after three years you can only see three of them. This departure is due to the nature of the sport, which is extreme. When we train more women, they can convince more other athletes to join the sport. Women are very loyal when they believe in themselves.
What do you do to ensure that the sport spreads to other parts of the country? The concentration seems to be around Kampala.
Our biggest challenge is the land in the city. No one is ready to give you land for a skate park. That is why we are still even limited in the city. But we have an app in Gulu with Dove skateboarders. There are already some skateboarders. When we get people ready to give space, or universities and schools, we're willing to put up skate parks so the sport can grow. Our task is that many people consider it extreme.
But now we are looking at the qualifying matches of the Olympics. We are undergoing serious training because qualifications are available at international events. I hope we have a better chance of qualifying as an athlete for the next Games. For Tokyo, Mwesigwa missed narrowly, but now we have even more athletes pushing in place, including Rashid Sserunjogi and Brian Bukenya. We missed the first qualifying matches in Rome and are now planning the next one in Brazil in October.
How do you strategically want to position this sport? In schools or communities?
Since time immemorial, skateboarding has been in communities around the world. Skate parks are owned by communities. But in order to attract athletes, you have to use schools and universities.
We use athletes to create clubs in such a way that the sport can grow out of people who have experience.
How to make sports more sustainable?
We need more investment. Our sport needs a lot of funding. When you look at skateboarding, a pair of boots costs only $1,200 and a skate suit costs $40 in China. When you look at what we get from the government and our demands, the sport becomes unsustainable. We need more sponsors on top of Mountain Dew. We appreciate what the UOC and NCS are doing for us, especially Dr. Bernard Ogvel, who has been a key supporter of our activities.
Police banned speed skating on the roads. Police Chief Polly Namaye called the sport a public nuisance.
Aggressive ice skating
Date of Birth: July 21, 1981
Profession: Tourist professional
Schools: Gombe, Kasubi, Hassan Turabi Bwaiogere, Kibuuk Memorial and Makere University (2006).