Skating is a relatively young sport in Uganda attempting to leave a mark on the youth. Moses Ddungu, who is at the helm of the sport is trying to put all pieces together to create a better platform for skaters to compete and be able to become professionals. But he has a balancing act to bring everyone on board as a rival Kampala-based faction wants to continue running its course. He is so passionate that his daughter Fatumah Nassaazi as well as his sons Yahaya Katongole and Ali Ssekyanzi are flying high in the sport. George Katongole spoke to the experienced sports administrator about the future of skating in Uganda.
First things first, who is Moses Ddungu?
I am the founder and the president of Uganda Skating Federation. As a young man in high school I participated in boxing and kickboxing. I did not win anything there because by the time I wanted to hit the peak that is when I went to university. I concentrated on studies. I used to continue training from KBC but my mind had left sport. I would also still hang around Eddie Gombya, the founder of the kickboxing federation. I got a passion for skating during a visit with my brother Julius Mugabi in South Africa in December 2010. We had gone for a visit and found there a federation that was started in 1975, the Roller Sports South Africa. Here at home my brother used to do skating just for leisure then I asked him why don’t we make a federation back home.
What was your perception of skating by then?
I had a lot of questions. I was asking myself whether it is a sport or something for leisure. I used to ask him to teach me. When I reached South Africa, there was a lady called Wendy Gila, the founder of Roller Sport South Africa, who encouraged me to try. She answered most of my questions and I was amazed by the number of people who were skating on the streets in South Africa. She promised to support us. On return, my brother and I, my brother and a friend Yahya Kamya (RIP), held a meeting and agreed to streamline our thoughts in order to form a federation. At the time there were a number of young people rolling on skates but they were not organised. The first steps we took was to travel to Nairobi, Kenya in 2011 to benchmark because by then the Kenyans were 10 years ahead of us. In Kenya we met pro-skaters from France who agreed to share equipment with us that we used to start. They also helped us with judging skills. That is how we started the Uganda Skating Federation. Jasper Aligawesa, the then National Council of Sports (NCS) General Secretary helped us a lot in those early days.
In December 2011, we were invited to the African championships in South Africa. But I first moved to India with the Rollball team for the World Cup. At the time, Rollball was part of our federation.
After the World Cup, Aligaweesa advised us to separate Rollball from skating because the former has its own mother body in India.
In December 2011, we went to the first African Skating Championships where my brother Mugabi took part.
We were shocked on reaching South Africa because South Africa has a stadium for inline skating. South Africa was focusing a lot on speed skating and we could only return with experiences and lessons.
We then mobilised boys that were skating on the streets to join us and grow the sport. By then my brother knew most of them as he used to roll during promotional campaigns. Not many joined us as the perception was still negative as they knew that getting money was easier from promotions. The few we got, we organised training and events in the parking yard of Namboole Stadium. It has been our home for inline speed skaters since then because it is the most appropriate. Some of our pioneer athletes are still with us such as Janet Birungi and Noor Nakayiza.
How did you move on from those early days?
Earlier on my visit to India, I got in touch with a company that would give us boots for as low as $500 and I bought a dozen pairs. By then we boosted the sport with donations from Kenya and eventually, we became the top performers in East Africa.
Our first victory came in January 2012 during the Kasarani Roller-skating Championship in Kenya where my brother and a young girl Patricia Namuwaya got silver medals.
In November the same year we returned to Kenya for the African championships where South Africa took almost half of all the medals.
To test our abilities, in 2013, we hosted two championships, the East African championship and the Tupendane Cup every December. Eventually, we reached a point when we did not have money around 2016 and were unable to host the championships. The morale went down and in 2017 we only had one race for freestyle.
We came back in 2018 for the Clubs championships in Namboole to revive the sport again. In 2019, skateboarding was included in the Olympic Games programme. At that time we had a lot to prepare for the new discipline under the new body World Skate.
That announcement re-energised us and we contacted people who had skate parks. We contacted Gerald Nsubuga, Jackson Mubiru and David Kizza of Mukono who had established a park at St Noah Primary School Wantoni. We started hosting championships in Mukono after getting some resistance in Kitintale where the owner wanted us to pay for the park. Those people in Kitintale get aid from Skate Aid and wanted to monetise the park and the athletes to join the federation. That’s how we moved to Mukono.
There are a number of roller sport disciplines, where are you placing the emphasis?
With advice from the NCS and the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC), right now we have speed skating and skateboarding. Last year, for the first time, Uganda participated in the World Speed Skating Championships in Colombia. We had one athlete Imran Serumaga emerging number 76 out of the 160 athletes. Around 2020, we were supposed to take part in qualifiers but due to limited travels, we were advised to host national championships as qualifiers for the Olympics.
After Covid lockdowns, we were supported by the government to host two national championships for qualification purposes and the last qualifiers in Italy around May 2021. Because of limited funding, we had a small team having Douglas Mwesigwa, the highest ranked athlete in Uganda, Brian Bukenya and Rashid Sserunjogi.
Many people were surprised to see Ugandan athletes in the qualifiers. The nature of the tracks in Italy, which are about half an acre, disturbed the athletes. Only Mwesigwa put up a commendable performance under the circumstances.
What have you achieved so far since becoming a federation?
Skating was like a culture in Europe and the US. When it became an Olympic sport, it gave mileage to all federations across the world. Skateboarding is more common in South America where Colombia are nine-time champions.
As Uganda, this momentum has helped us to grow as a sport. This is 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 support from our Olympic committee and government. Despite the fact that we don’t have facilities here and judges, we are growing.
Talking about perceptions, this is a sport where many parents discourage their children. In 2016, the police even banned skating, calling it a public nuisance. What are you doing about that?
We are working with KCCA and Uganda police to make them aware of skating as a sport. That is why you are seeing a decrease of street skaters in the city. Those authorities now authorise skaters especially during promotional events. We are slowly encouraging athletes to join the federation such that we can integrate them in the sport. For the parents, we need sensitisation from the media to portray skating as a positive sport. We have a lot to do in this area but we are trying our best. We need to create a better image.
First, it is for leisure but also fitness, fun and competition as a sport. Before one starts skating, they need to undergo basic training to limit the injuries. We teach them about first aid. At competitions, we take precautions – we have a standby ambulance and a contact hospital in case of a serious injury. On event day, we invite parents while for the minors they sign consent forms.
How many organised 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 were not on the ground. We called for fresh applications that have to be met. The current subscribing clubs include Makerere, Uganda Skateboarding Society, Skating Club of Kampala, Entebbe Roller Club, Costa Skating Academy, Kabalagala and Kampala Skating Club, among others. We have 250 registered athletes within those clubs.
Isn’t this a slow growth for the federation?
We are just starting. The number of athletes keeps dropping. During Covid-19 we lost a lot of athletes looking for survival. We need to do more to add on more young athletes. We need to find athletes who can take us to the major championships. We want to have more clubs with trained coaches and judges. We also need at least a standard facility. What we have here people have them in their backyards elsewhere.
What are the main challenges you face to give the world skating?
Since the international federation is also transforming, In Uganda, we have few judges. It’s only me and Gerald Nsubuga who can judge skateboarding and inline speed skating but I cannot do everything. I cannot be the judge, president and coach. The judges in speed skating are still athletes. That is why we need more courses here. The second person, Kamya, 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 cannot have leagues. We have to have regular championships. Athletes need to compete locally and internationally. At home, we have eight championships, four each for skateboarding and inline speed skating.
You are now putting a lot of emphasis on training women. What is the place of women in skating, an extreme sport?
Let me tell you about women. We need to engage women in sport a lot because the dropout rate in skating is high. Sometimes we recruit 20 athletes but after three years, you can only see three of them. This dropout 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 are you doing about the sport spreading to other parts of the country? The concentration seems to be around Kampala.
Our biggest challenge is land in the city. No one is willing to give you land for a skate park. That is why we are still even limited in the city. But we have a programme in Gulu with the Dove Skateboarders. There are some skateboarders already. When we get people willing to give space or universities and schools, we are willing to put up skate parks so that the sport can grow. Our challenge is that many people consider it extreme.
But now we look at the Olympics qualifiers. We are undergoing serious training because qualification is in international events. I am hopeful that we have higher chances of qualifying an athlete in the next Games. For Tokyo, Mwesigwa missed narrowly but now we have even more athletes pushing for a place including Rashid Sserunjogi and Brian Bukenya. We missed the first qualifiers in Rome and we now plan for the next in Brazil in October.
How do you strategically want to position the sport? In schools or communities?
Since time immemorial, skateboarding has been in communities all around the world. Skate parks are owned by communities. But in order to attract athletes, we have to use schools and universities.
We are using athletes to start clubs such that the sport can grow from people who have the experience.
How do you make the sport more sustainable?
We need more investment. Our sport requires a lot of funding. When you look at skateboarding, a pair of boots is only $1,200 and a skate suit is $40 in China. When you look at what we get from the government and our requirements, the sport becomes unsustainable. We need more sponsors on top of Mountain Dew. We appreciate what UOC and NCS are doing for us, especially Dr Bernard Ogwel, who has been a key supporter of our activities.
Police banned speed skating on roads. Police chief Polly Namaye labelled the sport a public nuisance.
Aggressive inline skating
Date of birth: July 21, 1981
Profession: Tourism professional
Schools: Gombe, Kasubi, Hassan Tourabi Bweyogerere, Kibuuka Memorial and Makerere University (2006).