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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Football Fever

The first term of school in Uganda ends with national football (soccer for Americans) tournaments for both boys' and girls' secondary school teams. Each of Uganda's burgeoning number of districts (recently topping 100) can send one school. For the boys the event is sponsored by Coca Cola, and I have to say this is a fine example of an industry putting something back into East Africa. They do tournaments in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania too, and promote the development of coaches, the identification of talent. They even sponsored an under-18 team to go to South Africa in a World Cup warm-up event. Coca Cola pays for the food for 80 teams of 20 boys and 2 coaches each, over a ten day period, plus t-shirts, banners, prizes, and a major media event for the opening and closing games. Because football is THE SPORT in Africa, the secondary school tournament is one of the major sporting or social events of the year for the country. And because football affords opportunity for health, success, competition, awareness of other tribes and areas of Uganda, team-work, pride, goal-setting, etc., the tournament contributes to the development of young people. And because our boys get to see a new place, interact with new people, spend large quantities of time with their coaches, struggle, and process, the tournament fosters discipleship and growth. As you can tell, I'm a fan.
This year we had planned to try and see the boys play as we returned from taking Luke and Caleb to fly back to Kenya. We were preparing to leave Kampala and checking on the first day or two of fixtures with Nathan when we got the surprising news: CSB had been randomly drawn to meet the host school, the powerful St. Henry's Kitovu, in the opening match. This is the only match that all the invited guests watch from the grandstand, that has a marching band, that every team lines the fields to see, that draws reporters and football officials and coke executives and you name it. This game is huge.
We pulled onto the St. Henry campus, which was nicer than almost any school in Uganda, expansive, huge fields, many, many dorms, chapels, classes, halls, green grass, space. This is a school that's probably five or six times older than ours, several times larger, and a hundred times richer. It was shocking. Hundreds and hundreds of boys from all over Uganda milled about in identical coca-cola shirts, a sea of red, a striking picture of what could have been a military camp (same age group) but was instead a sports camp (praise God for that). We greeted our boys who were nervous but smart in their CSB warm-ups. After music, acrobats, speeches, parades, the match was opened like a Premier League game, with much hooplah. There were our boys lined up on the field with several thousand people watching.
For the first 15 minutes or so we were great. Hope glimmered. We could have won. Nathan is a great coach, and Alex has prepared them well, they are smart and fast and able. I can't really explain the mental aspects of football, but they are huge. Perhaps the booming drum of the home team. Perhaps the murmurs in the crowd that we would lose 20 to nothing (I kid you not another team did lose 19 to 1 in another match). Perhaps the pressure of being in the spotlight. Perhaps playing a team that could do things like intentionally draw us offsides (our in-district competition was not at this level). Perhaps the decades of being colonized and marginalized and losing confidence, the sense of being from a remote and undeveloped place, of being unable to compete. Perhaps the larger pitch and general exhaustion. We lost 4 nil. We played hard, though, and the score does not reflect very well the eveness of the game.
Afterwards we shook everyone's hands, and left praying the boys would not lose heart. Nathan told us the same thing happened today in the second game, losing 3 to 1 in spite of initially coming on strong. Time for Kevin's "I believe in you" speech! It would be great if they won at least one of their next two matches.
Meanwhile we came back to Bundi, more on that some day, but tomorrow the girls' team leaves for their tournament. They are NOT sponsored by Coca Cola. Their tournament is pay-as-you-go, and Ashley and her supporters are our source here. The girls had no in-district games to prepare them, but they have practiced hard. Their tournament is in Gulu, which is a two-day drive from here. The pomp and glory will be lacking I suspect . . but they will probably have more fun. Instead of 80 teams they will be lucky to have 40.
Praying for our girls to travel safely, enjoy their adventure, play their best, and experience a taste of victory (one game won would be great!). Praying for Ashley in a position of responsibility, and Julia too, in cultural immersion. Stay tuned next week for the scores!

1 comment:

KevinandJD said...

I see the last picture on the blog entry, of our boys in their warm-ups in front of the official sign Christ School Bundibugyo... looking so REAL and I think back to the vision/strategic meeting we had with Bill Parr so long ago, when we were just dreaming of having a competitive football team... I'm thankful today for the glimpse of those dreams running onto the field to play. Football was so a part of our time in BGO, I'm glad to see the program remains strong, playing its part in bringing forth the Kingdom.