Ball hockey breaks through Uganda

BY MAXY MAGELLA ABENAITWE

Africans take pride in their traditions. But for Amon Matthew, the African tradition meant absolutely nothing to him. Just when he was seven years of age, he opted to learn the foreign culture. He read and watched Spanish books and movies. Within a short period of time, Matthew taught himself to speak Spanish fluently. The language earned him friendship with Jean Chamberlain because she was in awe to see an African boy speaking Spanish. Through Chamberlain, a Canadian doctor, who headed the Save the Mothers programme at Uganda Christian University for a decade, Matthew won the friendship of a small Canadian community at the university.  

His relation with Canadians sparked young Matthew’s passion for the Canadian ball hockey. As he visited this community, he got exposed to a ball hockey team, which he later joined out of curiosity and for fun. To Matthew, ball hockey was beautiful and interesting. “Out of love for the game I did what others couldn’t. I put my all,” Matthew narrates. 

At only eight, Matthew earned captainship of the hockey team at UCU. Ten years later, Matthew took over from the founder of the ball hockey team, Thomas Froese,  when the latter returned to Canada. That’s when the gist of game got tougher. “At that point, I realised I had been left with a huge task, considering the fact that I was the youngest on the team,” Matthew reckons. Matthew started leaving school to fulfil his captainship duties.

Perturbed by Matthew’s absence at his high school sports activities, students regularly asked him, “Why the absence?” His response was always, “ball hockey”. They couldn’t get it. “What is ball hockey?” they always asked. 

Lit up with excitement, Matthew always rushed to explain what ball hockey is. Surprisingly, Matthew’s schoolmates gradually developed interest in the game. To them it seemed a fancy game. Truth be told, Africans love fancy things. They quickly ran into learning how ball hockey works. Just a few lectures from Matthew, it all levelled up and there, a vigorous ball hockey team was formed.

Matthew thought ball hockey could get bigger and better if he spread the joy of the game to the rest of the country. He started by approaching schools and tertiary institutions, persuading them to try out the game. Baroma Institute was the first to venture in the hilarious game. Several other schools took it up. 

By 2018, Matthew knew he had to go an extra mile because it was getting more interesting by the day. Unfortunately, he was not helped when he approached the Ministry of Education and Sports to sell the idea. He then visited the National Council for Sports and got in contact with the assistant chair of the Uganda Hockey Association. Persuasive Matthew came over well equiped with ball hockey videos that he showed off to the official. The surprised lady quickly fixed an appointment with herself, Matthew and the Mukono Municipality mayor, Fred Kagimu.

During a talk with the mayor on the issue of ball hockey, he eagerly responded, “I watch it when I go to Sweden.”  The game was immediately approved and registered under the Federation of Ball Hockey. The greatest achievement of all being the transformation of the hockey association to a federation. 

The journey has just begun but sadly it appears like a cruising vehicle without fuel. Matthew has no equipment. There is also literally no starting point due to lack of funding. Ball hockey kit is extremely expensive and frankly with the highest number of Ugandans living below the poverty line, not many would invest in the sport. Note that the cheapest hockey stick costs Shs50,000, of course leaving out other needs like jerseys. The Ugandan budget allocation to the sports sector might also not be enough to boost such an expensive game to international level. So Matthew sought out foreign aid from the London Ball Hockey Association in Canada, the International Street Ball Hockey Federation, and the World Ball Hockey Federation.

In support of the Ugandan newly born hockey team, events and matches were organised. Fortunately for Uganda, a huge shipment from London Ontario will be landing in a month’s time. It is under the care of Froese. Items donated include phones and ball hockey kits.

Ambitious Matthew sees Uganda taking part in the 2021 World Championship events. “With or without the Ugandan government, we can still go on because so far they have given us nothing but we are growing. No matter what, we shall get there,” Matthew said.

Currently, Matthew is organising a national tournament of the juniors and men’s teams.

Francis Wanula, a ball hockey player, credits Matthew for exposing Ugandans to such a beautiful game. “It’s a very attractive and enjoyable game. Actually, most players join unconsciously. They just come for fun and they end up taking it seriously. We look forward to getting it completely professional very soon,” he said.

Uganda ball hockey will forever be grateful to Froese for building the first playground at the UCU staff quarters. The sport in Uganda will also always trace its roots to UCU. That’s why Matthew thinks it will be an embarrassment for any other university to take on ball hockey before UCU does.

“Since I returned to Canada in 2017, it’s been great to see the hockey gear I left behind used so well. But when more sticks and pads and other gear arrive later in 2020 from these current donor drives in Canada and the U.S, I think the game will rise to another level in Uganda,” Froese explains. According to Froese, it’s a great reflection on UCU that over the years it’s been so central in all this, providing the space and support for the rise of this most unique game.

Cornelius Engwenyu, the UCU sports department coordinator informed The Standard that ball hockey is a purely new game that needs time to grow. To Engwenyu UCU needs more time to observe and see how it can fit in. “We shall take it up but not now,” he said.