The 2020 Momentum gsport Awards introduced two new categories; the Global Woman in Sport and African Woman in Sport awards. The latter couldn’t have gone to a more deserving person, the hard-working Usher Komugisha.

The ‘Daughter of Africa’ born in Kilembe, Uganda, is an award winning multi-media journalist who covers African Football for SuperSport, she also writes for the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Working for these two powerhouses has seen Komugisha travel the world and tell stories like a true African scribe, emotive, factual and very articulate.

One of Usher’s biggest career highlights is covering the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket in Senegal where the Senegalese made history by registering the biggest crowd ever to watch basketball in Africa. A 15, 000 seater Dakar Arena and many more thousands outside the stadium eager to watch women’s basketball, dispelling the myth that women’s sport does not sell tickets.

Usher Komugisha’s ambition overflows, on top of expanding her list of accolades, she is also on a mentorship journey, equipping the next generation of  girl scribes. She dreams of the day we switch on the TV and radio and women’s sport is getting the coverage it deserves. A dream that has proven reasonable, time and again. A former basketball player herself, Usher wants to see all platforms shine a light on women’s athletes so that they too can become global superstars.

She is such an inspiration and a great ambassador for the continent of Africa.

The inaugural gsport African Woman in Sport talks to Celine about her win on the Momentum gsport Awards stage and opens up on her journey in sport.

Congratulations on winning the African Woman in Sport award? How do you feel about the recognition?

I am greatly honoured and humbled to have received this prestigious Award – the first of its kind. I am excited and truly grateful to God the Almighty, my dear mother who has believed in me from day one, my close friends, everyone that made this happen right from the organizers of the Momentum gsport Awards to the fans that voted for me, to every woman and man that has held my hand and opened doors for me to thrive in my career. 

You were not able to join us at the event, let us Imagine you were on stage in Johannesburg and you had to introduce yourself to South Africa, who is Usher Komugisha?

Hahaha! I love to refer to myself as a Daughter of Africa. I love this continent so much that sometimes when a fellow journalist from a different country on the continent asks for a contact in another country, I will be the first to raise my hand. I resonate with every country and from a positive outlook, I subscribe to the notion that Africa is a country.

“From the people, to the food to the culture to their love for sports, we are the same people. I have been so honoured to experience Africa through my work covering basketball and football.” – 2020 Momentum gsport Awards African Woman in Sport winner, Usher Komugisha

From the people, to the food to the culture to their love for sports, we are the same people. I have been so honoured to experience Africa through my work covering basketball and football and I feel that I can relate with the way Ethiopians love their morning coffee to admiring medieval art in Mauritania or Zanzibar to watching live local football in a small coffee shop on the streets of Casablanca to eating nshima in Lusaka or soul fish in Yaounde or simply having to navigate the constant weather changes in Port Elizabeth.

Was sport in your radar growing up? Or did you see yourself in a different career?

I had a lot of adrenaline as a child. I played golf in Kilembe where I was born and raised. It is a small former copper mining town on the foothills of Mount Rwenzori – the second highest mountain in Africa. I did track and field from a very young age, got immersed into volleyball and netball all through my primary school. I was the queen of dodgeball. The girls at school “fought” to have me on their teams because I was very flexible and did everything to win the game hahaha.

I went to one of the best sports schools in Uganda – Kibuli in Kampala and there, I joined the school basketball team. I remember in my first year of playing for the team, we were selected on a national U-16 team to go to the Coca Cola Championships to be held in South Africa but the trip did not happen. We went on to win the National Secondary Schools Championship in 2006 and I continued playing basketball after that in the national league winning the title before I chose to focus on my journalism career.

“I have always loved sports from my childhood and because my parents introduced me to reading books and daily newspapers from a very young age, I always wanted to be the girl that knows information before everyone else so that I can tell them in detail.” – Komugisha on developing her passion for sports and how reading moulded her future journalism career.

So yes, I have always loved sports from my childhood and because my parents introduced me to reading books and daily newspapers from a very young age, I always wanted to be the girl that knows information before everyone else so that I can tell them in detail. When I look back, that actually moulded me into being a journalist.

Sometimes, I read the atlas and a dictionary while eating food just to learn all the capital cities in the world and to learn the origin of words and their pronunciation – basically phonetics. It was a fun game I used to play and the more I think about it, that has helped me a lot in my career. I also picked up languages easily and that has continued in my adulthood to intentionally learn languages to help me do my job in a continent so diverse yet so similar.

You’ve made huge strides at FIBA Africa, what have been some of your highlights?

Last August, I was honoured to be the lead reporter at the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket in Senegal and it was my first time going to Dakar. I had always dreamt of doing so because I love Senegalese people, their food, art and culture. They are some of the humblest people I know in the world along with the Japanese.

At this tournament, I experienced history as Senegal made history by registering the biggest crowd to ever watch basketball in Africa and that it came at a women’s tournament brought tears to my eyes. Senegalese fans filled up the 15,000-seater Dakar Arena and I can dare say that there were some 10,000 people outside who wanted to enter the Arena. They did this for a week! For the final, they arrived as early as 8am yet the game was 10 hours away. I had never seen anything like that before. I left Dakar so energized and thinking that really if we collectively gave women’s sports a chance in Africa and across the world, it is absolutely sellable.

Two rival bands filled with men and women, who had painted faces of yellow, green and red colours, drummed their way through games everyday dancing and celebrating every basket, it was absolutely magnificent.

Paint us a picture of where women’s basketball is in the continent in comparison to globally?

Women’s basketball in Africa is on a trajectory. Senegal is the most decorated team for the past four decades but in the last three years, Nigeria has won two continental titles and are going to the Tokyo Olympics. Mali and Mozambique are in the conversation as well as semifinalists at the last two AfroBasket editions.

Nigeria have raised the bar so high that now every young girl born to Nigerian parents especially in the USA yearns to play for D’Tigress as they call their national side. Most recently, Erica Ogwumike committed to playing for Nigeria even though her sisters Nneka and Chiney play for the USA.

Nneka was drafted as the number one pick in the 2012 WNBA draft and guided the Los Angeles Sparks to the title four years later. So if players like Erica want to represent Nigeria, it is good news for D’Tigress as well as women’s basketball in Africa because then it casts more light on the game here and that is what we all want.

In February at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Serbia, Nigeria led for three quarters against the USA and even though the latter eventually won 76-71, Nigeria are proud of their performance having pushed the world champions to the edge and can build on that going forward. There is a lot of work to do. Nigeria are the team that can do wonders with this generation. They will be looking to make some surprises in Tokyo next year.

At club level, the Angolan teams are the very best and most successful. The last two years have seen Ferroviario de Maputo emerge back-to-back champions displacing record champions Inter Clube from Angola.

As of last December, Egyptian clubs like Al Ahly and Sporting Alexandria have joined the fray and started investing into women’s basketball which is a breathe of fresh air.

Speaking to female basketball players, what stands out as their biggest challenge?

“I feel that women’s basketball is way better than women’s football in terms of how the players are treated. This cuts across all teams in Africa. That is the feeling that I get, however, there is more work to be done.” – Komugisha on the biggest challenges female athletes encounter in sport.

To be honest, I feel that women’s basketball is way better than women’s football in terms of how the players are treated. This cuts across all teams in Africa. That is the feeling that I get, however, there is more work to be done.

I think their biggest challenge is limited exposure. They do not play as many games as their opponents play worldover. That is why FIBA decided to include Nigeria as continental champions in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament this February. Ideally, they would have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics as African champions but even they attested that playing against the best of the best – the USA was thrilling and they live for such moments. So if there were more competitions or games organized by their federations for the ladies, they would appreciate it more.

You covered football in many countries in the continent, give us an overview of how women’s sport is treated in some countries.

Recently, there has been a surge in the support women’s sport is getting from a general perspective. Look at how seriously the football federation in Zambia has started investing and intentionally thinking about women’s football after the Copper Queens qualified for the Tokyo Olympics or how Morocco is investing $6m into women’s football for the next four years to produce at least 80,000 players in all age groups while producing up to 1,000 male and female coaches.

In Tanzania, the federation has ensured that the women’s league is broadcast on television across the country. Ethiopia and Kenya have shown that they practice equal pay for women and men playing football.

Some countries have a long way to go and for me, it is the continued failure by the leadership to do the right thing. Partly the reason why we shall not have the 2020 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations edition this year or next is because Congo Brazzaville who committed to hosting the tournament pulled out at the last minute and CAF had to start the process all over again. And this is Congo Brazzaville who do not even have a women’s league let alone pay per diems to players after international games. It is an absolute shame that they had even won the bid to host this event.

Generally, speaking this is when you look at what Sasol is investing in women’s football in South Africa and wonder why it is rocket science elsewhere? There is some progress but we have a lot of work to do.

Tell us about the WhatsApp forum you created in April 2017?

I thought to myself how can we bring different stakeholders that genuinely love and care about women’s football in Africa on the same platform? So I reached out to several friends – journalists, administrators, club owners, executives, enthusiasts of the game and they agreed to join so that we could share experiences and learn from each other.

We discuss topics relating to the game, compare notes from different countries and intentionally learn more about women’s football in Africa.

A lot has been said about the so called inability of women’s game to attract numbers on TV and numbers on seats at the stadiums. What’s your take on this?

To be honest with you, it is a shame when I read such statements. The same people that say that football is a business and the same ones that do not want to invest in women’s football? How then can you reap where you did not sow?

“National federations in Africa need to get off their high horses and start doing the work. They need do this intentionally and distance themselves from the usual lip service that they have been involved in.” – Komugisha on federations needing to stand up to support women in sport.

National federations in Africa need to get off their high horses and start doing the work. They need do this intentionally and distance themselves from the usual lip service that they have been involved in.

Women’s football is a virgin area that has so much potential if only they can get the goodwill that the men’s game gets. Branding and marketing are very important. For instance, I noted with great concern that national federations decided to schedule women’s games at midday or at 2pm in the scorching sun and allocated these games to far away venues that are far from the fans. Wow! What a disheatening move!

When you check the social media pages of these national federations, you would that there is no women’s football in their countries. They have failed to even create content surrounding women’s football. Why? CAF has intentionally decided creating content on their pages dedicated to women’s football and the feedback is incredible. More coverage means that it changes mindsets and eventually pays off on and off the pitch.

You covered the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China last year. Tell us about that experience and being the only female to cover the event.

Covering the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China last September has got to be up there as my highlight as a Basketball Writer for FIBA. My goodness! My venue in Dongguan had Group H which was considered as the Group of Death with Australia, Canada, Senegal and title favourites Lithuania. That I was trusted to cover this group will forever be memorable. The USA and France played at this venue in a historic game that saw the latter win.

As a basketball journalist from Africa, you have got to watch and experience USA play basketball at any international event. You learn so much off the court on how they prepare for games attending to the tiniest of details with a support team that we can only dream of.

After this, the highlight was heading to Beijing for the semifinals and final and seeing Kobe Bryant in the flesh was memorable. He was the Official Ambassador of the tournament and seeing him again reminded me of when I covered the London 2012 Olympics and how as a Lakers fan, I felt like I could melt anytime soon. I wore the jersey number eight as a player because of him and for me, he will always be special. Little did I know that that would be the last time I would see him. May he rest in peace.

As the only female writer for FIBA at the event in a tournament that was played in eight cities with each city assigned a writer, I was absolutely privileged and very encouraged that I worked closely with two other women – one from France in charge of social media and the other from Thailand as the official venue photographer. We made an incredible team.

You’ve done so much, globally. What else would you like to achieve in your career?

I am on a journey to mentor young girls that want to take up a career in sports journalism. I am working with a decent number across the continent already and we talk every month and share notes on how they can get better. I want to continue doing that and using every available opportunity to empower them, to show them that they have the power to achieve their dreams and that impossible is nothing.

Last November, I was on a KLM flight from the USA where I attended the International Visitor Leadership Program focused on women’s sports journalists from across the world and how we can cover more of women’s sports and on arrival at Entebbe, I realised that Halima Nakaayi was on the same flight. I was elated to see her. Less than two months earlier, she had won the 800m gold at the World Athletics Championships in Doha. However, no one on the entire flight or at the airport noticed who she was. This broke my heart.

Last year still, I read a tweet from Janine van Wyk where she had gone to a gas station and the lady pump attendant told her to enter into the raffle draw for a chance to go and watch Banyana Banyana play at the World Cup in France. Van Wyk politely told her that she was going to France. What saddened me is that this lady pump attendant did not know that she was talking to the Banyana Banyana captain! That she did not recognize she was speaking to the most capped South African player of all time – male and female is quite absurd!

So I want to use every platform to shine a light on women athletes so that they become world superstars and get the credit that they deserve. I want to work towards waking up every morning and watching women in sports get the same coverage as the men get on television, radio, newspapers, social media…everywhere. They deserve it. We continue working. Amandla.

PS: Please allow me to once again thank the organizers of the Momentum gsport Awards and for giving me this amazing opportunity to share my thoughts with you all. You inspire us all across the continent and may you continue raising the profile of South African women, African women and women across the world.

I have grown up watching several South African women from Mama Nomzamo Madikizela to icons like Miriam Makeba, Brenda Fassie and it is needless to say that the movie ‘Sarafina’ had a great impact on me as a young girl. I learnt so much from it and looking back, there is so much that I can still relate to at this point.

So to receive this Award in August – the eighth month of the year means a lot to me. Eight is my favourite number hahaha. Ngiyabonga.

 

Photo 1 Caption: The first ever recipient of the African Woman in Sport at the 2020 Momentum gsport Awards, Usher Komugisha. Photo: Supplied