Over the past six years, at the helm of sports writing is Usher Komugisha. The 27-year-old Rwandan has been on a journey of transformation within the vast sports arena. Writing as a journalist, she has graced the corridors as Communications Director at the Rwanda National Olympic Committee and hustled as Sports Editor at The Rwanda Focus. She swayed out, landed onto The New Times Sports desk and sufficed as Rwanda Correspondent for Super Sport (TV and website). Usher is randomly welcomed as guest writer for international media outlets like The Guardian Sports, BBC and NBA Africa.
The dark-skinned ambitious writer stops at nothing when presented with the opportunity to live out her dream. Her media experience extends across several platforms including print, radio, television and online journalism.
Exposure is very important for any writer to understand how people do things elsewhere. What does it mean to type a story while the event is happening and uploading it immediately? Or, if you are going to delay the story, look for another angle, it cannot be the news angle. Yes, someone has won the game; great! But, what is their story? What are you going to say on print, seeing that the game was covered live—what are you possibly going to say that people do not already know. You are competing with the commentators, who are saying everything you wanted to say during the match.
You have to think very fast. Your mind has to degenerate information and regenerate it creatively. Think technical language. Bring out the excitement. Time warp the game. Reach for statistical analysis. Touch the emotion. Seal the feeling. Holding all this together, remain committed and maintain the fine line of accuracy.
“There is nothing in the world that gives you this feeling, at this very moment, like watching football,” one commentator goes on and on, in the background of a fan-crazed football match on TV. Sports is an entertainment. It has to be exciting. As a sports writer, you have to address the level of fan excitement and figure out how to translate that on paper.
Usher has mastered just that—the art of sports writing. This rare skill has landed her major exposure as she has interviewed big sports personalities. These include FIFA president Joseph Sepp Blatter, FIVB president Dr. Ary Graca Filho, NBA stars like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, tennis legends Serena Williams, Andy Murray and Roger Federer among others, swimmers including Michael Phelps as well as Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the Local Organizing Committee of the London Olympic Games (LOCOG) among others.
This is not shy of the exposure that comes with travelling the world over from a remote childhood home to live out her life’s dream as a sports writer.
Usher’s passion for sports and writing was blended since her childhood days.
“Growing up I loved sports,” she told me. “I was molded to be a writer and didn’t even realise it. My parents always brought home newspapers and I would read the pages. At secondary school (Kibuli S.S, Uganda), I always wanted to have the latest info on current issues among my peers and also participated in sports activities”
She goes down memory lane explaining the writing influence she received from an aunt who had majored in literature and English. This aunt of hers had coached Usher and her siblings by challenging them to read and thereafter summarise books. It was around 2008, after her secondary school education, that Usher decided she wanted to become an author; but she also loved sports.
“I always represented my school in sports at district and regional competitions,” she says.
“My dad bought me a bike when I was eight-years-old. I always competed riding with our American neighbors who all had bikes,” she explains.
That is not all; Usher’s parents had a big role to play in shaping her destiny, she explains:
My parents were part of the Rotary Club and always went to the golf course for meetings. I also followed along and played golf. My dad was a former athlete and my mom played netball at her school. My mother was and is always very supportive of what I do. I had also read Rick Warren’s book on finding purpose in my life (Purpose Driven Life).This is where I came in touch with my passion. It did not matter that I was a girl interested in sports anymore.
In October 2008, a popular sports journalist on Power FM (a Ugandan Christian radio) asked Usher to be part of his sports show. She did not agree.
“He thought my voice would do great on radio. I did not agree because I had never imagined myself on radio. I only agreed to share basketball results as I played at the national basketball league,” she said.
Her hesitation to feature on a radio show was short lived. Three weeks later, she was the guest on air commenting on basketball. One thing led to another and the following year she had upgraded to writing about university sports for the New Vision newspaper.
This was my entry point. It was strange because it was a man’s field. I was the only girl on the desk as a freelance writer and of course, first priority is given to senior writers, who almost literally know everything about the sports world.
In 2011, a training opportunity from the International Sports Press Association (ISPA) presented itself. The Association was looking for young reports across the world, two per continent—for the World University Games in Shenzhen (WUGS), China. The WUGS is the third biggest sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Usher has no favorite sport. She cannot identify a particular favorite or boring sport. She had to play some (not all) games in order to understand their technique.
Usher was one of the two representatives from Africa alongside a Senegalese counterpart. They were mentored by leading sports journalists from across the world. She is thus a graduate of the AIPS-FISU Young Reporters program, a platform manned by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) that grooms and mentors, young sports journalists.
Usher’s selection was such a bout of excitement. It was her first time on a plane; on her first trip out of Africa to meet the world.
“I could not believe it! I remember calculating the miles, which were 5,300!” she says. “Here I was, going to another continent because I am a journalist, to simply do something that I love. From then on, I did not look back; I did not care about the challenges.”
When in China, she interviewed Yao Ming—about 7ft tall—who was at the time playing for the NBA.
“This was someone I have been watching on television. I mean, he was sitting, I was standing and he was still taller than I was. It was just ridiculous!” she comments.
That was her life changing moment—to be able to view the world from a different perspective.
“People think that sports journalism and writing is simple. Just go talk about football after watching a game. And, here you are as a girl, talking football and they think how strange.
“Sometimes you meet people who are very conservative and they will think you are dumb before you even say anything. They give you that look, that says ‘what could you possibly say,’ it’s like they just expect the worst thing ever, but once I start to talk and ask good questions, they are challenged and surprised and, I don’t know… it’s just weird,” Ushers explains her challenges as a female sports writer.
She told me that it really does not matter at this point in her career because she is not looking back.
After her range of exciting experiences covering the Olympics, meeting the people she simply browsed on sports TV channels, the pace had been set. She has covered the prestigious Olympics (London 2012), Paralympics (London 2012) and World University Games (Shenzhen 2011) among other sporting events.
“It is not what I expected but it has taken hard work to get here,” she says.
Among the few, probably less than five female sports broadcasters, Usher is the only female sports writer in Rwanda. That is not the issue for her, as what matters most for her is not whether you are male or female, it is about, “Can I do my job. If I go to a press conference or to the field, I will do my job. If I beat you to a story, I have beaten you to a story.”
Usher has no favourite sport. She cannot identify a particular favorite or boring sport. She had to play some (not all) games in order to understand their technique. She has reasonable knowledge and understanding of a range of games including, athletics, basketball, rugby, football, handball, netball, jockeying, cycling, taekwondo, swimming, fencing, lawn tennis, table tennis, cricket, hockey, rally, Formula 1, golf and chess.
This explains the passion and dedication toward her sports writing work.