To many a Ugandan, the name Hassan Sunderani will come off as just another Indian name. Yet, at the mention of the name John Akii-Bua, even your run-of-the-mill Ugandan will extol the athlete as the man who, against all your typical Ugandan odds, won the country her first ever Olympics gold medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Well, perhaps the run-of-the-mill Ugandan might not exactly summon such detail as the year Akii-Bua caused the playing of the Uganda National Anthem at a stage of such magnitude. They might also not recollect that Akii-Bua, away from bringing home Olympic gold, also set a world record of 47.82 seconds in the 400-metre hurdles race.
Nonetheless, that name Akii-Bua will ring a bell. A bell so loud as to take its listener back to the regimes when sporting in Uganda was national priority. A bell so loud as to remind of the days when the country’s president would rather go on hunger strike if it be the price to have the national team of any sport represent us at an international podium.
That name will surely ring a bell as loud as summon both ecstasy and agony in equal measure. Because the Akii-Bua story, all of it throughout its 48-year creation, is surely an emotional one.
But before Akii-Bua was all the rage, there was this Ugandan of Indian descent called Hassan Sunderani, a hard-to-ignore piece in the athlete’s jigsaw puzzle, a piece that has just resurfaced from the woodworks several years down the road, all the way from Canada.
And given the circumstances, it is not surprising that not much has hitherto been said of Sunderani in reference to Akii-Bua, not even in that telling 2007 Akii-Bua documentary, titled The Akii-Bua Story: An African Tragedy.
But as it is, Sunderani, who was Uganda’s Chief Sports Officer and General Secretary of both the Uganda National Sports Council and the Uganda Olympics Committee from 1964 to 1971, was the wind beneath Akii-Bua’s wings.
Right there, at the time Akii-Bua broke his virginity in the 400-metre hurdles race, it was Sunderani who gave him the green light, propelling the athlete to greater heights in a victory that thereafter evaded Uganda until 40 years later, when Steven Kiprotich made us relive the moment only recently in 2012.
To be specific, Sunderani, your average next door suburban kid born in Mengo, a township hardly 10 minutes from the Ugandan capital Kampala, actually discovered Akii-Bua.
So how did he discover this great man? Who is Hassan Sunderani in the first place? How come not much is known here about him? Where is he right now?