Sometimes in June, 2009, the Confederation of East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) secretary general Nicholas Musonye led a delegation of the council to Khartoum to inspect facilities for the region’s Under-17 Youth Championship that Sudan had been awarded to host in August.
Cecafa’s brief was to basically confirm that the host nation had put everything in place to accommodate the 11 teams in the two-week tournament.
Khartoum, with several stadiums, including the 43,000 capacity El Merreikh Stadium in Omdurman, was more than capable of hosting the junior tournament.
But Musonye had other ideas.
“When I met the Sudan sports minister, Mohammed Abdula, I asked him since there was peace in Southern Sudan, why not base one of the groups in Juba?”
Consultations were made at the highest level within the Sudan Government and the Government of Southern Sudan.
The upshot? A delegation from both governments and Cecafa toured Juba.
“There were hotels and transport in Juba but the only worthwhile stadium, Juba Stadium, was in poor condition.
“It needed substantial renovations,” Musonye says.
With just under two months to the tournament kick off the logical action would have been to shelf the idea.
But Cecafa insisted on Juba playing host and challenged the Government of Southern Sudan to use its resources to upgrade the stadium.
The Government of Southern Sudan pulled out all stops and within one month Juba was ready to host the first major international sporting event of its kind in Southern Sudan.
A satisfied Cecafa allowed Group “B’ matches involving Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar and Ethiopia to be held in Juba.
“The move has proven the relentless efforts and the commitment the government of Southern Sudan has exerted in providing security and development,” a statement from the Office of Vice-president, Government of Southern Sudan said about the tournament then.
The Southern Sudan government put in $200,000 (Sh16,000,000) for the tournament and no one was disappointed.
Sold out venue
Opening ceremonies were held simultaneously in Khartoum and Juba with president Salva Kiir of the Government of Southern Sudan and Gabriel Changson Chang, Sudan’s minister of culture, youth and sport attending the latter at a sold-out venue.
Matches attracted thousands of enthusiastic crowds as Southern Sudanese loudly exhibited their love for sports.
“It was memorable. I have never seen such passion and commitment from a people. It was wonderful,” Gishinga Njoroge, a sports media management consultant, who attended the Juba matches says.
Southern Sudan has produced several top football players for the national team including the impressively large Hamid Breima who kept goal for Sudanese top club El Merreikh and Sudan in the 1980s.
He is currently the Sudan Football Association technical director. There is also the accomplished Sudan and top Khartoum side midfielder Abdulmajid Kader.
Many other players from the south have featured for the two dominant clubs in Sudan and the national team.
Southern Sudanese, largely expected to secede when the on going referendum is concluded, will feel confident they can produce sports teams that can compete with the rest of Africa.
Southern Sudan is, however, better known, in sporting terms, for producing exceptional basketball players.
The late Manute Bol had no equal on the basket ball court.
Standing at 2.31 metres, he was the tallest player in the revered NBA in America during the 1980s and 1990s playing chiefly for the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Soared to great heights
Another Southern Sudanese who has soared to great heights in the NBA his 25-year-old Chicago Bulls 2.06 metres forward Luol Deng.
He may have taken up British nationality but his capabilities exemplify the potential of the region.
Southern Sudanese have also shown their ability to manage sports.
Sestillo Juba is the secretary of SFA while Rudolf Andreas is the secretary general.
“There is huge potential in sports in South Sudan. From what I saw at the Under-17 in Juba, the people have interest and they want to work,” Musonye says.