23 March 2012

UGANDA : Behind the scenes: Player-ban should go beyond Heaters

Had it not been the inquisitive or rather desperate eye of Charging Rhino, it could be business as usual for Heaters and the entire local basketball fraternity. Thanks to one of Uganda’s oldest clubs, two Heaters’ players – guard Salim Ali and forward Michael Makiasi – wouldn’t get the mention they are getting. The pair, while contracted to Heaters, played for Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) in their mother country. Thinking no one knew, they returned to feature for Heaters as the local body tweaked the rules to have a play-off game to decide who gets relegated. Rhino, the opponent, petitioned and won. The duo has been banned for four games with effect from March 31, the scheduled date for the league tip-off, plus a Shs100, 000 fine. To many, this is an isolated case of greed. It’s not. Over the past decade, the league here has enjoyed an influx of foreign players especially from Kenya. Congolese, Tanzanians, Sudanese, Rwandese and Burundians have all followed suit. The level of basketball has consequently shot up. However, the terms under which such players are signed remains a mystery. Upon sunrise, some of these foreigners and at sunset, they are nowhere to be seen. There are often rumours within basketball circles that some of these do play here and in another league somewhere else on a monthly rotation. The practice goes on and Fuba are powerless to stop since the resource envelope is insufficient to monitor and verify what happens in Kenya, DR Congo and Rwanda et al. Most people in basketball, like almost all in Uganda, are volunteers who finance the game from their pockets. The community in basketball is so small that everyone knows everyone. Rules are tough to implement in this setting as you could be hurting a friend. Radicals at the two biggest clubs – DMark Power and Warriors – demand something even tougher legislation. The rivals agree in unison to the need to introduce a quota system designed to limit the number of foreigners a team can have on court. In addition, they also question the criteria used to award scholarships to more Kenyans than Ugandans at UCU, KIU and Nkumba University. They are no right in entirety but like in the case of unreliable players like Ali and Makiasi, Fuba must protect the core of the game here after all Ugandans are the ultimate winners and losers.

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