28 April 2009

UGANDA : Splashing the millions

Sande Bashaija


When Michael Karuiki crossed from Power to Youth Heaters two years ago at an estimated Shs1m, many in the basketball fraternity were ‘stunned’. It was a record transfer at the time – not because the player was joining a small club from a giant side – but the money paid for his signature was unbelievably too much at the time.

Yes, too much for one simple reason: the Federation of Uganda Basketball Associations (Fuba) constitution stipulates that not more than Shs75,000 can change hands for a player joining a Second Division side from the topflight and Shs100,000 for a transfer involving Division One clubs.

Yet the club also took care of Kariuki’s education needs. But the man behind that transfer – Peter Mubanda was never interested in exploiting that clause – he wanted the player, who at the time was the hottest item in Uganda’s basketball. Mubanda has since left Youth Heaters and the club relegated to the lower tier but he seems to have set the trend of splashing millions for players’ signatures.

Now technical director at men’s league champions DMark Power, Mubanda took basketball transfers to another level when he signed former two-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) Norman Blick for Shs20m in January.
In February, Donald Blick followed his brother to Power in a two-year deal worth Shs12m. The Blick brothers rank among Uganda’s best players but raking a combined Shs32m from one team was interpreted by some as a publicity stunt.

Sabuni Kamal, the chief executive director of CK Sports - a sports management company - represented the Blicks as they entered history books as Uganda’s highest earning basketball players.

“Athletes haven’t been getting enough compensation for their efforts. Maybe there has been lack of professionalism,” Kamal, who prefers to call himself super agent, stressed. “Sports is business and all stakeholders including sponsors should know that players deserve to enjoy the benefits of their sweat,” he added.

Before the dust over the Blicks’ transfer could settle, Power pulled off another big one at the beginning of March.

Rugby sensation Allan Musoke would be their next acquisition. Although the details of the two-year deal couldn’t be revealed, Musoke is a big asset to the team and should rank high on the salary chart. Much as Power signed a Shs50m sponsorship contract with DMark mobile, settling financial obligations of such player contracts will definitely leave them in a tight situation bearing in mind that they have to represent Uganda on the continent this year.

But the managers at Power have contingency plans. “We have a co-sponsor in Steak Out Restaurant and are still looking for others,” Mubanda stated. As Power took the driving seat in the transfer market, their rivals Falcons were doing their homework.

The six-time league champions, who surrendered the title to Power last year, pulled off the biggest transfer in Uganda’s basketball history when they re-signed Stephen Omony from Seychelles side PSL Hawks.

Omony, arguably Uganda’s most successful basketball player, penned a two-year deal worth Shs72m with his former team last Thursday.

Global crisis
Omony’s quality is unquestionable but for a club that has no sponsor to dish out Shs3m per month to one player is mind-boggling moreover with the uncertainty created by the current global economic crisis.

“It is unfortunate that people world over are worried about how to get money. At Falcons, we are driven by passion. That’s what keeps us aiming for perfection,” Falcons’ patron John Simbwa, said as he welcomed back Omony, who led the team to championships in 1998 and 99. “This is an historic moment for us,” Simbwa, who is believed to have dug into his coffers to pay Omony’s Shs2m sign-on fee.

But such deals never pass without controversy. “We had given Omony a down payment and agreed to give him Shs2.5m per month but its unfortunate Falcons beat us to his signature,” Kyambogo Warriors’ patron Ambrose Tashobya revealed. Omony is ready to refund the money since he got a better deal but the incident obviously infuriated the powers-that-be at Warriors.

“We met and resolved the issue. Our relationship with Omony remains solid,” Tashobya, who desperately tried to halt the player’s move to Falcons, said. Adding; “Such deals are good for our game.”

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