28 February 2010

UGANDA : Corporate sponsorship changing face of sports

By Sande Bashaija

A few years back, Ugandan boxers used to share gum shields, eat sugarcane as refreshments and train on empty stomachs. It was almost the same story in club football, athletics and all other minor sports.

Athletes were surviving on their own yet they struggled to represent the nation in regional and international competitions.
The trend is steadily changing although boxers are bound to go back into the same quandary due to the recent administrative bickering. Some runners and footballers have turned professional and are earning handsomely.

Several federations, despite the eternal poor government funding, are organizing leagues which can be envied by some neighbouring countries. Corporate companies have come in to fill the gap left by government and the results are there for all to see.

By the time MTN started sponsoring basketball in 2004, the national league had about 12 teams (eight men) and four (women).
Currently, there are close to 40 teams featuring in the league. Whereas the teams don’t get a share of the sponsorship directly, the trickle-down effect has changed the face of basketball.
From a pastime sport, nowadays basketball attracts crowds that can’t be traced in a local football stadium. Yet, a ticket for a big basketball game doesn’t go for less than Shs5,000. Before, entrance to league game venues was free.

While MTN are currently the sole league sponsors, clubs have taken another step by getting financiers of their own. Three-time men’s champions Power took the leading role, bringing on board Sadolin Paints and later DMark Mobile. Record champions Falcons reportedly signed a Shs70m contract with Mountain Dew last year although their achievement has been overshadowed by the recent misunderstandings with star player Stephen Omony.

The player two weeks ago terminated his Shs72m two-year contract with the club due to non-payment of wages. With the help of Standard Chartered Bank, Miles Associate and Land O’Lakes the local basketball governing body, Fuba have been able to construct basketball courts in several schools around Kampala. Sprite also announced last year they would renovate and construct new facilities around the country.

Where would all this come from without corporate support since sports remains nowhere in government’s priorities?

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