Why Mongers standoff shows local rugby is at a crossroads

Atempest has been brewing in the Ugandan rugby ranks with Sadolin Entebbe Mongers proving that it can be just as obstinate as its House of Pain ancestral sanctuary.Mongers has been sweating it out over its status in the topflight league, the Nile Special Premiership.

The fight started in February shortly after Mongers ended their 201314 Nile Special Super 8 Rugby Premiership campaign with such a whimper. ‘A loss to G4S Pirates left Mongers in sixth position. This meant that the Entebbe-based side had to navigate an agonising one-off playoff match against Makerere Impis — winners of the second tier league.

Downsize competitionThe decision to downsize the Premiership from eight to six and have a one-off playoff match had been floated in December of 2013 before it got the green light this January.

For some reason, Mongers claim that they never got wind of it. What ensued was a pingpong that has seen the one-off playoff match fail to see the light of day on successive Saturdays. Clearly, if this was a soap opera, its twists and turns would make it pack a punch in the drama stakes.

Another twist could yet add another emphatic effect in the forthcoming week if the Chairman’s Round Table meeting resolves — as many suspect — that the composition of the Premiership be increased to eight teams.The laconicism from Uganda Rugby Union top brass about a ‘bulky’ Premiership suggests a lack of interest in such an outlook. Your columnist can understand where the Union is coming from.

Formidable oppositionIt painstakingly wants to have a competitive second tier league that will ultimately send formidable opposition to the topflight. This will put paid to some of the embarrassingly lopsided scores that have graced the topflight in the recent past (Nile and Lira Bulls, anyone?). The flip side of course offers a potent retort that the likes of Mongers or Mutoni Warriors for that matter can only improve their skill set when they play the creme de la creme week in, week out.

The odd Uganda Cup match doesn’t quite count. This does make for a compelling argument, but, in my book, I strongly believe the need to have a strong second tier league carries more impact.

Basketball: Team Uganda keen to be above the rim

There’s a real buzz about the national men and women’s basketball outfits affectionately, if stylishly, dubbed TeamUg. The embellishments they have undergone make them markedly different from the outfits that took to the court in years gone by.

All this is down to local basketball governing body, Fuba, which is using a methodical approach to give its national teams more than an outside chance in the tournaments they figure in. Already, the structured effort has yielded dividends with the men’s basketball team recently landing the Mapinduzi Cup in the Zanzibar archipelago.

En route to that feat in Zanzibar, TeamUg beat Kenya in whose shadow they have lived for donkey’s years.Now, with Uganda primed to host the Zone Five Basketball Championship from June 15 to 22, big dreams are starting to gain currency. See, the Zone Five Basketball Championship is no ordinary tournament. The tournament is a crock of gold whose palatability draws on how it’s a pathway to the FIBA Africa Championship.

QualificationFuba officials have a profound belief that the men’s national team has the tools to ensure qualification to the fabled FIBA Africa Championship. To do just that, TeamUg will need to finish within the top two echelons at the Zone Five Basketball Championship. When TeamUg last played in the championship back in January of 2013, it managed just two wins — both against then hosts Tanzania in the group and placement rounds.

It was always difficult for TeamUg to leave an indelible mark on the championship. A bus trip from dusty Kampala to the port city of Dar es Salaam meant the team was always bound to sink into a lethargy. TeamUg, however, confounded the odds by annihilating Tanzania before losing to Rwanda (by five) and eventual winners Egypt (by 13). TeamUg again had Tanzania’s number in the placement round — this time running out comfortable 87-63 winners. A three-point loss (89-86) at the hands of Burundi saw TeamUg finish fifth in the seven-team tournament. It wasn’t the best of performances, but there were no doubt loads of positives to cling on to.

Those positives have since seen Fuba give the national teams a little more due. Sponsors — Coca-Cola, Nile Breweries, City Tyres and Hotel Africana — have been brought on board. Professional players from basketball bastions are being co-opted to TeamUg. It’s shaping up to be a rosy story by all accounts.Qualification to the FIBA Africa Championship will doubtless turn out to be the cherry on the cake!

What we now know…. We now know that versatile midfielder Michael Azira will be earning his corn at Major League Soccer side (MLS), Seattle Sounders FC.Also within our realm of knowledge is the fact that Seattle Sounders are all the rave! The Rave Green — as the Sounders are known — are no slouches. They have seasoned professionals within their ranks such as Nigeria’s Obafemi Martins (remember him?).

We know that Azira has been handed the No.42 jersey, and that the 26-year-old’s adaptability in defence and midfield is what made him make a step from third tier (USL Pro with Charleston Battery) to topflight (MLS).Oh, lest I forget, we also know that Azira is a sound passer of the ball. What we don’t know is whether the lad won’t be sleepless in Seattle.


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