Uncertainty for China-based Ugandan stars

Wednesday August 12 2020
soccer01pix

Stranded At Home. Sempiira (L) and Lukwiya after a game for their Chinese club. The pair is stranded in Uganda since December 2019. PHOTO | COURTESY

Thousands of people around the world are stuck in places they are desperate to leave, but cancelled flights and border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult for them to relocate.

The pair of Romeo Sempiira and Rogers Lukwiya, who ply their trade in China, are among those whose work and dreams are on standstill.

As a footballer, he has lost the opportunity to access his cash and the regular performance perks.

Sempiira returned in Uganda last December for a winter break but the coronavirus pandemic that swept across the world locked him in Kampala where his tour and travels business is also grounded. “When we broke off, it was for a short spell but the continued lockdown measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 pandemic led to the closure of airports effective March 22. Life is now awful,” Sempiira said yesterday.

Sempiira and former Express midfielder Rogers Lukwiya live in the south western city of Guiyang where they play for Hongrun Huagong, a lower division team in the nation’s First Division.

According to the striker, who was part of the youth system of Friends of Football while at Old Kampala SS in 2001, with the airports closed, it is hard to access his money in Uganda.

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Beijing is tough on capital outflows and has strict measures in place. “Since we play football in the evening, I have been doing several businesses during day including helping fellow players seeking opportunities to play in China. I am not doing anything right now apart from personal training at Kanyanya. But I don’t know how long this will go on and I return to my team,” Sempiira said.

The stocky forward signed at Guiyang Hongrun Huagong last year after stints in Jianjie Bettiland. He had earlier played for Inter Heroes and Colliers during his 11-year stay in China.

Sempiira has kept in touch with his Polish coach Mariusz Misiura on the status of his contract before the season resumes in October. Distant from his workplace, his dreams are in tatters.

“My coach is also not in China at the moment but he is hopeful that the situation would soon ease and we return to work,” he adds.

The pair cannot sign any contracts in Uganda to keep fit as their Chinese employers keep remitting their salaries.

Their only option is to continue working on their own to remain fit. Sempiira employs a personal coach who takes him through the paces.

An estimated 100 players ply their trade in foreign countries (in both amateur and professional leagues) but just over 50 are regarded professionals. This is a small portion of the estimated two million Ugandans who work and live elsewhere.

In Chinese football, only two players are recognised though in the lower echelons. Former goalkeeper Hannington Kalyesubula is an academy coach. “I am here praying the airport is opened otherwise I am afraid if I stay here longer my contract could be affected,” Sempiira adds.

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