For the second year running, the National Basketball League will see no champion crowned.
This is after the basketball body, Fuba, decided to bring the top division of Ugandan basketball to a premature end due to the effects of yet another lockdown on sports.
On June 3, National Council of Sports (NCS) directed Fuba to suspend the league following reported cases in various camps which prompted one of the teams - Betway Power, to write to the regulators for intervention.
Basketball has not recovered since and a lot has happened between then and now. Teams have terminated player contracts, coaches have moved on and players have left the country to play in other leagues.
The federation was willing to go on with the season, which was only left with a few games to the playoffs, but on condition that at least eight teams confirmed readiness to take part.
The teams would then be required to part with Shs600, 000 each to help in running the remainder of the campaign.
On September 10, following a meeting between the federation and team managers, it was agreed that for any league to resume it should have at least eight teams confirming participation by September 13.
By close of business on September 13, only five men’s teams had shown interest in the resumption of the season.
These are; UCU Canons, Betway Power, UPDF Tomahawks, KCCA Panthers and Falcons. Record champions City Oilers, KIU Titans, JKL Dolphins and Namuwongo Blazers all opted out.
On the ladies’ end, only KCCA Leopards and UCU Lady Canons picked interest. This left Fuba with only one option, to cancel the league and wait to start the season early next year.
The cancellation has divided opinion in the basketball circles and left many wondering where the game is headed after two years of start-stop action.
“My take is that it was a selfish decision and done in bad faith,” Falcons’ manager Douglas Uwizera says.
One of the reasons given by some teams in regards to pulling out is the departure of players to play in other leagues.
Tanzania and Burundi are some of the neighbouring countries with basketball action at the moment.
Some coaches have also since moved on.
Robert Mugabe, formerly of KCCA, is already coaching Tigers in Rwanda while John Omondi, formerly at Ndejje signed with Cobra in South Sudan.
Tough times ahead
The two-year lockdown on the league will definitely have effects in the future and many are worried it might take long before the game recovers to get back to the level it was in 2019.
“The players will definitely be affected because the bulk of them haven’t had competitive games in a while,” KCCA Leopards and Gazelles’ coach Mavita Ali said.
“Only the national team players (men) have so far managed to be competitive in this time and that is also just a handful,” she added.
It is not just the game on the floor that’s being affected, most teams have stopped paying their players and coaches because of the effects of the lockdown.
This has left many looking at alternative means of earning a living. “We have a lot of players, coaches and officials whose sustenance has been cut off,”
With the rest of the world trying to cope with the times and have the game back, Ali is worried Uganda could lag behind in competing against teams that have their leagues running.
“The rest of the world is continuing with international engagements and this means without an active league and tournaments, our players and technical teams will be greatly disadvantaged,” she opined.
Zainah Lokwameri plays for JKL Lady Dolphins but since making her move from UCU Lady Canons, it has been and on-and-off situation for the game.
This has affected the game but also the income for most of the players and it is her opinion that all involved in the game pick lessons from the situation.
“The cancellation of the league is really unfortunate for us the players but on the other side, it’s a wakeup call for us to focus on other things,” the national team small forward said.
Lokwameri and her Gazelles counterparts felt the lockdown effect even more after training just once and having the country sent into lockdown by President Museveni.
That was the end of their journey that was supposed to see them travel to Rwanda for the Fiba Zone V Afrobasket Qualifiers.
“This is going to be the second year straight without a league and for the ladies it’s a big blow,” Lokamweri adds.
“It’s going to affect the quality of the game in the next years because even the younger ones are off because schools have been closed,”
“In my opinion it’s going to be a slump of about five years to get back to we were before Covid-19.”
While many seem to suggest Fuba should have insisted on having the league played to completion, some stakeholders believe it was the right decision to cancel the season and prepare early for 2022.
“I think cancelling the season was the best decision since the federation and most teams couldn’t afford the costs of running the reminder of the league,” UCU Canons’ shooting guard Sudi Ulanga said before admitting that “the quality of the game will greatly be affected.”
City Oilers head coach Mandy Juruni believes the federation had no choice since the different team managers were not ready for resumption.
“The federation wanted to continue with the league but they had to consult managers of the league in NBL and majority were not ready to start,” he said.
Copy from lower division
Brian Rugyendo is the Uganda Basketball Coaches’ Association president and he believes the season should never have been cancelled.
“I think the season should have continued. Two years without basketball is very bad for teams,” Rugyendo said.
He adds that Fuba need to find a way of having the league run by a different team and not the federation, something that would allow proper planning.
“On the bright side, this exposes the fact that the NBL as a product needs to be managed as a separate product from Fuba Executive Committee (Excom). That way, administration, governance, marketing, finance, etc are managed separately,”
“The existence of (Lower Leagues Management Committee (LLMC) for the lower leagues is being justified indirectly, by the hunger and desire of the lower league teams to proceed.”
Both Division One and two met the required number of teams to resume and will have their season played to conclusion.