Social media was awash with news of James Odong vanishing from the Sevens team camp in Monaco. Good accountability from URU to their stakeholders, but the comments tell a whole different story. Most sympathize with Odong encouraging him to go chase the stars for himself.
I will never forget a trip we were on to one of the Asian tiger nations. The night before our return to Kampala, I casually walked out of my room when I found the Team Manager sleeping in the corridor. I inquired what could be the issue; he said he was worried about guys sneaking out of their rooms and disappearing at night. I felt for him because he had to account for all the players on return but I told him I wouldn’t lose sleep over anyone who went away. That decision and choice is their own.
I wonder why it makes big news when a sportsman is a no-show yet a lot of corporates take work trips and do no different from sportsmen. Most sportsmen are victimized for being runners.
Everyone is trying to find a way out for themselves. You will find guys at Nasser road getting new identities in order to secure a visa to the promised land. The means are not defined but the end is clear.
I watched many UPL games this season, especially Police games and I got to appreciate the guys who play. One time I asked my neighbour at one of those games how much the players earn on average and he said about 450,000. I was in utter shock! 450,000 is pay for a call center agent who has just left University and trying to get employable skills, not a semi-professional who has been at it for over 10 years.
Sports is a broke man’s hustle in Uganda. Guys who give their lives to a sport they love will usually end up with nothing. If a man of the match is rewarded with a few beers after some big knocks to entertain a largely rugby-loving crowd who each pay no less than $5 for the game, then sportsmen are getting the short end of the carrot.
The return for the talent is in kind for sportsmen. While most federations are led by corporate individuals, their empathy for those down is far from reality. Most officials will drive away in 4WDs while players wait for the Boda Bodas.
For teams to compete on a global scale, most national teams have become semi-professional to try and match their rivals. Therefore, players have to be available for a whole day which leaves them with no time to do other things.
Frank Nsubuga has played for the Cricket Cranes for 21 years and still counting but it’s sad to know that he still worries about rent. 21 years at the same job and company in a professional entity would mean you are most likely to be close to top management, have medical insurance, some NSSF stashed somewhere, and a mortgage about to finish paying.
However, for most sportspeople, that reward has never come to them. Like any other human being, they seek better for not just themselves but those around them. Therefore along the way, priorities change. The focus might not be to win games for Uganda but make the team and go to a particular destination they could never be able to go on their own. Like the guy at Nasser trying to get a better report card so they get their break, a player just needs to put in the hard yards at practice.
My case with sports administrators is failure to use these opportunities of travelling to better places to actually help players get better opportunities. Rather, most sports administrators want to cover their asses instead of actually seizing the moment. These openings can allow players to find better placements in better-paying clubs. The association can benefit from the player getting better exposure when he is summoned on the national team. Most administrators know where these players come from and it would be good if sports can help them turn around their fortunes through better opportunities that are obviously out of the country. Instead of being a roadblock why not be a bridge between good and better?
Cricket benefited from Patrick Ochan who stayed in Australia but came back to play for the country on a few occasions. Every day, people leave this county to find better opportunities for themselves. Some means are legit, some not, but it’s the end that is no different from sportspeople.
Until sports administrators start to take care of players, the sport will continue to just be a means rather than an end. I mean getting to Monaco in these times is very expensive. Now imagine Monaco delivered to you through a few laps around the training ground. That is a very simple decision to make.
I hope Odong plays for the Rugby Cranes again sometime in the future.