The Observer (Kampala)

31 May 2012

Uganda: Basketball Scales to New Heights

Nothing lasts forever and after eight years of supporting Ugandan basketball, telecom company MTN has called it a day, writes Felix Eupal. The game has new sponsors. Effective today, Airtel Uganda, Rwenzori Mineral Water and Nile Breweries under their Castle Lite brand, will take over the league that also changed name from MTN Fuba League to Airtel National Basketball League.

However, the sponsorship only covers teams in division one and the women's league. It is also a one-year sponsorship that will be renewed after the sponsors' assessment.

Each of the 23 teams received two sets of jerseys, a home and away kit, a big boost considering that previously, the teams had to wait an entire season to get new jerseys.

They also received basketballs and will be provided free drinking water during the games. The fans have also benefitted. Under the new deal, each fan will receive Airtel airtime worth Shs 2,000 after purchasing a ticket and enjoy Castle Lite at a discounted price.

Friday Nite Lights Basketball tournament that ran between mid-January and April this year had a massive turnup due to the carnival-like atmosphere created by the Castle Lite crew who brought musicians and engaged with the fans. That said, the basketball federation, Fuba, isn't sure when it would access the Lugogo indoor stadium which was finished late last year.

"Lugogo is done but we have to wait for the National Council of Sports to allow us access," Ali Balunywa, the federation's publicist noted.

The wait is likely to be longer now that a rival telecommunication company is on board yet the Lugogo arena is partially owned by MTN. In addition, the sponsors declined to reveal how much they were injecting into the league.

"Our partners feel that it is best that they do not disclose how much they have invested in the league," Balunywa said.

The refusal to reveal how much the three sponsors are offering has riled the players who argue that it would be the federation that benefits more from their sweat.

Meanwhile, the first game of the season will be a repeat of last year's finals as defending champions Dmark Power take on Kyambogo Warriors.

In the past two seasons, Warriors have edged Power in the regular season before succumbing in the playoffs and the script still looks the same despite both sides being unbeaten in the league so far.

Warriors is the most balanced team - each of their twelve men can turn the game once on court. This means Barnes Ankunda will have to prove, yet again, that he is the rightful Coach of the Year (2011).

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