The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Vianney Nsimbe - Masaza - Great but Endangered

It's hard to believe that as Ugandans, we could delve in discussing whether or not SuperSport is good for our football.

It's like debating whether if you jumped from floor 20, you would die. The risk of death heavily outweighs the chance of survival.

I'm sure the Hamas knew that when they prepared their rocket propelled grenades towards Israel last week. Hamas' actions were triggered by Israel's continued occupation of Palestine land. Yet Israel saw this as provocation that has prompted a stern response of heavy artillery, which has left residents of Gaza mourning and groaning.

This is a matter that has moved round in circles for decades. So, choosing who's right or wrong is mind-boggling. Perhaps it's the reason the Masaza (Buganda counties) football annual tournament attracts such big crowds that Super League football can't.

Of course, the presence of the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Mutebi raises the profile of the opening match and the final that he always graces. But even in other fixtures deep down in the counties like Buwekula, Busiro, Gomba, Kooki and Mawokota among others, whose football grounds are rural based, football fans flock those games in numbers hence creating a carnival, the kind that puts both players and coaches under immense pressure to perform.

And the beauty of this all is that the Masaza Cup is a championship with widespread marketing and advertising thus its big following. I bet SuperSport would love to see the Masaza Cup have a multiplier effect on the rest of football in the country.

For TV, it would be a great spectacle. We all would want that, wouldn't we? But not the direction the Masaza Cup has veered to lately. You see, the 18 teams in the Masaza Cup have since its revival in 2004 been a platform for showcasing unseen football talent presumably from down there at the counties.

But today, teams are purchasing players to win. Some players receive sign-on fees for as much as Shs 2m for just the three-month campaign. Such players are deemed to add excitement to the tournament.

However, in 2011, one Ibrahim Tebazalwa, commonly known as Kiwi coached Buruuli to the Masaza Cup title beating Bulemeezi in the final. This year, he coached Buwekula to a runner-up spot after Bulemeezi beat them 1-0.

But as I perused through the line-up of Buwekula, I was surprised to see that they didn't only hire (Kiwi) but also eight of the players that helped Buruuli win last year. Given this scenario, the Masaza Cup wasn't about showcasing untapped talent as we were earlier told.

This means that a number of teams that competed in the championships had players who were unknown to the villagers. Worse, most of the Masaza teams train in the city centre from where most of their players, playing in either 'Big League' or the lower division teams are bought.

Yet, this wasn't the most shocking fact. Issue is, some Masaza team financiers have started bribing referees to win games. I over-heard some last year during half-time team talks telling their players how they should dive in the penalty area at the slightest touch and the referee would give them a penalty instead of reprimanding them for simulation.

Shockingly, some of these referees would discuss these monies on their travels in taxis to match venues. How could we sink this low in a campaign that is so revered by the Baganda faithful? Aren't these the vices that have kept Ugandan football in limbo? The Masaza Cup organisers must address these hair-raising issues to avoid a catastrophe that could incapacitate this well thought out idea.

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