How the Cranes blundered in Cairo when they went on strike over pay and refused to train
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last week, the Uganda Cranes players went on strike in Cairo Egypt, where they were competing in the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). They accused officials of the Federation for Ugandan Football Association (FUFA) of plotting to cheat them of their bonuses for qualifying for the knockout stage of 16. Knowing the corruption that has eaten the entrails of our country’s moral fabric, I could not put FUFA above these accusations. I was therefore among those who tweeted highlighting the concerns of our players.
I had sources connected to the players. The players had been paid all their other allowances. However, they were entitled to a bonus for qualifying for the knockout stage. They feared that if they were knocked out by Senegal, a very strong team, FUFA would not pay their bonuses for qualifying to the group of 16. It was therefore prudent to leak this concern to people on social media in order to raise the alarm, shame FUFA and force it to pay them.
I felt both sympathy and solidarity with the Cranes players given my knowledge, not of FUFA specifically, but of Ugandan officials generally. However, I was later disappointed to learn that the players had gone on strike and refused to go for training unless and until their allowances are paid. I felt that the players had betrayed their professional aspirations, the team and the country. To appreciate my disappointment, and that of millions of Ugandan football fans, it is important to place this strike in its proper context.
AFCON is the most prestigious football tournament on our continent. For the last ten years, our country has been obsessed with qualifying, having last reached the competition in 1978. Indeed, it would be appropriate to say that it became the most important national goal that united our country. It was therefore gratifying when, in 2017, Uganda qualified for this tournament after 38 year of waiting.
There was euphoria across the entire nation. Even the First Lady, who had also been appointed minister of Education and Sports, attended the games, cheered with other fans, tweeted the progress and was in the stadium when we qualified. However, the Cranes performed poorly and did not win a single game and were eliminated in the preliminaries. It was, therefore, even more gratifying when they qualified the second time in a row in 2018. All eyes of Uganda were thus on the team to make Uganda proud at the 2019 finals.
And the Cranes did not disappoint. They played well and qualified for the knockouts. The whole country was behind them. They made our country proud. Yet it was at the height of their achievement and nationwide popularity that Cranes players foundered. They went on strike over pay. The fear that FUFA officials may not pay their bonus is legitimate. But to go on strike and refuse to play because of this was a blunder. It demonstrated the players’ loss of focus from the main issue to subsidiary ones.