Missing Ugandan cricketers leave authorities fuming

Things went from bad to worse for Ugandan cricket and, by association, for the dreams of many young cricketers across Africa, with an admission that seven players, and not six as first reported, went missing at the end of the ICC Under-19 World Cup Qualifier in Toronto.

Former Uganda board chairman Abbey Lutaya said it was "a great setback for Ugandan sport". He continued: "It is indeed a big step backwards to the many achievements cricket had attained. Uganda have worked hard on the cricket front and with the hard work almost bearing fruit, these little boys decide to spoil everything now. They are so talented and it is catastrophic that not one but seven of them decide to vanish."

Cassim Suliman, chief executive of the Africa Cricket Association, said he was "not happy", adding: "It sets a bad precedent and basically we need to somehow look at countering this by getting other measures in place."

The team manager Bashir Ansasira said the case had now moved from missing persons to an immigration issue. The Uganda Cricket Assocation asked the Canadian authorities to repatriate the missing players as and when they were found.

"As of now there is a lot of speculation. Maybe it is a case of job hunt or seeking asylum," Ansasira, who returned to Uganda on Friday, told AFP. "This was a disgraceful act. We never smelt any mischief.

"None of the other players said anything about any planned escape. The boys did everything secretly. They even begged for permission to go shopping for their parents and relatives a day before they vanished. They left all their stuff behind including passports. We were totally hoodwinked. Actions of such individuals negatively impact on the image of the sport in the country."

While this has been linked with a similar incident in 2007 when two Ugandan players absconded after an ICC tournament in Australia and subsequently claimed asylum, there is confusion over the status of the seven. They have no documentation - the management appeared to have been holding their passports to try and avoid such an incident - but the Canadian police said no laws had been broken as the seven were all legally in the country on six-month visas. However, it is believed the country's immigration department is not taking quite such a relaxed view.

Speaking to Canada's National Post, Dr. Joanna Quinn, an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario who has extensive knowledge of Ugandan politics, said it was easier for Ugandans to get visas to Canada than to the USA or UK and played down suggestions they were seeking political asylum.

"It doesn't seem to make sense," she said. "The only thing I can think of is [that they are seeking] economic improvements."