Two missing Ugandan rugby players who vanished after the Commonwealth Games in Scotland have turned up after they were found playing for a suburban rugby club in Wales.
27-year-old Benon Kizza and Philip Pariyo, 26, vanished in August after failing to fly home to Uganda with the rest of their squad resulting in a government enquiry into their disappearance after rumours they were working at a car wash in Glasgow.
However, after claiming asylum, the pair who had been in Uganda’s Sevens team ended up in a hostel for Asylum Seekers in Cardiff, and after seeing signs for St Peters RFC have now started playing rugby with a mixture of office workers, students and builders in the local Welsh league.
Club chairman Joe Sweeney said: “We have actually signed them now and they are playing for us. We have gone through all the bureaucratic procedures and everything and they are signed as St Peter’s players.
“Phillip played last Saturday and scored two tries. Benon was subbed and was on the bench. Not far from our field is a hotel used to house asylum seekers.”
The club was contacted by Communities First – a Welsh Government body focused on tackling poverty – to ask if they would allow the players to join.
“Because we are a community club, we said yes,” Mr Sweeney said. “One of the players approached our coach and mentioned he played a bit of rugby.
“It was noticed he was an extra gifted rugby player and we spoke to him about why he was here. It transpired he had been at the Commonwealth Games playing for Uganda and while here he and his mate decided to seek asylum.
“There was a bit of bureaucracy but we have signed them now.”
Mr Sweeney believed the players had been granted asylum for “a period of time”.
A source for the players said: “It’s a tragic story which has turned good.”
The pair decided to stay because of personal and political reasons. They were “petrified” of a “potential backlash against them,” said the source.
When they were found by the club they were barely able to feed themselves. “They are now eating better,” the insider said. “They were going a day-and-a-half without food.”
The Uganda Rugby Union, which pledged to find the pair when they vanished, hit out at the move.
“They have not sought our authority as a union, they have not been cleared by the union,” coach Yayiro Kasasa said. “What happened is that when we came for the Commonwealth Games we signed a code of conduct in order to come over.
“But they never returned to Uganda, they ran away. They remained in the UK and broke our code of conduct.”
At the time Uganda’s sports minister, Charles Bakkabulindi, said: “We shall find them and make sure that they return home.”
“You have to clear people through International Rugby to play for another club,” Mr Kasasa said. “But in this case they have found their way to the team they are playing for.”
“They thought it was right for them to stay and find a better way of living,” he added.
The International Rugby Board – now known as World Rugby – declined to comment.
A Home Office spokesman would not discuss the players’ asylum status.