How To Make Ugandan Football Great Again
By Arinaitwe Rugyendo
Friday last week marked a turning point in local football when the FUFA Super League Limited, the company running the Uganda Premier League brand, hosted the AZAM Uganda Premier League Awards.
The event took place at Victoria Hall, Kampala Serena Hotel.
That wasn’t enough achievement. The Awards arrived after a 4-year drought. They were last hosted in 2012.
This is because the years that followed this 2012 event, during which URA’s Robert Ssentongo won a Toyota Progress as the 2011/12-league season’s Most Valuable Player, were the most chaotic and ideologically disoriented in Ugandan football.
The country lost so much time and valuable fans to European leagues. It was not until nine months ago, when my board and I took over, that sanity and stability seemed to return to football. It is still a long struggle to get there.
Therefore, it was no wonder that Friday’s awards, during which KCCA’s Joseph Ochaya won a Subaru Forester as the 2015/17 Most Valuable Player, were the most glamorous in recent football history. Everyone, from players, to their previously shabby coaches, to invited guests- ladies and gentlemen, were all smartly draped in the black tie affair- the staff for bankers and the members of the bench and the bar.
The MCs; Patrick Kanyomoozi and Flavia Tumusiime, exuded pomp, ideological clarity and a sense of feeling that this wasn’t business as usual.
We had been treated, for years and ages, to the dogmatic belief that Ugandan football was for the idlers.
This time, here was football being celebrated from a Five Star Hotel. And this is where we want to be.
My board and I have been at the helm of Ugandan football for nearly 9 months, earning no salary, but sacrificing everything we have to Make Ugandan Football Great Again.
This is because we believed that once this game gets its groove back, we would hit more revenues than form oil in the Albertine Graben. So, during this period, we discovered that the beautiful game is dogged by the following 11 bottlenecks:
Corruption, poor administration, Hooliganism, Ideological Disorientation, Poor Funding, Lack of Political Will in sports, Poor or non-existent sports infrastructure, Poor welfare for sportsmen and women, Limited sponsorship and private sector participation, A negative media that is foreign sports oriented and a poor fan base
But amidst this state of affairs, we discovered that there were also 11 opportunities from Ugandan Football:
We have a talented nation whose continental ranking stands at the 14th position, a potential for Football to create National Unity. Uganda has no reason why it cannot win trophies.
Football can brand Uganda at no cost and is a good chance for animating Ugandan Tourism.
Football has the Potential for job creation through talent development
Football has the Potential for business (e.g suppliers of sports merchandise, equipment and etc)
Football has Potential for political and social mobilization
Football is a better labour export avenue (selling players to foreign leagues) for our children than the existing channels through which our brothers and sisters are working as slave maids and guards in foreign countries
Football is a potential attraction for Foreign Direct Investment (for example the Uganda Shs. 5.4bn Azam Sponsorship to the league which is money currently circulating in our economy).
Football is a great avenue for nurturing and discerning Patriotism (you do not need lecturers and classroom blocks to teach patriotism if you have sports, especially football, in your midst.
Football is a potential tax revenue earner for the government if clubs are rich and able to attract huge fans.
Football can help the country achieve national fitness and a feel good factor amongst the citizens.
And finally, Football is a meaningful pastime compared to the street battles between police and the citizens.
I shall be expounding on each of these bottlenecks and opportunities in due course.
Now that the new season has started, actually yesterday, we must dig in and collectively do our job. I was previously aloof.
I never participated in sports administration save for directing fans where to sit and watch the games peacefully without throwing stones. But when the club chairmen threw me at the deep end of the game in September last year, I appealed to them to resurrect the game. They had to do a few things which they must continue doing. Namely;
Emphasize integrity in football so that Ugandans can vote them again with their money, fill up stadia, instead of crowding around TV sets watching the premier league.
I told them this state of affairs was a sad colonial mentality, which had to stop. Imagine worshiping foreign players who will never set foot on African soil! Imagine the shame that has always come with Ugandans committing suicide just because Manchester United lost to Arsenal! Why can’t they die for their national sports heroes like Geoffrey Massa? But to stop this we must improve the quality of the game so as to attract this lost sheep to our stadia.
I asked them to build systems and start behaving like real corporate entities.
I am glad these two issues were ably taken in good stead, the very reason we had a successful event and we are beginning to see the brand take an upward trend.
The new season has started in gear. I have seen clubs unleashing great people. Some have enrolled celebrities to rally fans and for this, I am very lucky to have been at the helm when this great change is taking place in our beautiful game.
A little known Arua based Ondumparaka FC has already attracted a foreign investor in Betway, a UK based sports betting company.
Therefore, during this season and the coming years, we shall adopt the following STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL MEASURES to make Ugandan football; great again!
We will vigorously re-build political will in Ugandan sport especially football. I hope the First Lady, Hon Janet Museveni reads this and takes down some notes. The private sector can only be on board if it believes politicians, especially government, are serious about sport.
We are going to lobby Parliament to start a Sports Caucus. To hell with tribal caucuses in Parliament that keep propagating parochial interests. A sports caucus represents national interests.
We are going to engage the Ministry of Education and Sports for a genuine dialogue on how to increase sports funding in Uganda and structure it for the better.
We shall engage the Uganda Tourism Board to map sports and reap benefits for the country.
We shall advocate for a Uganda Sports Authority as well as a Sports Fund similar to the Uganda Road Fund and the Energy Fund to redress this problem of sports funding.
We shall Push for the establishment of Sports Infrastructure everywhere.
We will lobby for better budgeting for Sports.
We will create bankable audiences for the private sector to cash in and brand.
We will work hard and Qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup in the coming years once a firm foundation has been set.
Gen Muhoozi has promised support. I want more generals to join him. There are many generals in government offices, the private sector and in the slums who can make this game great again.
This is a very small battle. It just needs ideological clarity and sense of purpose.
Let me assure every Ugandan, that we will not accept, ever again, a chaotic league. We are determined to serve above self to make Ugandan Football, Great Again! Please watch the league. Pay at the entrance. We have the Uganda Police on our side to ensure your windscreens as well as skulls are shielded from stone throwing rowdy football hooligans.
I shall return next week.
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