18 November 2012

Uganda Cannot Afford to Lose Supersport


The latest twist in Ugandan football power struggles is that SuperSport and Uganda Breweries, the game's biggest promoters and financiers, intend to withdrawal their sponsorship if sanity is not restored in the running of the topflight league.

Domestic football is currently embroiled in chaos with two parallel topflight leagues running. Local governing body Fufa runs the Fufa Super League, which was born out of the newly amended Fufa constitution while the Uganda Super League Limited (USLL) also runs a rival league.


When SuperSport signed a five-year $5m to broadcast live topflight matches, I hailed the move as the major turning point from amateurism to professionalizing Ugandan football. Uganda Breweries shortly followed suit with a three-year Shs 2.2bn. That was a massive risk for the sponsors yet somehow, they had faith the game was headed in the right direction.

However, all their efforts seem to have gone to waste in light of the power struggles. For one, Fufa's move to reclaim the rights of running the league was done in bad taste to punish USLL's stubbornness and insubordination.

On the other hand, USLL operated with a shortsighted vision and it was a huge oversight to play down the power and influence of Fufa. Had both sides kept cool heads without exchanging barbs, Uganda would have been a model in the Cecafa region.

However, pronouncements from the rival corridors of power indicate an unrelenting tone that makes SuperSport's withdrawal inevitable.

History of football sponsorship:

Back in the 80s when sponsorship was unheard-of in Uganda football, SC Villa supremo Patrick Kawooya secured a lucrative five-year deal from oil giant Agip to sponsor SC Villa. This was in 1985. Agip's choice of the Jogoos was based mostly on the high degree of organization.

With Agip's support, SC Villa built a formidable side that won eight titles in five years. Archrivals Express FC followed suit with Agip competitor Gapco the early 1990s. Interestingly, it was during this time that the Red Eagles won back-to-back league titles and also reached the semifinal of Africa Club Championships.

Though the two clubs were moving the right direction, it took Fufa more than a decade to get the league sponsors. Nile Breweries put pen to paper in December 1997 and agreed to sponsor the league under its Nile Special brand in a deal worth Shs 264m annually. Nile Breweries was also joined by co-sponsors like Coca Cola, BAT, MTN and Shell.

I vividly remember how Nile Breweries Chief Executive Henry Ruud used his football knowledge from South Africa to guide Fufa and clubs in the area of football administration. This arrangement saved several clubs that were on the brink of closing shop. For example, Health FC, Mbale Heroes, Posta FC, Police FC and Scoul struggled to pay players on top of honouring away ties before the Nile Breweries deal breathed new life in their survival.

Cash prizes for teams and players were introduced in the deal improved the standard of the game. Soon, the likes of Top TV and City Tyres joined the league sponsorship. However, though the deal was subject to improvement with each passing year, it got stiff challenge in 2000 from the three big clubs [Villa, Express and KCC], which had formed a selfish umbrella of VEK.

In 2001, the VEK sides led by Express' Kavuma Kabenge refused to don official Nile Breweries branded jerseys and instead preferred kits promoting rival Uganda Breweries Limited (UBL). In the ensuring confusion, Nile Breweries parted company with Fufa at the end of 2003 and ironically, the VEK-UBL deal failed to materialise.

In the end, the biggest loser was football!

That was the end of a meaningful league sponsor until the arrival of SuperSport and UBL in 2011. Before that collapse, Fufa had self-destructed in 1999 when they signed separate deals to sponsor The Cranes from MTN and later Celtel.

The two telecommunication giants pulled out after realising they had been outfoxed and it took until 2007 before MTN returned.

Way forward:

I am not a Christian but I'm well informed about some famous storylines from the Bible. One of my favourites is the tale of King Solomon's wisdom when handling a case of two women that contested the motherhood of a baby boy. King Solomon suggested the baby be cut into two pieces and give half to one and half to the other.

One of the two women agreed enthusiastically but the other - perhaps touched by the motherliness - vehemently protested to the suggestion and instead suggested the baby be given to the other woman. This way, King Solomon was able to tell which the real mother was.

In this case, Fufa and USLL officials are behaving like the woman who preferred the baby be killed so that both sides lose out. Both sides are ready to see this lucrative SuperSport deal cancelled other than sitting down and iron out the differences to have one league.

Unlike Fufa and USLL officials that can afford a descent life without SuperSport, clubs and players in particular depend on football alone and could be forced into oblivion without SuperSport. Football is their bread winner as well as helping then to expose their talent.

For one, USLL boss Kavuma Kabenge played a big role in the premature withdrawal of Nile Breweries and is currently at the centre of the storm. Meanwhile, Fufa boss Lawrence Mulindwa is well aware of how his seven-year reign has miserably failed to secure a lucrative deal for the Super League.

Football does not start or stop with the current USLL and Fufa. Ugandan football has had 27 Fufa bosses since 1924. So, it's foolhardy for officials from both sides to think that they understand the problems of Uganda football and therefore have a right to personalize it.

In a nutshell, there are some at Fufa who will celebrate if SuperSport pulls out because it will weaken USLL's resolve to survive while on the contrary, I know a few officials that celebrated Uganda's failure to qualify for the Nations Cup under the pretext qualification would have given Mulindwa the seal of approval.

Such are the low depths Ugandan football has fallen.

The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.

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