6 January 2013

Uganda: Alupo's Huge Task in Sports

In many ways, 2012 will best be remembered for the negative events that dominated the year.

From the sodomy revelations in Ugandan football to yet another Nations Cup qualification heartbreak, the most conspicuous subject was the standoff between Fufa and the Uganda Super League (USL) that greatly weakened the competitiveness of domestic football.

To this day, both parties remain defiant but now that Education and Sports minister,Jessica Alupo has stepped in and given a January 31 ultimatum to sort the confusion, my fingers are crossed that all parties will reach an amicable solution. If not, the minister should make a bold position - regardless of any party's interests - as long as it's in the interest of stabilising local football.

For the record, the 2002-03 Super League is still the most controversial and worst organised since the inauguration of the national football league in 1968. A combination of bribery, poor refereeing and administrative wrangles rendered that season wasted. However, the 2003 topflight season is on course to upstage those wrongs almost a decade later. What's going on this season league is ridiculous to say the least. Not only are two parallel leagues running - one by Fufa and the other by USL - several clubs are split into two factions that feature in either league.

In a recent meeting attended by officials from the ministry and National Council of Sports (NCS) as well as Fufa and USL, it was decided that clubs be summoned to give their input. But, the sticking point is determining the legitimate clubs that should attend the joint meeting scheduled to be chaired by Education and Sports ministry permanent secretary Francis Lubanga.

A case in point is SC Villa, Express, Water, Simba, Police, Masaka, Kira Young and Entebbe Young. This is the first stalemate of sorts. At the heart of this battle are sponsors SuperSport and Uganda Breweries (UBL). The two organisations are stuck between a rock and a hard place and have threatened to pull out of Ugandan football if normalcy is not restored soon.

Currently, they sponsor the USL but in reality, FSL has the upper hand as far as attracting the star players, major clubs and fan bases are concerned. I have also noted that most broadcasters endorsed the FSL, thereby denying the sponsors mileage for their products. Therefore, should the sponsors go ahead to withdraw, that would all but signal the demise of USL that heavily relies on the sponsors' financial offers.

However, SuperSport and UBL are contracted to the USL for five years and hence severing ties comes with a hefty cost. That's why the two organisations should have the biggest say in the talks because the game cannot afford to lose all those billions in sponsorship because of a few individuals that cannot agree.

Alupo in catch-22

The minister needs to tread carefully when dealing with the Fufa-USL affair. Given the intricate nature of football's governing rules (which Alupo may not be well-versed with), she has to confront the problem directly and take decisive action and avoid the half-hearted attempts of her junior, Charles Bakkabulindi.

Bakkabulindi's intervention in the Uganda Amateur Boxing Federation (UABF) affairs resulted in more splits than uniting the warring factions. For one, it will be a gigantic task to force the two parties to work together by merging the two leagues. However, the light at the end of this tunnel is that 2013 is an election year for the Fufa executive under the amended constitution that interestingly is supported by all sides.

So, this offers all parties a chance to vie for a great deal of effort and should be directed at ensuring that competent people are elected into office. The elections should sort out all the differences once and for all.

Cranes campaign

Administrative wrangles aside, The Cranes face an uphill task to qualify for the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil. Uganda has so far collected two points in a Group that also has Senegal, Liberia and Angola. On paper, The Cranes have what it takes to upset the Group favourite Senegal and make the playoffs but in reality, The Cranes should not stretch their limit.

Fufa should use the campaign to strengthen the current squad and pull all stops and qualify for the 2015 Nations Cup. In skipper-in-waiting Godfrey Walusimbi, Geoffrey 'Baba' Kizito, Joseph Ochaya and in particular Moses Oloya, Uganda has what it takes to groom a formidable team for the future.

But this is not to say we should give up hope; no, we should take every qualifier like a final. Then again, the ultra-modern Njeru technical centre should be fully exploited so it doesn't become a white elephant. Why not hold some league matches on this artificial turf regardless of whether fans watch?

On the other hand, for a federation that receives annual grants to develop women's football, Fufa should at least be seen to promote the sport. Meanwhile, now that the federation acquired an automated player registration and licensing technology, all stakeholders should put this system to maximum use, especially in the aspect of players' bio data.

In a sport where players' ages are disputed, the data should help follow up players from an early age to avoid the mishaps of fielding overage players.

Lastly, I have said this before but I once again recommend the Uganda Cranes Initiative (UCI) for uplifting the image of the national team. This should continue through 2013 and with a cordial relationship with Fufa, I have no doubt the players will play at 110% at all times and who knows, The Cranes could surprise us all.

All this can only be possible if all stakeholders know that football is bigger than an individual.

Happy 2013.

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

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