9 January 2013

Uganda: The State of Football


Where would football be had there been no wrangles between Fufa and the USL?

Just like domestic violence or any conventional war, the endless wrangles between Fufa and the Uganda Super League (USL) have brought major destruction to football in Uganda since the battle lines were first drawn mid-2011. At the peak of these wrangles are two uncompetitive leagues running concurrently - the Fufa Super League (FSL) and the USL.

Question: Where would football be today had we had one league?

The 2011/2012 Super League season, organized under the USL umbrella, was a close contest between Express, Bunamwaya and URA. The title was decided on the final day and pundits believe the 2012/2013 season, following such trends, would have been better. When the super league clubs chose to become corporate entities in July 2010, a professional dispensation was on course, the kind that saw most teams active in the transfer market preceding the 2012/2013 season.

For example, newly promoted Sports Club Victoria University (SCVU) spent over Shs 200m recruiting players. Another new side, Kira Young, also spent heavily. Seasoned teams like KCC spent Shs 160m, something that would have brought in fans who always look out for a strong team.

Today, most fans are weary. Godfrey Musisi, a Villa fan, told The Observer that he wasn't watching any league games because he couldn't keep up with the two-league confusion. Musisi could be an isolated case, but he is one fan too many to lose considering how Super League matches have struggled to attract the numbers following the match-fixing scandal of 2003.

Peter Kibazo, a former KCC FC official, says if there wasn't this disorganisation, players would be more competitive, benefiting the national team. The backbone of a successful national team is a strong league. He adds that with SuperSport, the country would have marketed more players to other leagues that pay better.

As an example, Kibazo cites Umony and Abel Dhaira's cases, who moved to Azam FC and Simba respectively after just three Cecafa Tusker Cup games. This season, SuperSport has only shown five live games, yet they had scheduled to show more. It's all in the power of television, which, according to Henry Mayeku, an official of URA FC, would have attracted more corporate companies into the league.

Today, neither the USL nor the FSL can attract new sponsorship under this cloud of unrest because there is no mileage - the media has instituted a black-out on the two leagues. Inevitably, even the teams would be in a better state. Teams have had to spend more than they could afford simply to play in both leagues. And because of that, some players have gone months without pay.

One of the major strides that Super League football had made over the last two seasons is that all teams completed their fixtures because there was substantial money. The last team to miss three league games in a season due to lack of money was Arua Central FC in the 2009/2010 season.

But Fufa CEO Edgar Watson believes everything is fine. "The current Fufa stand is helping improve football," he says.

Yet, the reality shows otherwise. Last season, match referees were being paid Shs 70,000 per game officiated, from Shs 20,000 paid the season before. That was expected to go up this season and all the arrears of last season cleared. Now given the wrangles, part of the referees' money of last season (Shs 26m) hasn't been paid.

This season, a Super 8 championship had been lined up on SuperSport, pitting the top eight league teams of last season in a knock-out tournament, where the winner would get some big cash prize like it's done in South Africa. That aside, a reserve league to help develop players on the fringes of super league clubs and those returning from injury get some match action was expected to be better organised this season.

And so are the prizes that would go to the player who won the player of the month award. None of the leagues is recognising the players in this regard. In a nutshell, a USL youth league was started in the under-16, 14 and 12 categories last season. Moses Kibirango, who coordinated it, says this was a pilot project that the USL used to encourage all teams into youth development like the Airtel rising stars and Copa Coca-Cola tournaments do.

Unfortunately, there's no sign of it taking off again this season.

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