Airtel Uganda Brand Strategy Manager, Noella Byuma Credit: KAWOWO SPORTS
Lira based Destiny Academy boys and girls celebrate after winning the Northern region qualifiers at Pece Stadium, Gulu. Allan Okello was part of the team Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE

The Airtel Rising Stars (ARS) U-17 youth football programme in Uganda is a brain child of telecommunications giants, Airtel Uganda Limited and the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA).

A number of football stars on the current Uganda senior national team (Uganda Cranes), Crested Cranes (Uganda women national team), U-20 and U-23 sides have played this tournament.

From Farouk Miya, Muhammed Shaban, Martin Kizza, Kezironi Kizito, Fazila Ikwaput, Allan Okello, Pius Obuya, Bashir Asiku, Mathias Muwanga to many more others, the ARS is testament to their gradual growth.

2018 is yet another golden chance as the programme will mark the 7th edition of existence since inception in July 2011.

For starters, the programme was skipped in 2017 after a very busy schedule for FUFA and the Uganda Cranes since it was the year Uganda played at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon following a 38 year old absence.

[/media-credit] The 2015 ARS Western regional qualifiers at Kakyeka stadium in Mbarara. The programme is associated with multitudes of people Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE

Airtel Uganda Brand Strategy manager Noela Byuma shares her experience with the ARS, having witnessed first hand the gradual growth and prosperity of this youthful football programme that accommodates both boys and girls.

As a company, we take pride in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This is through activities as supporting sports (Football with the Uganda Cranes, Airtel Rising Stars, Kabaka Birthday Run and Airtel Masaza Cup). We believe that sports is a like a religion that unites many, employs thousands and refreshes the soul, body and mind. Football is a big brand in Uganda and this is the reason Airtel Uganda has supported Uganda’s football right from the grass roots to the Uganda Cranes.

[/media-credit] Airtel Uganda Brand Strategy Manager, Noela Byuma Credit: KAWOWO SPORTS

Byuma lauds FUFA in a special way, that has jointly supported the technical arm of the programme and provided additional advice when needed.

FUFA are our main partners. They have always provided the necessary technical support with referees, organizing officials who draw fixtures and the like as well as the scouts to identify the talented crop of players. Airtel Uganda does all the funding with the necessary logistics as equipment (balls, jerseys and socks, goal nets), certificates, medals, prize money and other nitty-gritties.

As season 7 fast approaches, there is building excitement across the entire country because this programme traverses the whole country.

Noela Byuma rewards the Premier Girls team in Masindi back in 2014. By and large, girls football has been the biggest beneficary of the ARS programme Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE
The Northern region preliminary round qualifiers in Gulu back in 2016 Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE

Right from the inter-district championships, the successful teams qualify for regionals before making the grade for the national finals where all the eight FUFA regions of Kampala, Buganda, Eastern, Western, Kitara, Northern, North East and West Nile emerge to play the grand finals.

Byuma shares the success script of the ARS programme in Uganda as she also looks forward a successful season 7 which kicks off soon in June through to August 2018.

Like always, the ARS programme is for children between 13 to 17 years. Over the years, we have reached every corner of the country for the talent search and development. This is our pride. Airtel Uganda will remain committed to this cause. We can not wait for the ten year mark. We want to be consistent and better in each passing edition. Players as Miya and Shaban who played at the 2017 AFCON after playing the ARS are our biggest examples. Girls football has also been our biggest success story.We thank FUFA, the media, Regional District Football Associations (DFA’s) and the teams for the collective effort.

[/media-credit] Noela Byuma during a radio show in Masindi talking about the ARS programme at Kings Broadcasting Services back in 2014 Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE
[/media-credit] L-R: Martin Kizza, Kezironi Kizito and Farouk Miya during the launch of ARS Season 5 Credit: © Kawowo Sports | DAVID ISABIRYE
Kampala region’s Arafat Mulindwa (left) vies for the ball with Kitara’s Richardson Okumu during the boy’s national finals in Fort Portal Credit: KAWOWO SPORTS

The 7th season gets underway soon with a mega launch coming up on a date and venue that will be confirmed before the district qualifiers will start.

After the district qualifiers in the respective parts of the country, then, there will be regional qualifiers in all the eight FUFA regions before the grand finals.

Uganda is one of the African countries where the ARS programme has steadily garnered steam and momentum.

The other countries are Zambia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya, among others.

David Isabirye is a senior staff writer for Kawowo Sports where he covers most of the major events.

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