FIFA Assistant Referee Dick Okello handled the 2021CAF Champions League final (Credit: John Batanudde)

Big dreams in life come to pass in reality with hard-toiled commitment, right planning, diligence, following set priority list and of course, sheer luck.

All the aforementioned components have combined in the affirmative to rhyme with the set guidelines of the FUFA refereeing department, as attested by the Uganda Football Referees Association (UFRA) chairperson, Ronnie Kalema.

Kalema assumed the office in 2017 and has since witnessed 9 Ugandan FIFA Referees officiate at 16 different international matches; including at the global stage with the prime target making it to the FIFA World Cup finals again; by 2026.

He boldly attests to the “I Believe experience” that has been followed to the dot by the BIG 4 AGENDA programe.

In 2017 when I took leadership as head of refereeing at FUFA – Uganda, I and my team sat down to strategize for the future following the “The Big 4 Agenda”

Ronnie Kalema, Uganda Football Referees Association (UFRA) chairperson
Ronnie Kalema, chairman Uganda Football Referees Association (UFRA) flanked by FUFA CEO Edgar Watson and Hilary Kimbugwe

Fast forward, they agreed to a simple but rational strategy which was code named; IFP (Integrity, Fitness &Performance).

Then, the target was toward a mission tagged; “Making Good Referees Great” with a slogan “I believe” and a great vision; “Taking a football referee or Assistant, Beach Soccer Referee or Futsal referee to the world cup by 2026“.

Action plan:

The four prime aspects in this management entailed the technical (assessment) department, proper allocation and deployment, the will to ask questions and seek counsel as well as leading by example in every aspect executed.

We got great instructors who are providing continuous trainings and feedback to our referees. We also understood the importance of feedback in workplace advancement.

The team is aware of the talent pool of referees available and how to use them.

The management gained experience in activating the capabilities of the referees, knowing when and where to deploy them in all FUFA organized competitions.

There is that will to ask questions and seek counsel all the time.  From the outside, the team may appear to know-it-all – yet on the inside, there is a deep thirst for knowledge.

Therefore, constantly we are on the look-out to learn new things because of our commitment to making ourselves better through the wisdom of others within the industry; 4th estate inclusive (media).

Finally, leading by example sounds easy, but few leaders are consistent with this one. Successful leaders practice what they preach and are mindful of their actions.

They know everyone is watching them and therefore are incredibly intuitive about detecting those who r observing their every move, waiting to detect a performance shortfall.

Ronnie Kalema, Uganda Football Referees Association (UFRA) chairperson
Ronnie Kalema, the Chairman Uganda Football Referees Association (UFRA) and FUFA Executive Committee member (Credit: FUFA Media)

All these programs and planning that paid particular attention to the details have prepared the referees for the international engagements at hand.

Uganda’s Dick Okello was recently on the international scene he was among the officials at the 2021 CAF Champions League in Morocco between record champions Al Ahly (Egypt) and South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs.

Dick Okello (far left) poses with other officials alongside the Kaizer Chiefs and Al Ahly captains

“Mr. Dick Okello has been a student in the above BIG 4 and that is why we should celebrate him. Managing an Assistant Referee to the top (CAF Champions League Final) is guided by the BIG 4 AGENDA” Kalema concludes.

Since 2017, 9 Uganda FIFA Referees have handled different assignments at 16 international engagements.

Dick Okello has handled the 2019 CHAN U-20 in Niger, 2019 CHAN U-23 hosted by Egypt, 2021 CHAN finals in Cameroon and most recently the 2021 CAF Champions League Final (Al Ahly Vs Kaizer Chiefs) in Morocco.

FIFA assistant referee, Mark Ssonko (right) receives his FIFA Referees manual and Badge in 2017 from FUFA first Vice President Justus Mugisha Credit: FUFA Media

Mark Ssonko officiated at the 2017 AFCON U-20 Finals in Zambia, FIFA World Cup India as well as 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals in Egypt.

Female FIFA Referee Samirah Nabadda handled the 2019 All African Games Morocco and the FISU University Games in Italy, the same year.

Samirah “Keko” Nabadda

In 2019, Malex Nakitto officiated at the All African Games in Morocco as well.

The same was fruitful for Uganda as well as Mashood Ssali was at the 2019 U-17 Africa Cup of Nations finals hosted in Tanzania, William Oloya (2019 CAF CECAFA Zonal U-17, Zambia) and Isa Masembe at the 2019 CAF CECAFA Zonal U-17, Tanzania).

Mashood Ssali Credit: John Batanudde
Wakiso Giants; head coach Douglas Bamwenyana talks to referee Willam Oloya during a domestic match (Credit: John Batanudde)
Isa Masembe, FIFA Assistant Referee

Beach Soccer:

FIFA beach soccer referee Ivan Kintu Bayige handled the 2017 Lagos Beach Soccer Champions Nigeria, 2018 AFCON Beach Soccer Cup of Nations in Egypt and 2021 AFCON Beach Soccer Cup of Nations hosted by Senegal.

Ivan Kintu Bayige (right) during the Uganda Beach Soccer League at Lido beach in Entebbe Credit: © Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE

By and large, “The Big 4 Agenda” programme of IFP (Integrity, Fitness &Performance), “Making Good Referees Great”, “I believe” a bold vision of “Taking a football referee or Assistant, Beach Soccer Referee or Futsal referee to the world cup by 2026 has worked magic and wonders to the development of Ugandan referees thus far.

International Tournaments where Uganda’s referees have been appointed since 2017:

  • Mark Ssonko (2017 – AFCON U-20 Finals Zambia, FIFA World Cup India, 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals Egypt)
  • Samirah Nabadda (2019 All African Games Morocco, FISU University Games Italy)
  • Malex Nakitto (2019 All African Games, Morocco)
  • Mashood Ssali (2019 U-17 Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania)
  • William Oloya (2019 CAF CECAFA Zonal U-17, Zambia)
  • Isa Masembe (2019 CAF CECAFA Zonal U-17, Tanzania)
  • Ivan Kintu Bayige (2017 Lagos Beach Soccer Champions Nigeria, 2018 AFCON Beach Soccer Cup of Nations Egypt, 2021 AFCON Beach Soccer Cup of Nations Senegal)
  • Dick Okello (2019 CHAN U-20 Niger, 2019 CHAN U-23 Egypt & 2021 CHAN finals Cameroon, 2021 CAF Champions League Final (Al Ahly Vs Kaizer Chiefs) – Morocco)

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

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