Over the last decade, Ugandan football has made one step ahead and two steps back. In other words, we have retrogressed!
This is reflected in the results of the national team and clubs on the continent, organization and infrastructure resources, and, most importantly, lack of interest in domestic football.
The conspicuous cause of this is that Fufa abandoned its core mandate of promoting football. Promoting the game is a collective effort between Fufa and clubs but is perhaps only in Uganda that an FA is not interested in proceedings from domestic competitions. Out of the dwindling numbers of fans in league matches, Fufa abandoned its duty to collect a share, thereby neglecting its oversight role and leaving the clubs to be on their own.
Fufa’s act of relieving itself of any responsibility was premised on the desire to feast on Fifa and sponsorship grants, which they don’t allow clubs to have a slice of.
Today, the mere mention of domestic football arouses negative views of the current state of affairs. Unfortunately, the powers controlling the game are the least bothered.
Of recent, I have identified five metaphorical challenges facing Ugandan football. They are topped by grant/sponsorship dependence, poor governance, growth without development, weak competition field, and shallow democracy.
Even without delving into the detail, one only needs to look at what is happening in the disciplines of netball, athletics, and to some extent, boxing to understand why football is lagging behind.
Let me take netball as an example.
Today, the Uganda Netball Federation (UNF) hardly gets any significant funding from the government or the International Netball Federation (INF). In fact, most of what it relies on comes from the vote at the National Council of Sports (NCS).
Yet, in spite of the limited resources, netball, and the She Cranes in particular continue to soar high and they are currently ranked second on the continent and sixth globally.
Also owing to the limited resources, UNF has desisted from forcing teams in the top-flight to have feeder teams that may spiral their expenditure.
What the Sarah Kityo-led UNF has achieved is unlimited loyalty to the sport because every stakeholder is cognizant of the financial situation and in turn, netball’s rise knows no leaps and bounds.
However, the same cannot be said of football and our biggest challenge for national integrity is the dependence on Fifa grants and sponsorship packages. There is also a lack of good, or at least good enough, governance, minimal player development, and hunger for football democracy in an era when elections are treated as a form of window dressing. These challenges are a lethal mix not just for the football fraternity but for the country at large.
This mostly has to do with the fact that Fufa abandoned its cardinal role of engaging in the struggles of club football and by choosing to focus only on situations that bring in funds, football has continued to suffer.
GRANTS AND THEIR DISCONTENTS
The dismal quality of Ugandan football is, of course, largely the result of the Fufa’s own poor leadership and lack of will.
Yet Fifa and other sponsors also bear some responsibility for this conundrum given their deep commitments, financial and programmatic, to Fufa. There are hardly any checks and balances.
Certainly, with respect to control of corruption and impunity, Ugandan football may be further ahead now from progress than it was a decade ago when Moses Magogo took over the helm. It is also glaring that Fifa’s development assistance has made it more feasible for Fufa to divert resources and enable corruption.
A case in point is the Kadiba Stadium project, which Fifa funded with $4.4m (15.4bn) from the Fifa Forward Program (FFP) in 2017. More than five years down the road, we are yet to get past the foundation stage.
This calls for Fifa’s toughness on a federation that is genuinely dependent on grants for the survival of much of its executive at the expense of promoting the sport. At the moment, Fufa abandoned its duty of levying top-flight domestic games mostly due to the fact there is little income. Yet if the federation had joined hands with the clubs, there would be a sense of responsibility that creates a sense of accountability.
The challenge, then, is for Fifa to deeply scrutinize its grants to ensure they improve the game at the grassroots.
The question remains; how can Ugandan football target grants to improve or benefit domestic football?
As I have argued before, targeting grants to football development means removing — as much as possible — middlemen who stand between football interests and personal gains. Thus, grants and sponsorships must foster information, transparency, consultation, and participation in order to increase the demand for good football governance.
Grant and sponsorship dependence has proven an effective and successful strategy for Fufa to overlook domestic football competitions. For instance, not only does the federation, through middlemen, clamour for a share of UPL sponsorship funds in the name of developing the sport, Magogo and company also have managed to cleverly side-line club football from Fifa donations on top of privatizing and prioritizing projects for their own benefit.
So, what should Fifa and sponsors be doing differently? They should impose stronger consequences for corruption so that Fufa is encouraged to tackle it. In a simple cost-benefit model, punishments for corruption should become harsher, and the probability of detecting corruption should increase.
But all this starts with firstly auditing the current Fifa projects in the country.