By Arinaitwe Rugyendo
On September 23, 2015, my team and I, assumed the office of the Board of Directors of an unstable and almost collapsing FUFA Super League Limited (FSLL)- trading as Uganda Premier League (UPL).
Our assumption of office- upon a six month spell of in-fighting, acrimony between the clubs and the country’s football governing body- the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA), and a resigned and frustrated title sponsor- Azam Television, was going to be a tough fight.
Our coming to office was a compromise by the clubs to have a neutral board.
The football fights we witnessed had brought the country to its knees in terms of football credibility, sponsorship confidence and football administration.
Given this background, and the state of affairs at the time, my team and I decided to serve.
We gave five conditions:
1. A guarantee that no one would interfere with our measures to bring back integrity in football.
2. That governance systems return to football
3. That stability becomes the theme of the game.
4. That we repair the UPL- FUFA of the murky relations.
5. That league hooliganism and violence stops.
Getting to work
I had no previous experience in football management, but set out to understand, first, how this football politics worked.
I was literary pulled out of the stands, a haven of frustrated fans by the incessant football wrangles, hooliganism, ideological disorientation, mala administration, chaos, corruption, low sponsorship confidence, negative media and under performance of the national team, the Uganda Cranes.
The few years before we came in, the league had actually been split into two.
It had deteriorated into two rival leagues running side by side, a feat of unimaginable disastrous proportions that sent potential sponsors, football lovers and fans into oblivion.
Given the above scenario, my team and I, correctly, diagnosed the problem.
We agreed that all this had been purely an ideological problem- not a footballing issue. It had not been due to the fact that Uganda had no talent.
It had been because football stakeholders and administrators were ideologically disoriented.
Football had moved on from the streets to the boardrooms where etiquette, seriousness, corporate governance, marketing, branding, credibility, transparency and image had become the rule of the game.
Thus, our ideological package centred on stability, transparency, credibility, governance and integrity in the game.
We needed these to build on what ‘Marketing Mix’ scholars such as what E. Jerome McCarthy called the ‘4Ps of Marketing,’ – Product, Promotion, Price and Place (McCarthy, J. 1960).
How did we, then, embark on building the PRODUCT?
We looked at the structures that were obtaining at the league, that time.
Structurally, the league had no visible office and address. And the league had no files to talk about and its bank account had no money.
We decided to move the existing office to where football would be contextual- Namboole stadium.
There, we hired a room and settled in the rickety hungry and angry staff we had found in place and started reorganising.
After this, we moved on to beef up the UPL secretariat with human resource capacity and by the time we were through the busy season, the contacts to potential sponsors, the relations with the media and a few training gigs for clubs and secretariat personnel, our one year mandate had expired.
During the first Annual General Meeting in August 2016, we promptly reported minimal progress but advised the shareholders that unless they amended their books to extend a board’s mandate to at least three years, no board was ever going achieve anything for them in the foreseeable future.
We are glad, we were listened to.
With a renewed mandate, I told my team that we would all have to serve football on a voluntary basis for the sake of football.
With three years in the bag, assured of uninterrupted continuity, I am happy to report the following to Ugandan football lovers who are starting to see successes at club, national and international levels but had no idea what was happening in the kitchen.
Stability and Order: We correctly diagnosed the fact that the problem in the local game was largely ideological. If we focussed as a team to return stability and create semblance of order in the game, the product would begin to take shape again. We achieved this. We got endorsements from high profile Ugandans and became more visible in the traditional and new media platforms as well behaved and reformed league to the satisfaction of big but reluctant sponsors such as Uganda Breweries Limited.
League Value: The league value grew from Shs 5 billion in 2015 to close to Shs 30 billion in 2019, according to estimates from the studies done by the respected Research Firm Ipsos Uganda in 2017.
Governance and Cohesion: We improved Governance and cohesion between the board, secretariat and clubs. We held regular interactive meetings between the board, secretariat and the clubs every two months throughout the four years, trained their staff and streamlined their accounting systems. We paid their sponsorship monies on time and ensured that their views were always respected which eventually led to the reform of the UPL statutory documents and other related material. The league is now in very sound legal and statutory positions with its documents able to speak the same language as those of FUFA, a key milestone in reducing rifts between the two institutions.
Sponsorships: Our efforts at building a stable product led to the growth of the overall collective sponsorship basket at both secretariat and individual clubs levels from 4 in 2015 to 25 in 2019. This sponsorship value is over Shs 30 billion.
Credibility: We returned credibility to the league through such actions as demonstrable transparency and accountability. This is partly attributed to the rising sponsorship confidence in the league and the trust by the government of Uganda.
Political Will: Previously, the Uganda government was largely aloof to sport, only intervening to fire fight a situation like a sudden national team qualification. The government of Uganda, through our efforts and trust built, has been paying salaries of 50 top league players since the year 2017.
FUFA: There had been a perennial ideological misconception that both the league and FUFA had to be involved endless petty fights in order to prove a point for Ugandan football without knowing they were destroying its fabric. We set out to deliberately repair ties with FUFA in order to create an environment in the country where all football stakeholders had to speak one football language in order to cure the perennial confusion amongst members of the public. Today, this relationship has paid off in many ways that include the following:
1. Prize money for the league champion grew from Shs.10m in 2016 to Shs. 60m in 2015. This was not all. For the first time in Uganda’s league history, all season participating teams get paid something in a descending order with the last receiving Shs. 500,000, thanks to FUFA.
2. Our engagement with FUFA has this year yielded more, with the governing body committing to pay travel expenses for clubs playing continental football.
3. After a two year long dialogue, FUFA finally this year, promised more support to clubs through capacity building workshops on concussion injuries that will start during this coming season.
Question: How do you win these when the League and FUFA are constantly engaged in an endless World War III?
Secretariat: We restructured the league Secretariat and improved its capacity through training and exposure. The secretariat is now pretty organised with instant statistics, data, filing systems, accounting systems and a staff van- the first ever in its history.
AFCON: Uganda qualified twice for Africa Cup of Nations, after a long spell of 40 years during our tenure at the league, with significant local football talent representation. I have been arguing that Ugandans tend to look at the garden and forget the nursery bed. You cannot have a rich garden (Uganda Cranes) without a formidable and reliable nursery bed (The League) first. Without a strong league, you cannot talk about Uganda Cranes.
Media Relations: We revamped and improved the UPL media relations that had completely broken down. Successful sporting has a strong link to media attitudes and narratives. We correctly understood that an interaction with the media and getting them involved in building the product so that they would ultimately have something to report on, comment on and objectively criticize, was critical to our mission. Ultimately, our good relations with the media have bred the product we are now set to promote credibly and without fear of a backlash over the next four years.
Corruption: We moved to stamp out corruption and maladministration in the league. We promoted transparency, integrity and proper utilisation of the resource envelope. We have unquestionable accounts and qualified audit books of accounts for the entire four years to shareholder satisfaction. We were deliberate on this because we knew this is critical to attracting sponsor confidence, fans support, building our legacy and setting a moral high ground for future leaderships at the league.
The above major achievements, challenges notwithstanding, have created our the kind of PRODUCT called the UPL we set out to build in 2015 that is trusted, credible, respected, reliable, stable and clean. It is only hungry. How then do we feed it? Who will feed it? Is it us, you dear readers or a collective effort of the corporate/ private sector, fans, players, Government of Uganda, FUFA, UPL board or chance?
I return to this soon with what we have set out as our key milestones for 2019-23 and how everyone should get involved!
The writer is the FSLL Board Chairman