Sunday night’s televised presidential address was long-awaited by Uganda’s Premier League clubs.
In the address, President Museveni re-opened outdoor sports activities but with no spectators. Yet by the time President Museveni concluded his address on Sunday night, he had left clubs with mixed emotions.
Museveni allowed sports activities to resume provided they followed the ministry of Health standard operating procedures (SOPs) to help combat the spread of the coronavirus. He also emphasised that fans wouldn’t be allowed in stadia.
The president said participating teams will be quarantined for the season, with players tested 72 hours before games and after every 14 days. A Covid-19 PCR test goes for between Shs 100,000 and 350,000 per person.
But club bosses are sounding skeptical with the majority of topflight clubs cash-strapped. Police boss Asan Kasingye’s tweet was revealing. It read:
“I need to test 25 players at Shs 7.5m per game. This means I need Shs 225 million for 30 games a season. It’s only teams of Arsenal’s stature that can afford this. Maybe Fufa will meet testing services for all 16 clubs.”
Last season, the UPL season was suspended in March after the emergence of Covid-19. The league was eventually called off in May with Vipers declared champions. Other than the Fifa bail-out of Shs 33 million to every topflight team, clubs haven’t earned a penny in the lockdown period.
Bright Stars chairman Ronnie Mutebi says his side has no money for Covid-19 testing.
“The cost of doing pre-match Covid-19 testing for the entire season is more than 50 per cent of the annual budget of an average Ugandan club,” Mutebi noted.
He added that ‘maybe only three or four clubs’ in the league can do the testing and that for the rest of the league, they would have to heavily sacrifice other running costs to fulfill this important requirement.
Mutebi says the club will engage the authorities to “see the optimal way of complying.” But, he reiterated, “It’s practically impossible to effect.”
KCCA FC chairman Martin Sekagya is viewing the glass as half-full and not half-empty.
“We don’t have the budget to test players every three days before the game. But we shall have to work with the ministry of Health and perhaps get to more sponsors.”
Sekagya acknowledged that none of the other sides in the UPL have a budget to do regular Covid-19 testing. And if KCCA FC, arguably the best-funded side in the league, are not sure of where they will get money to do frequent Covid-19 testing, you wonder who else can.
The KCCA FC chairman added that clubs had a bigger challenge of monitoring the movement of their players when they are not on the field of play in this period.
“It will be important for us to know whether they are social distancing as well as following these important SOPs outside of their hours in training and on the field of play.”
Express FC chief executive officer Isaac Mwesigwa also said the club has no money to test for Covid-19.
“This may cost us approximately Shs 14 million every fourteen days and we can’t sustain that.”
Mwesigwa, however, says Express shall follow the standard ministry of Health social-distancing guidelines to the letter.
Meanwhile, second Fufa vice president Darius Mugoye told The Observer that the federation “fully appreciates the dilemma facing clubs.”
“I think clubs will have to engage government to find a middle ground on this matter. While we gave topflight clubs Shs 33 million to help their welfare with the Fifa Covid money, we do know that it was always not going to be enough with player-testing and preparations for the league’s resumption.”
Clubs usually have squads of up to 30 members including backroom staff. It also ought to be noted that there is no profit-making club in Ugandan topflight football. All UPL teams operate deficit budgets.