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UPL missed a golden chance

Uganda Premier League officials  poses for a photograph after elections on July 26 at Namboole

Uganda Premier League officials poses for a photograph after elections on July 26 at Namboole

Last weekend’s highly-anticipated polls to elect a new board of the Uganda Premier League ended up with many questions but few answers. But it goes without saying that the only winner from the whole exercise was Fufa, whose wish to retain the previous board was a success.

It is in Fufa’s interests to have a submissive board because any standoff with it can spark off an uprising, as history shows. So was a well-calculated manoeuvre in which Fufa has to first ‘vet’ the candidates and also ensure that clubs don’t directly elect the leadership.

In all, today’s Fufa has mastered the art of invoking the law when the situation suits it and also throwing away the rulebook when it doesn’t. That’s how promoted sides Proline FC, Wakiso Giants and Kyetume FC, which were potential party spoilers, were barred from the elections. I really hope this board will act in the best interests of the clubs but, going by its previous record, my expectations are low, especially when it comes to marketing the UPL.

Ugandan football needs a strong UPL board that can put Fufa to task to promote its interests. Instead, the UPL board we have is just an extension of the Fufa leadership. For instance, the league is run by Fufa which also has veto powers on every UPL board decision.

On that premise, one needs to go back in history to understand why UPL needs to detach itself from the Fufa ambit much as the two entities have to work together. The year 1982 is special in Ugandan football annals because it created a new power centre in administration to check on the excesses of Fufa.

The Super Division Clubs Association (SDCA) came into being after Fufa took its mandate beyond the boundaries of football. It so happened that shortly after the end of the 1981 season, Fufa chairman Peter Abe and his executive decided to create a new Super 10 top-flight league out of the blue and in the process forced six teams to play in the second tier, including 1981 Uganda Cup holders Coffee FC.

Abe’s team didn’t stop there in its hunger for influence; Fufa needed more money and a bigger say in the player-transfer market. So, it declared a standard transfer fee of Shs 200,000 on top of levying a 10 per cent charge.

It was at this point that club bosses woke up to the bully that Fufa had turned out to be. Express FC’s Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka, Jimmy Bakyayita Semugabi of Coffee, SC Villa’s Patrick Kawooya and KCC FC’s Jack Ibaale were sworn foes but for this, they united to stand up to Fufa through the creation of SDCA in 1982. They boycotted the start of the 1983 season even after Fufa’s threats and it took the intervention of line minister Dr James Rwanyarare to pump some sense in Fufa to let SDCA determine its course. Rwanyarare did not stop at that; he also replaced Abe’s Fufa executive with a new one headed by Caleb Babihuga.

From then on, Fufa started treating SDCA as a power centre but in 1995 when Twaha Kakaire ascended to the Fufa hot seat, he set out to trim SDCA powers, especially when he engineered the removal of Denis Obua as SDCA chairman on flimsy grounds of insubordination. 

Kakaire would later regret that when Obua defeated him in the Fufa polls of December 1998. Knowing how powerful SDCA was, Obua too realized he would not have things his way all the time; so, he devised a clever way of creating intrigue within SDCA, which plunged the association in chaos and descended into a farce in 2003 with the infamous scorelines and emergence of corrupt referees known as arrow boys. 

Dr Lawrence Mulindwa managed to tame the association when he had Col Jackson ‘Bell’ Tushabe as SDCA boss while at the same time serving as Fufa vice president, a conflict-of-interest position that ensured SDCA could not challenge Fufa when its head is already part of the system.

Since then, SDCA became a vehicle for Fufa to promote its agenda at the expense of clubs’ interests until it died a natural death. The revival of SDCA under the Uganda Super League (USL) 2011 created a power struggle leading to the 2012 uprising which the Julius Kavuma Kabenge-led USL lost.

From then on, Fufa has never allowed clubs to unite under one umbrella and the formation of UPL in 2015 is merely symbolic because club owners have virtually no say.


The author is The Observer operations director.

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