On October 7, 2017, Uganda beat Zimbabwe 10-7 in the finals of the Africa Cup at Legends, Lugogo as both sides qualified for the 2018 World Rugby Sevens in San Francisco, USA.
The euphoria was evident as this Rugby Cranes side had also secured a place at April’s Commonwealth Games and defended the continental title they first won in 2016.
The mood was, however, dampened when fans learnt that the team had only received Shs3.2m for their preparations ahead of the games. It was not lost on the rugby fraternity that the national soccer team the Cranes had secured Shs1bn from government ahead of their 0-0 home draw with Ghana in Namboole on the same weekend.
For many this was a case of misplaced priorities but as that debate rages on, the Rugby Cranes Sevens are increasingly learning that playing in San Francisco in July will require intense preparations.
According to Uganda Rugby Union (URU) president Andrew Owor, the team needs about Shs249m for preparations if they are to compete rather than just honour their fixtures in San Francisco during the July 20-22 tournament.
Under article 3ii), the National Council of Sports Act of 1964 and in Regulation 15 of the NCS Regulations 2014, the regulator is supposed to fund activities of national sports associations (NAs). Owor and his executive are therefore looking at government to fund the bulk of the budget.
“We have made every effort to get government involved and they are happy with the progress of Ugandan rugby,” says Owor, who also insists they needed these funds as early as November.
Recent trips to Cape Town and Dubai showed why talent alone might not be enough at this stage. In Dubai, Uganda started off with a 19-10 loss to South Africa.
For many it was a marked improvement for Coach Tolbert Onyango’s side against the holders of the Commonwealth Games title because exactly a year ago, the Springbok 7s had thumped Uganda 46-0 at the same Sevens Stadium. Uganda also showed effort in 22-17 and 29-14 losses to Canada and Kenya respectively.
In Cape Town, there was less fight against the top sides as Uganda lost 36-0 to England, 45-0 to Scotland, 43-7 to Argentina in the pools, a sign that there is a lot for Rugby Cranes to do.
“We have met government three times over the budget and they say it is manageable and much less than what football usually takes.
“However they have given us just Shs3.2m which they say was for visa fees to go to Dubai. The purpose was valid and there is hope we shall have more,” Owor says.
While government usually keeps its promises as far as funding national teams is concerned, the money usually comes too late to help the preparation process.
A case in point is when a Ugandan delegation travelled to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland but their money came after they had returned from the 10-day event.
Sports minister Charles Bakkabulindi told President Yoweri Museveni at the flagoff ceremony at State House, Entebbe, that the Glasgow-bound team’s money had earlier been used to charter a plane for the football Cranes’ trip to Morocco for a World Cup qualifier against Senegal in September 2013.
Rugby, according to two-time African most valuable player Phillip Wokorach, cannot afford this kind of wait because while they have postponed training till February, their opponents are already making every second count.
“As players we have worked hard and sacrificed a lot. In training, we lack basic equipment but have to improvise because of our passion for rugby and Uganda.
“Sometimes, the coach steps in to ensure we have what we need. But he cannot keep using his money, it is not fair on him. He is good and has a great plan for us but we need finances to implement it,” Wokorach shares.
Wokorach who now plays for Kenyan club Kabras Sugars is well travelled too and warns that players’ welfare is as important as the hours they put on pitch.
Usually after training at Kyadondo or Legends, rugby stars disappear into the darkness in search of cheap foods like chapattis and eggs (rolex), porridge, tea and molokony, usually off their meagre daily training allowance (Shs5,000).
Those that might need the Shs5,000 to cater for other needs have to settle for the supplements provided by the Union.
It is because of such abrasive conditions that some players decide to abandon the sport or disappear during trips to eke a better living. In October, coach Onyango lost the services of Brian Kikaawa, Fred Odur and Ramathan Govule who went under the radar in Munich, Germany where Uganda had taken part in the Oktoberfest Sevens.
“The difference between us and the countries ahead of us is that for them, the player is the priority. They cannot make up excuses for not performing on pitch unlike us, who have every reason to be frustrated but soldier on.
“We have pending allowances. Even those from Cape Town, are not cleared. The truth is God is fair so whoever fails to prepare, will have a rough time in San Francisco,” Wokorach cautions.
Rugby, unlike other sports, requires strength and conditioning training which these players had to start this month, rest in February and resume high intensity training in March ahead of the World Series in Hong Kong and Commonwealth Games in April. For now it looks like they will start training belatedly in February.
With a paltry budget of Shs3.3bn National Council for Sports (NCS) has been forced to prioritize funding towards netball, boxing, athletics, basketball and Paralympics.
“The guiding principle in that was performance. We looked at associations that have put Uganda on the world map over the years,” NCS general secretary Nicholas Muramagi, says.
The netball national team She Cranes went through the same financial troubles during the qualifiers of the 2015 World Cup. But with the backing of the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga and other Members of Parliament like Winnie Kiiza, their status continues to improve.
Last year, the She Cranes and junior side She Pearls had a Shs217m budget for hosting the Africa Netball Championship and participating in the Netball World Youth Cup in Gaborone, Botswana respectively fully funded—albeit belatedly—by NCS.
World champion David Emong’s success over the last two years has put Paralympics at the table of men while athletics and boxing have received considerable support since they account for most of the country’s biggest sporting success stories.
Funding those and indeed any other sport is justified. But that has left sports like rugby that are rising everyday but settle for crumbs in an even tougher place.
“No one should lead any sports association and look upon government to fund their activities. We are not here to spoon feed because there is no where we can find adequate resources. However, together we must devise means to grow the sector.
“And on our part, we have been engaging various people at Ministry of Finance to fund this monster called national teams,” Muramagi explains.
NCS, under the Ministry of Education and Sports, have offloaded an indicative budget of Shs50bn for the current financial year. However, the bulk of it, if ever realized, would go to scholarships, grassroots programmes and establishment of centres of excellence—in conjuction with NAs —and not national teams.
“In the mid-term our requirement is about Shs102bn. But the case we are making (to government) is that even if we moved (from Shs3.3bn) to Shs10bn, we can make miracles and grow,” Muramagi says.
Getting corporates involved
Fufa president Moses Magogo has consistently argued that under the current sports act that promotes amateurism rather than professional aspects such as merchandising or investment from the private sector it is hard for sports entities to make money.
“We are fast-tracking the establishment of a new sports law but even the current setting does not stop or conflict with professionalism. We have seen private actors come in to support sports with ease,” Muramagi insists.
Indeed in September 2017, URU received Shs600m from Guinness to support the Rugby Sevens activities.
“The money from Guinness is actually Shs300m in cash. It was a good boost but it came earlier than it should have. We qualified a month after it came and we now we are trying to ask them to give us more,” Owor shares.
“We used Shs48m to get the team to Germany (for the Oktoberfest 7s). We had government money for the Dubai visas but we spent on visas to Cape Town and part of the Guinness deal included the new set of kits.”
“We also lost three players to injury in Dubai and that meant spending more on three replacements that we had to send from home. Generally, we spend Shs100m per month,” Owor, who insists they need money to put the current national team crop on six months-long contracts as a way of improving their welfare, says.
The welfare of these players is paramount ahead of the busy schedule. Some like Wokorach and his namesake Michael, Lawrence Ssebuliba, Pius Ogena are also likely to feature prominently for the 15s side expected to take part in the 2019 World Cup qualifiers.
“We noted in 2016 that the team performed better when we placed the players on two months contracts. We need about Shs180m to do that while the coach (Onyango) has an 18-month programme for that team that could cost us about $250,000 (Shs875m),” Owor explained.
According to Federation of Uganda Basketball Associations (Fuba) president Ambrose Tashobya, URU have no option but to continue lobbying both the corporate world and government.
“We all struggle for funds but you have to get them especially for preparations, even if it means putting in personal funds. The more you do well as a sport, the more the demands that require you to travel more.
And you cannot miss out because if you do not travel, you miss a step in your development levels,” said Tashobya, who has twice managed to secure funds from State House for the Silverbacks, the national basketball team, to travel to two Afrobaskets.
Tashobya has been lucky at getting support from State House that many in the sports circles claim he has a “big brother”, a claim he refutes.
“The money NCS has is not enough but we work with them to lobby. Health, education, people fighting for districts all fight for this small cake. And that is not about to change overnight so we must lobby,” Tashobya said.
The lobbying game is what Fufa has played well over the years, to the annoyance of some government officials. In a September 13 letter addressed to Fufa’s Magogo, the sports ministry permanent secretary Alex Kakooza demanded that the football body stop lobbying directly at Plot 1 but seek funding through NCS.
Kakooza stated that financial requests to President Yoweri Museveni without going through the Ministry not only undermined its responsibility but, “is discourteous to the Fountain of Honour and tantamount to abuse of the benevolence and welcome of His Excellency to the public.”
Luckily for Fufa, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda took to the floor of Parliament promising to get the Shs1bn for the World Cup qualifiers against Ghana and Congo Brazaville.
At the end of 2017, Fufa allegedly reached an agreement with government where the latter will pay the new national team coach Sebastian Desabre Shs432m annually.
While the same cannot be said of national team coaches of other disciplines under the auspices of NCS, Desabre’s package is nearly half of what URU need to turn Rugby 7s into a world force over the next 18 months.
While rugby might not have the same clout, Tashobya believes Owor can ride on their brand and convince the corporate world to sponsor even the international competitions.
“URU have a very good and commendable connection with the corporate world. But, they have to think harder because if I am a managing director of a beer company, my objectives are local. How much can I leverage from a team going to Dubai?” Tashobya ponders.
Owor believes with government backing, the corporate world can easily jump on board.
“We do not necessarily need to get all the money from government. Sometimes all we need from them is to play big brother and get me in a room with three directors of corporate companies that will listen to me,” Owor opines.
Call for better budgeting
Uganda Swimming Federation (USF) general secretary Moses Mwase, believes the major concern is “failure by the political class to appreciate the potential that sport has to grow an economy.
“If there was greater support for sport both by the Executive and Legislature, it would translate into many actions, the key ones being providing a more serious budget for the sector so that the Ministry and NCS can support federations and other activities fully.”
On January 2, the Cranes and their netball counterparts made a courtesy call to President Yoweri Museveni’s home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura. The call was a sign sports is able to attract the attention of the powers that be, but to what extent?
From the trip, the President’s press secretary Lindah Nabusayi, reported on her Twitter handle that “Museveni questioned Fufa and Ministry of Education and Sports officials over their budgets and gate collections from games,” before adding that the Head of State is getting agitated over ad-hoc arrangements to solicit funds.
Commissioner for Sports Omara Apita believes that therein lies the problem that has affected funding towards the sector over the years, even at a time when First Lady Janet Museveni is Minister of Education & Sports.
“The concern was that some federations go directly to government to lobby for funds. They do not plan during the budgeting cycle and in the end the Minister (Janet) does not know their plans,” Apita says.
After the trip, Magogo took to his Facebook account too to reveal that “a supplementary funding to a tune of Shs13b is being processed to support football, netball, boxing, athletics, basketball, rugby and other sports in the next six months.”
However, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development Jim Mugunga, was surprised that there is such a consideration at a time when the budgeting framework paper for 2018/19 is in Parliament.
Asked why the sports sector has been treated as a lesser priority over the years, Mugunga points to poor planning from handlers of the sector.
“It is not true that sports is not priority. The President is the chief budget maker and every time managers of sports have run to him, he has provided resources.
“The managers of sport should, however, realize the importance of participating in the budgeting process as opposed to creating crises whenever there is a major competition. They usually avoid this process because it is where the hard questions on accountability are asked but time is up for these ad-hoc requests,” Mugunga adds.
What is clear is that sports leaders should adopt a double-pronged approach that will see make their outfits attractive to the corporate world while they continue to lobby government for reforms.
This Special project was run incomplete last week. This is the full version