There is a growing consensus that the ongoing Under-20 Barthés Trophy has ticked all the right boxes without fully achieving the emotional intensity a tournament such as it demands.
The age grade rugby round-robin event, which has brought the cosmoses of Uganda, Zambia and Ghana to Kyadondo Club, has had attendance numbers as shocking as anything anyone could ever encounter.
Opinion may divide as to whether the ticket prices bear some responsibility for the ghostly presence at Kyadondo. Philip Kiboijana, Kyadondo Club’s vice chairman, vigorously defended the decision to set ordinary ticket prices at what many see as a prohibitive Shs 20,000. In a post widely shared on social media, Kiboijana argued with some degree of success that the Shs 20,000 charge does not dull its effect as much as grow the game.
He wrote thus: “The majority of these critics are saying why charge [Shs] 20,000 for an Under 20 game. To these detractors I ask, is the cost of transport for Under 20 cheaper because they are young? Is the cost of medical for the Under 20 cheaper because they are young?” More similar rhetorical questions probed the same subject matter. The straight answer to the questions is a resounding no.
But relying on a collective drawn from the aforesaid questions is not different from simplifying a complex subject matter. This simplified narrative sits oddly against plans to grow a game certainly in a manner Kiboijana envisages.
It always ends up being a tragedy launched by innocence and good intentions. Here’s how: instead of getting that important stakeholder -- the fans -- to coalesce around a single purpose, it achieves quite the opposite. How? By ensuring that the mood darkens quite substantially as expressions of barely concealed anger showed this past week.
That those that run sport seek to get money off fans shouldn’t come as a vulgar surprise. This is pretty much the model across the globe. The key thing though is to get the basics right with unerring accuracy.
It’s not just rugby officials that are reading from a wrong playbook. Fufa is too. When Tanzania recently hosted Uganda in a 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier, Cranes fans were pleasantly surprised at how affordable tickets were.
Shs 3000 would procure a vantage point in the National Stadium for what one paid ten times more in the reverse fixture at Mandela National Stadium. The net result was a National Stadium packed to the rafters. This set in play a series of things, all good. One of those good things were hefty gate takings. Turns out that the old adage is indeed true; one by one does make a bundle.
Instead of doing their best to look like two bald headed men fighting for a comb, Ugandan sports officials and fans should move to create a symbiotic relationship. This effectively means that residual guilt should have surfaced in the minds of Kyadondo Club officials.
They stood a bigger chance of collecting more at the gates if ticket prices to the Under-20 Barthés Trophy tournament were not prohibitive. Little, as they say, is a lot when many are involved.
Uganda Cup lives up to its past billing
The romance of the Uganda Cup has time and again ensured that the oldest cup competition in the country isn’t always a grimly negative and entirely joyless ride for the minnows.
Its second staging in 1976, five years after Coffee United had won the first edition, went a long way in showing just how easily the form book could be shredded.
Coffee, who had in 1970 won what proved to be their only topflight league title, were back in the cup final to make a belated defence. Their track record at the time and fairly unimpeded access to money from the parastatal body gave them the look of a Goliath.
At the other end of the spectrum in the 1976 final was a Gangama United side that had experienced various moments in Ugandan football, some good, none great, several terrible.
The Mbale-based outfit was the quintessential embodiment of the biblical David. Put simply, it was a small club with nothing more than a stone in its slingshot.
Yet at the end of the cup final, the club had -- much like David -- demonstrated the crippling weakness of a behemoth. After playing out a scoreless draw, Gangama (later to take on the name of first Dairy Heroes then Mbale Heroes) had held its nerve in a shootout to win the first of its two cup titles. That is when the magic of Uganda’s oldest cup competition started.
Like a delectable purr, Mbale Heroes has been central to the Cinderella runs in the Uganda Cup. The club, which was relegated to the fourth tier of the Eastern Region Football League this past week, run KCCA FC scared in the 1993 final before eventually losing 2-1.
Six years later, it went one better by comfortably winning a shootout against Lyantonde after regulation time had failed to produce a single goal. That final might have pitted two sides in the same weight category together, but Mbale Heroes took great delight in ejecting a Sports Club Villa team that was on the cusp of dominating Ugandan club football.
The successes of Victors in the 2007/8 and 2009/10 seasons might have been made possible by Col. Jackson Bell’s moneybags, but they too added to the romance of the Uganda Cup. Now Bright Stars and second tier club Proline have the opportunity of offering unstinting support to the glamour of the cup event. The two sides will contest this year’s final on May 25 in Masaka.
It’s fitting that Masaka hosts the grand finale if anything because that is where this season’s upsets started. No-one expected third tier outfit Nkambi Coffee to beat Villa in the round of 32. Yet that is exactly what they did in Masaka. The soon-to-be deposed champions KCCA also bit the dust in the same round at the hands of Tooro United in Buhinga.
Bright Stars and Proline are in the final having picked up scalps of their own. Between them they have accounted for the surprise exits of Express FC and Vipers SC. All of which means we could have an entertaining final on our hands come May 25.
What we now know....
We know that Fufa launched the Primary Schools Football Championship this past week. We know that the championship, which will go by the code name Odilo, shall target players aged 13 and below.
We also know that the championship is supposed to unearth players that will form the bedrock of the national under-15 team.