Redefining sports in the laws of the land is long overdue as the Sports Act 1964 keeps the sector in an obsolete perception that it is a leisure activity that is just as good as bars and concerts, stakeholders have said.
Sports world over has transcended the leisure tag to become one of the most lucrative commercial ventures, paying highest in wages and bonuses to athletes.
However, in Uganda, sports remains tied to the ancient umbilical chord of leisure, a thing stakeholders argue makes it difficult to advance the sector, harness its immense potentials and reap from it.
For instance, global sports stars like Barcelona and Argentina footballer Leo Messi, tennis star Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James add billions of shillings individually to coffers of governments where they play.
President Museveni, in his national addresses on Covid-19, has said “sports can wait,” leaving stakeholders bothered, especially that on March 20 when he issued the first lockdown measures, he categorised sports along with “concerts and discos.”
“Why should we allow to be put together with bars as a leisure activity yet we can influence and give useful employment to youth?” wondered Fufa president Moses Magogo.
The National Council of Sports (NCS) Act, 1964, under its objectives and functions, vaguely defines sports an amateur and Magogo believes that the absence of a proper law is a consequence of wrong perceptions toward sport.
In January, visiting Fifa Secretary-General Fatma Samoura urged Parliament to fast-track amendments to the laws governing sports, reminding Speaker Rebecca Kadaga that the government had pledged to amend the Sports Act by 2018.
There were plans to table the Sports and Physical Activity Bill to Parliament but Cabinet is yet to approve the Bill.
“There is a wide disparity in understanding the two worlds of sport. First, there is sport for all which should be encouraged for recreation and involvement. And then professional sport which is done to be paid and investment for profit,” Magogo said during a digital debate hosted by Uganda Olympic Committee on May 15.
“We have the wrong legislation. There are things like commercial rights which are worth millions of dollars but there is no law to protect creators or for athletes to partake in such.
“We need to get out of the corridors of entertainment because if we continue to get categorised there, we will not get funds to revamp sports.”
Calling for amendment of the Act in an opinion published by this paper on September 5, 2013, James Wasula, former referee and performing arts administrator, said he pioneered formation of Super Division Clubs Association in the late 1980s to create a solid voice to lobby for the amendment of the Sports Act 1964.
“I saw that Act as a major hindrance to the professionalisation of sports... unfortunately, I left before achieving,” he wrote.
Amateur to professionalism
The general consensus is that for sports to shake itself of the leisure tag, it would first need to transcend the amateur ranks.
Veteran sports journalist Joseph Kabuleta reminisced about an Ethiopian who was involved in grooming athletes but found it hard to replicate his works in Uganda.
“He would get talented athletes and give them a background to develop,” Pastor Kabuleta told this reporter, expounding on why the change of the law from the 1964 Sports Act that describes sport as a physical and recreational activity should be at the core of any transformation.
“When they made it big, they would give back part of their earnings to him and the system that produced them.
“But he realised that if he tried that in Uganda, he would have to be dependent on the honesty of athletes to pay him back when they made it. There is no law that supports such an arrangement in Uganda so no one wants to invest here as there is no return on investment.”
Sports minister Hamson Obua believes the law should be repealed to reflect the realities of modern times.
“Globally, sport is graduating from leisure and entertainment to an income generating venture and an enhancer of national pride. As a country we must tailor our sports policy, which will then inform the law, to reflect this reality,” Obua told Daily Monitor.
Uganda Swimming Federation boss Moses Mwase, who is also a lawyer, however, believes sport can chew its cud while walking.
“I am highly doubtful that the law makes a major difference. Of course the law would be an extra enabler and there should be recognition in the law that this sector is a source of livelihood,” he said. “But investment in sports is like investment in any other sector and there are laws supporting that. Players can enter into contracts of employmen.”
What Mwase would rather see in the law is the “role of federations” being defined clearly as that would help them improve.
The organisation – or lack of – of federations is seen as one of the core issues that could inform whether sport can make the giant leap to where they can exploit the avenues through which they can make money like; commercial rights, technology, where they can engage and to show events that could attract sponsorship among other things.
One area federations have fallen short in is marketing because few people are dedicated to this cause while corporate governance is still a tall order for majority of the 51 federations recognised by National Council of Sports.
“Federations that attract sponsorship like Fufa and cricket plus clubs like KCCA have their busy leaders but have a marketing department or CEOs like Martin Ndeko (UCA) who dedicate most of their time to serving the sport and have key performance indicators,” Clive Kyazze of Stand Out Marketing, one of the local firms that tries to source sponsorships for sports teams and associations, said.
Call for synergy
The lack of investment in the sector has not only led to the absence of money but athletes, too, have been forced to leave sport in search of jobs elsewhere.
Other sports that are capital intensive like hockey, swimming and table tennis among others have struggled to spread across the country.
“Our disciplines could be different but our challenges are the same so we need the synergy to speak together. Every federation wants more funding and better infrastructure,” Magogo said.
Uganda Olympic Committee deputy secretary general Dunstan Nsubuga said there is need for a dialogue to “explain who we are and what we engage in.”
As far as building synergies and changing the narrative is concerned, Kabuleta believes sport will need the media as an ally to build the numbers that can consume local content.
“Changing the mindset is not going to come from people like the President but from the younger generation that has understood the importance of the sport,” he said.
“The media should drive interest by making local sport a conversation that people want to have.”
He urged the media to go beyond the tokenism they offer local sport.
“Our local football league is on StarTimes but is the media giving people a reason to choose it over the Bundesliga? The media can promote just like (Uspa president Patrick) Kanyomozi made (kickboxer Moses) Golola through a constant media barrage. In the end, they turned something obscure like kickboxing into a household sport.”