URA project can spark sports revolution to change Uganda

Tuesday April 15 2014

Upon completion, players like Augustine Nsumba

Upon completion, players like Augustine Nsumba, among others will enjoy first class facilities at the URA Sports Complex. Photo by Eddie Chicco.  

By Mark Ssali

Suburban Kampala is an amazing maze of construction sites whichever direction you take, the speed of creation and the sheer numbers lending a beautiful if superficial face to the state of our economy.

Slaloming through one of these suburbs in my jalopy recently, with a pal who doubles as a property agent, I couldn’t help but visualise my old friend Simon Ssekankya of the renowned Hardware World laughing all the way to the bank, what with the high demand he must surely have for his supplies.

As we drifted through, my property-agent friend pointed to a near-finished hostel here, a sprouting mall there, a collection of apartment blocks further down etc; all the while he was name-dropping in reference to the owners, visibly disappointed that I didn’t seem to care about his detailed knowledge of the state of the finances and even private lives of Kampala’s tycoons, until one name finally caught my attention.

Singling out a unit of rentals, my mate revealed that Timothy Batabaire had been the first ‘investor’ to build anything of significance in this particular area which before the advent of the Northern Bypass had been a remote bushy place in the middle of nowhere. Presently, his was surrounded by several newer structures finished and unfinished, in a sprightly neighbourhood.

Quite impressed, in my mind I was thinking of this Ugandan footballer who had first made his name with SC Villa but had most certainly used the earnings and savings from a long illustrious career as a pro in South Africa; here he was rubbing shoulders with successful businessmen and a big-salaried few, expatriates and others reaping from the Diaspora, but mostly with people either struggling under the heavy weight of bank loans or others in privileged positions of access pocketing loot from tax payers’ or donour money.

Regular visitors to these lines will have guessed by now that the Batabaire case had in that moment served to further strengthen my conviction that this country would be a lot better off if we took sport more seriously.

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So, imagine my pleasant surprise on learning that URA had acquired land in Luwero and was to build a complex to become home to the football club and its academy.

Take a moment to think of number of people that will be employed to earn from an honest day’s work before and after completion of this project.

I am not talking just players, their coaches, managers and physios. I am also talking construction workers, foremen and engineers, security guards, gate-minders, groundsmen and kitsmen, administrators, strategists, accountants, lawyers, the works…
Compare that to Uganda’s demographics and the number of unemployed redundant youths either begging or stealing on the streets by day, or the night’s iron-bar brigade and the increasing numbers of armed robbers.

Or the thousands (millions more likely, from what I’ve seen and heard) who have either run out of alternatives or are just taking the ‘easy’ route of making a living out of sports betting. Then think about ten other football clubs going the URA way and do the maths …

If they do it well URA can build a fan base in Luwero and tap into all those football-loving people starved of action who identify with and support Masaza football en masse. And then the club can spread it to Kampala and the rest of the country as our traditional big three clubs once did.

Despite all the financial hardships in this society, the same people who used to flood Nakivubo when Villa faced KCC or Express, the ones that throng Namboole when the Uganda Cranes play and pour in excess of a billion shillings into Fufa coffers, the ones who also swarm those stadiums for the local musician fetes hosted by CBS radio and others, the people who have made Jose Chameleon, Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool and the Good Lyf boys live large, will support this kind of causes if its architects get it right.

When all those loss-making government parastatals were privatised to unload the burden off the national treasury, the first thing most buyers did in the name of cost-cutting and streamlining operations was to do away with sports budgets and kill long-living sports institutions, and I have always maintained that they were wrong.

In a government parastatal or any one of these big private companies, just for one, the amount of money wasted and stolen in the name of fuelling company cars for ordinary staff an filling the tanks of the bosses annually can finance a sports budget for a team of great obvious and intrinsic value to the organisation, the community and the country.

Replace fuel with any other of these organisations’ badly managed and oft-times unnecessary expenditures and the figures will read even worse.

For that I am desperate for the URA project to scale the heights I know it can. It would cause the paradigm shift this country needs even more desperately.

mmssali@yahoo.com,
@markssali on twitter