The million-dollar game of hosting global sports events

What you need to know:

  • During a packed media briefing, Fufa president Moses Magogo went for the jugular that largely ended interest in scrutinising the national team’s performances in Gabon. He created a new debate.

Leaders often say things that pass scrutiny or do not constitute debate for long. One of those was back in 2017 following Uganda Cranes’ successful return to the Africa Cup of Nations after 39 years.  

During a packed media briefing, Fufa president Moses Magogo went for the jugular that largely ended interest in scrutinising the national team’s performances in Gabon. He created a new debate.
“When we hand in our report to the government, we want to engage them to host Afcon in 2025. It is within our means,” a happy-looking Magogo said.

He was quick to add that from the experience in Gabon where Cranes were eliminated at the group stage, infrastructure is what Uganda primarily lacks.
To host an Afcon, you need at least four stadiums. “The next step should be sports funding and infrastructure from the government. We are lacking a lot in infrastructure,” he reiterated.

Namboole today
There is 30 months to 2025 and saying that Uganda will not host that year’s Afcon is a waste of ink. There was only Namboole then and there is hardly Namboole now, banned for not meeting standards.
Uganda has not yet invested enough in sport to demand that the biggest events on the continental and globally come here.
The biggest sports event Uganda has hosted is the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championship for which government forked out $1.5m (about Shs5.2b then).

Because Uganda lacks facilities across the board, athletics, motorsport and Johnny-come-lately sport of woodball are the only ones that can host mega international sporting events on a regular basis.
This is happening at a time when the East Africa region is investing heavily in infrastructure and liquid cash in order to share a slice of the $2.9tr (Shs10.7tr) global tourism industry.

Kigali Arena
Rwanda has gone in headfirst by improving their old multipurpose stadiums and building new ones. These are illuminated by the magnificent Kigali Arena that cost $104m (Shs384b) to build.
Tanzania, too, has invested in stadiums. They are building one in Dodoma whose capacity could touch 100, 000 making it the biggest in terms of capacity in Africa. More than $400m (Shs1.48tr) is being spent.  

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Championship is the biggest event Uganda’s southern neighbours have hosted thus far. A much smaller ICC Cricket League Division 4 was also played there in 2008.
They all do this in the hope of hosting major events that would then expose their countries to a global market which would then translate into tourists spending dollars in the local economies.

Recently, Rwanda hosted the Basketball Africa League. The games, involving 12 club sides, were broadcast on ESPN and Canal+ Afrique, TSN (Canada), Tencent Video (China), OnTime Sports (Middle East), ESPN+, NBA TV, Voice of America, and beIN Sports.
To that, an online channel,, was added. The magic was in the breaks where Rwanda showcased its culture and heritage. Tourism sites were seen worldwide.

Cycling’s Tour du Rwanda and having ‘Visit Rwanda’ logo on the shirt sleeves of Arsenal, one of the world’s biggest clubs playing in the most famous football league, the English Premier League, have also been tested.
Previously, ‘Visit Tanzania’ appeared on the shirts of Sunderland when they still rubbed shoulders with the big boys. It’s not easy to quantify the brand equity earned so far.

Attraction. Steve Perez and John Millington fly their Peugeo 504 in a past Safari Rally.  PHOTO | AGENCIES

Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, can claim to be back in the race after being left behind. In 1996, Kenya withdrew as host nation for the Afcon due to financial difficulties. Subsequent governments there have not bade for African football’s biggest football extravaganza because of the cost implications.

However, the low-hanging fruits have not been left to rot after a lull since hosting the 1987 All Africa Games. In 2007, the coastal town of Mombasa hosted the World Cross Country Championships.

Three years later, backed by their rich track and field prowess, Kenya won a bid to host the Africa Senior Athletics Championships and then added the 2017 World U18 Athletics Championships.
The World Junior Athletics Championships, postponed from last year, are coming to Nairobi in the August 17-22 window.

Biggest coup
Their biggest coup yet came with golf’s Magical Kenya Open. In 2019, Kenya committed to support the European Tour event until 2022. President Kenyatta unveiled KShs253m (Shs8.3b) sponsorship. For several days every year, some of the world’s best players, moving with large entourages, visit Kenya.
By its nature, golf is largely a sport you can only enjoy on TV and has a big niche audience. The Magical Kenya Open, beamed globally, dominated by a presentation of the country’s fauna and flora.

There’s hunger for more. Before television and internet became the biggest mediums, they had a jewel in the East African Coronation Rally, which was later renamed the Safari Rally. It was first held from May 27-June 1, 1953, in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania) as a celebration of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Between 1973 and 2002, the now renowned Safari Rally was listed as an FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) event.
The world’s best drivers in Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Tommi Makinen and Carlos Sainz raced in the Safari, thereby bringing the eyes of the world with them.

Notorious rally
The older version of the Safari Rally was notorious for being the most difficult rally in the WRC championship – some drivers said winning this particular rally was the equivalent of winning three other rallies.

The arduous conditions, such as the constantly changing weather and the rough roads often rife with sharp rocks, made life very difficult for team personnel. Repairs were constantly having to be made to the cars. Frequently, all this work had to be done in intense heat and humidity.
The event was excluded from the WRC calendar due to a lack of finance and organisation in 2003. It became part of the African Rally Championship, organised by the FIA.

On September 27, 2019, the Safari Rally was readmitted into the WRC championship calendar starting with the 2020 rally. It was later cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, instead making its return this year.
It has taken the intervention of Kenyatta to have it back since the actual reason for dropping it after 2002 was lack of finances.

Shs7.4b bait
The Kenyan government set the tone for the corporate sector by committing $2m (Shs7.4b), more than half the budget required, towards the Safari Rally that started on Thursday and ends tomorrow. Sports ministry principal secretary Karimi Kaberia said it is a worthy investment as it will help put the country on the global map and boost sports tourism.
The WRC is contested in Asia, South America, Europe and Australia thereby enjoying a diverse, wide and wild TV audience. Also, it’s proven globally that rally fans are travellers.

Corporate sector
Up to 54 crews are racing through 796.86km, of which 262.93km is competitive. After the government set the tone, the corporate sector joined in the money feast.
Telecom giants Safaricom gave organisers Kshs17.5m (Shs577m) in sponsorship. Seven-time WRC winner Sebastian Ogier touched down on a chartered plane last Sunday.

Upon touchdown, the Kenyan economy made a dollar in allowing his plane land. As Frenchman Julien Ingrassia pursues Ogier, scores of motorsport enthusiasts, events organisers, government officials and business people trooped into Naivasha in Nakuru County for the event. The ripple effect for the economy there is huge.

Party time
Other than the motorsport event, a series of entertainment parties – all in line with Covid-19 regulations – have been organised to welcome the over 30,000 local and international visitors. Event organiser Billy Muturi ‘Dush’ told The Standard that they had organised a three-day fun carnival from Friday to Sunday.

He said the ‘Pull up and Chill’ event would see them hold a reggae party on Friday, Dunda festival on Saturday and Old School on Sunday.

It’s the kind of rally that Federation of Motorsport Clubs of Uganda officials, some of whom are in Naivasha, must be looking to replicate on a much smaller scale here.
There are five Ugandan crews living a dream of racing against Ogier, someone they must have watched only on television for the past 13 years.

Uganda comes in ‘small small’ but lack infrastructure

FMU can relate to that as they still host Pearl of Africa Uganda Rally, the biggest here since its part of Africa Rally Championship (ARC).

Today, it largely depends on individual drivers and a few corporate companies. That is the case for all other global events that have been hosted here.

But even with a decline in the number of fans, motorsport still has crowds that travel to watch events across the country and spend millions wherever they go.

In 2019, the Beach Woodball World Cup was played here. The federation budgeted for Shs900m but the government could only avail Shs400m, leaving them in a Shs500m hole.  
The federation received Shs8m from the office of the Entebbe Mayor and Shs80m from the Chinese embassy in Uganda, the sport’s biggest funders.

For the other sports, especially cricket and rugby, their respective global bodies have funded almost their entire budgets.
Uganda Cricket Association (UCA) hosted the Africa T20 and if they had financial constraints, none was made public.
The Rugby Africa Cup has also been here with the global body, World Rugby, taking care of all the costs, bar the team’s allowances.

Facilities, again  
Netball, one of the priority sports as listed by National Council of Sports (NCS), has had teams come here for the Africa Netball Cup and the World University Netball Championship.

Due to the lack of facilities, basketball has only previously been able to hold the Fiba Africa Zone Club and Nations Championships.
If Uganda had a facility to fit international standards, the two national men’s and women’s teams, Silverbacks and Gazelles respectively, would not be trekking to North and West Africa for qualifying tournaments year on year.

In the meantime, the government has committed to building stadiums in Fort Portal and Lira but even those – if they really see the light of the day – will not be enough for the country to tap into the immense tourism potential that the region is chasing through sport.


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.