Kwikiriza: Slam dunk is bringing money

Kwikiriza has big dreams for Ugandan basketball. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

Basketball has been growing steadily. Since season two of the Oilers dominance, everyone has been working to dethrone them. The beauty about last season is that the arena was full from the quarter finals and by the time we got to the finals, it was impossible to get a seat. Where the sport has reached, we need a very strategic plan on how it is going to grow. From a bigger arena to a robust grassroots program.

On the night of November 17, 2022, the official Federation of Uganda Basketball Associations (Fuba) social media pages announced the appointment of Marcus Kwikiriza as the chief executive officer (CEO).

He is the first to have that role. The game has over the years been run by those elected into office through the ballot, and volunteers.

That, according to the new CEO, has got to change if the sport is to scale the heights it is capable of and his appointment is only the start.

Growing the Fuba resource envelope and hiring the right staff to run the day-to-day business of the federation are top on his agenda.

He spoke to Sunday Monitor’s Emanzi Ndyamuhaki about his appointment and plans.

What kind of reception did you get from the basketball fraternity following your appointment?

It was overwhelming for me. I couldn't believe it to be honest. Of course, I had received the offer letter earlier but the moment Fuba put out a statement announcing it, I saw the reaction on social media and I couldn't believe it. There are so many people who see me as the right person for the job. I have received messages from all over the world, from FERWABA, Kenya Basketball Federation and even BAL, all congratulating me talking about how we can work together.

What exactly have you been hired to do for Fuba and where do you start from?

I had conversations with Nasser (Fuba President) and was able to see where I can help. I have tried to help where I could, before. There is a plan by the federation but the biggest challenge is lack of resources and that is my biggest task. To improve the federation’s resource envelope by engaging the government and the corporate world. The first step is to get different stakeholders on the table and explain to them the Uganda basketball story. Where we came from, where we are and where we can get to with a bit of support. The Silverbacks, Gazelles, U18 teams and the like for all intents and purposes should be a government responsibility, we have no business going to money lenders or even asking corporates to take that burden.

That is a government responsibility worldwide and not a unique Uganda situation. I need to find the people that make these decisions and explain to them what it means to Uganda, to these kids.

Do you have a team that is going to run these activities on a full-time basis?

Not yet but those are some of the things we want to iron out first. There are people taking on different roles in the federation but on a purely voluntary basis because of the funding situation. It is not easy to assess the work of a volunteer and we have to get to a level of hiring full-time staff with well-defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Then you are able to hold them accountable and work will be done. For the start, I am a volunteer myself but I must get the federation to a level where they can hire and pay people to work for the sport.

How much time do you have for the office?

If we hire right, that will not be an issue. In management if you hire right and delegate, you should be fine. Oversee. The president was overwhelmed because he is dealing with volunteers and is also a busy man. If we can solve the part of hiring and holding people to account then we’ll be ok.

Stories about Fuba in the last few years have been all about lack of funds, what strategies do you come with?

If the national teams are taken care of by the government, we can get the corporations to help with the league. We already have a sponsor for the league. The corporates actually want to be part of sport. The just concluded finals showed us that we are sitting on a gold mine. If that arena was much bigger, it would have been full. And I saw videos moving around, some sent to me by CEOs. We have the opportunity; the sport has grown organically and now just needs a good structure to run it.

What was there to learn from last season?

Basketball has been growing steadily. Since season two of the Oilers dominance, everyone has been working to dethrone them. The beauty about last season is that the arena was full from the quarter finals and by the time we got to the finals, it was impossible to get a seat. Where the sport has reached, we need a very strategic plan on how it is going to grow. From a bigger arena to a robust grassroots program.

All this has to be streamlined because the people actually care about the sport. The fans, the sponsors. The kids who are watching the likes of Jimmy Enabu now are ten times more than those who were watching some years back. There was television coverage of games and this changed the entire dynamic. It automatically creates corporate interest and I know there are two teams that have since been able to seal big deals for next season, even some sponsors who were reconsidering their investment now have every reason to stick around.

In Nasser’s manifesto he emphasized having a home for basketball, is that something he talked about in your conversations?

To say that we shall have a home soon would be a bit of a stretch but there is a conversation about facilities. I don’t think we necessarily need a big facility that might not make sense. But if we can have like 10 Lugogo(s) spread out in the regions then that would help. We have to talk to the right stakeholders and these are some of the things we shall be working on. It is very hard to develop talent without facilities.

And talking about the league, we had big crowds in the finals but not a single penny from the gate collection went to clubs, does that make sense?

No, it doesn’t and we have to address that. We have to make the league competitive and attractive that will force teams to invest in their squads knowing that there is something tangible. Past a certain level of competition, there should be money coming into the teams’ accounts. Say, all teams that make the playoffs take home something and then the money goes on increasing until the finals. Teams will then compete to make it to the next stage that will give us the numbers we want and also interest the corporate world. That is the plan.

All the teams in the top flight come from the Kampala metropolitan area, is that something that bothers you?

Very much but you cannot do much without facilities in the regions. It would be great to have teams from different parts of the country and to have games played there as well. Imagine playing the finals in Gulu, Mbarara, Mbale. It would be great for the game but also for the economy of those cities. But all that starts with having facilities in place.

What else do you think the basketball fraternity has to do to move the sport to the next level?

We don’t lack just the finances; we have a problem of human resource and that has to be addressed. We have to train people to help improve their skills. The coaches, referees and even team owners. We have to make sure that these owners for example know what they are talking about when they go out there to look for sponsorship. 

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