Kigundu wants volleyball to prioritise players welfare, talks the future of OBB, Shukran Camp Centre

Kigundu's  love for volleyball began in primary while studying at Seeta Boarding Primary School. PHOTO/COURTESY 

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Their ladies team also followed suit by winning the Serie B title and qualifying to play in Serie A.

Orange Block Busters men’s volleyball team caught the volleyball fraternity by storm. The club that started participating in the Uganda Volleyball Federation official organized leagues in 2017 climbed its way to the top-tier, the Serie A, and didn’t just stop at that but went on to win the title in their debut season. Their ladies team also followed suit by winning the Serie B title and qualifying to play in Serie A. On September 10, just a week after clinching the National Club Championship and a slot to represent Uganda at the Africa Club Championship, the OBB Queens made their top flight debut and defeated KCB-Nkumba 3-2 to start a journey of emulating their male counterparts by winning it on first attempt. Daily Monitor’s FRED MWAMBU and EMANZI NDYAMUHAKI sat with the franchise boss Abdallah Ahmed Kigundu, to understand their journey, the challenges and future of volleyball in the country. Kigundu doubles as the federation’s first vice-vice president.

Who is Ahmed Kigundu?

I am a businessman from Iganga but operate mainly in Kampala. I am married to one wife, Hawa Nakaweesi and we're blessed with twins.

Why did you choose volleyball?

My love for volleyball began in primary while studying at Seeta Boarding Primary School. They used me to put and remove the nets. At first my parents were against me taking up the sport but it became natural all through to my university education. 

Do you own the club?

I did not start OBB but just came up to make it more visible. Maybe my input overshadowed the trustees of the club but we're looking at professionalising it. I personally played for OBB during its infancy around the late 1990s and early 2000s. The club is based in my home town Iganga and, therefore, emotionally attached to it.

We are currently planning to elect our executives right from the president. The process is starting concurrently with the registration of fans with different categories of membership from sh. 3.5 million for the Orange card, gold at one million, silver at 500,000 and bronze at 250,000. to be eligible for those posts, you must be a member of the top categories.

Why is it based in Iganga?

Iganga has produced a number of talented athletes but they don't have a platform at home to showcase. Football is the main sport around but it's struggling to bring a top team so, for us, we saw a chance of introducing volleyball. You can see how much vibe the fans brought to the National Club Championships. 

So, what’s your role at the club?

I am one of the directors; I started financing the club as the president in 2017. I coached the team in 2019 as we qualified from Serie C to B then took over managerial duties because we were lacking somewhere. We were pushing but lacked proper management, organisation and vision. The team could train in Iganga and play in Kampala.

We got organized and here we are. However, in January 2019, I had hoped to go and stand for the UVF presidency but eventually settled for first vice president position after beating Anthony Ashaba and Stephen Waiswa to the ballot.

First season and you win the title, how did you manage that?

It wasn’t by accident, everything was planned. In 2019, when we were promoted to the Serie B, I told managers in our meeting at UVF that once we qualify to Serie A, OBB will challenge for the trophy at the first time of asking. Of course, they laughed at me because I was a novice but it eventually came to pass. We had our vision and knew how to realise it.

What next after winning the league?

Our first challenge is to maintain the top performance. It's not easy to get up there and it is even harder to maintain that. If we can do that and be regulars on the continent in the next three to four years, that will show progress. Maybe from there, we can talk about good performances on the continent.

How expensive is it to run a club?

It is quite tasking because first of all you have to fulfill contractual obligations, then travel for all your games to Kampala yet we are based in Iganga. I may not get the right figures but it's in hundreds of millions. We have tried to manage some of the expenses by getting our own accommodation and feeding at the Shukran Camp Centre. We are also finding ways to get a minibus to ease transportation through some of our partners.

What are some of the main challenges clubs face?

First is that we need to give value. One of the ways is by finding ways to contract the players because when they are assured of some pay, they will concentrate and play quality volleyball that can attract fans. Secondly, volleyball is too concentrated around the central region but we, as UVF, are trying so much to spread it out. Don't be surprised to see Iganga host some league games. We need to create model clubs.

What does a model club look like in your view?

An ideal model club should have their own home ground and that's just not any ground to play from but a simple arena that can also bring in money. A model club has players and staff who are contracted, the owners get returns on their investments, fans buy merchandise and things like that - a club that is able to sustain itself and is able to leave beyond the founders.

Is that possible in Uganda?

It is just a mindset that people take volleyball as a leisure sport. We need to change the way things work. It might take time but we need to start now in stages.

Talking about the continent, why do you think Ugandan clubs struggle on the continent?

I believe the preparations are the main obstacles because for example if you are going to the continent but start looking for funds at the last minute, it surely disorganises the team. You can see how Rwanda's Gisagara performed in the recent games where they reached the semis and finished third. I believe it is because they went there when very ready.

How is OBB preparing?

First, we have an international invitation tournament in the second week of December this year at the Shukran Centre. We hope this will help the technical team gauge our level of preparedness against some of the top sides in the country and region. We had planned to have it since 2020 but the Covid pandemic stalled our plans. That will be the start for us.

Talking continental preparations, why did you sack coach Yakan during a crucial time like now?

Coach Lawrence Yakan did a great job for us, won the league and reached the final of the NCC. We parted ways in good faith because he had other engagements. As a club we have our own objectives and we believe Luke [Eittit Einstein] will do a good job. Luke has the experience and we believe he is an able replacement.

Why do you think volleyball in the country is taking long to professionalise?

This is one of those factors that pulled me to the federation. We need every stakeholder in the game from the players, umpires and club owners to get value for their input. We need to reach where the sport is built for fans and sponsors to add financial value. I am a businessman and see this as an investment that should be able to give me returns the way Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa is doing in football at Kitende.

What are some of the achievements since the current leaders took over office?

The media. We have made strides regarding this because previously, we could hold important events but only a few journalists who are attached to volleyball would care but now there's a lot being done. At least we have improved in coverage and this means that if we keep it like this, we'll have sponsors bringing money into the league as well as increasing the number of fans attending the games. Now we want to focus on spreading the game.

How are you planning to spread the game?

First is that we might start seeing home and away games unlike the current format. When we take the game into the regions, more players and fans will take interest.

We're also focusing on the next generation of players by creating a foundation in the primary and secondary schools.

You harboured ambitions of going for the UVF presidency, what happened?

[Laughs]. Yes, I had ambitions to lead volleyball in Uganda but when I heard that my brother Hajji Sadiq Nasiwu is coming back, I stepped down. He had done big things for volleyball in the country and we believe that he was the right man to push our agenda forward.

What agenda?

As the First vice president, my focus is majorly on the media and advertisement. I want to see that the media gets content every time and on time. Without the media, we can't progress much and have to value their input as a key stakeholder in the growth of the game.

This also goes to the individual clubs; we want the clubs to take media seriously and start creating content internally that focuses on their activities, programs, players and coaches that the media can find useful. This is the best way to grow the game for all to benefit.

What next after hosting the NCC in Iganga?

I am sure this has woken up the leaders in Iganga that sports is business. We saw the number of guests that came into the town and boosted it economically. They've also seen how much we need facilities for sports and how the sport attracts crowds. We expect them to partner with us in more events like the league games and even the international invitation in December.

What kind of potential does the Shukran Camp Centre have?

Shukran Camp Centre will be a game-changer for indoor sports in Iganga and the Eastern region as a whole. Once completed, we are looking at hosting other sports like futsal, handball, basketball, netball and all. We shall also have an academy camp to groom youngsters. 

This centre will benefit the surrounding community like the hotels and other services whenever we host events. We're looking at an arena that will be a one-stop centre for recreation and sports.

What motivated you to spend on such a facility?

It is costly to set up such a facility but it is in the spirit of sports. If you don't have that spirit and patience, you will not last long in such a venture. 

We pray that the government comes in and supports some of us who are investing in sports. It doesn’t matter whether we are in private ventures or government facilities, the bottom line is that we're all doing well for the community. 

The government can also come in by giving tax holidays to some of the businesses whose owners are investing heavily into sport to professionalise it and give the youths an employment or platform to earn from their talents. We hear a lot of promises after a number of athletes have performed well but we need clear policies to support sports. I am glad we're on the right path because we can see that even the funding is increasing.

Speaking about funding, there's some bickering in the sports fraternity about how the government funding is split among the different disciplines, what’s your opinion?

My opinion will never change: the federations should work to increase their activities and packages. We need to create programs in the grassroots, women and youth development. I believe when we have a lot of products and address them properly to the National Council of Sports through our annual budget, they cannot be ignored. If we can't widen our activities, the council cannot think for us. For example, you look at football and they have activities running throughout youth, women, leagues, tournaments and the different national teams so, really you can't complain when they take the lion's share. We're already working at the UVF to see to it that we can increase our participation both locally and on the international scene so that we can stake our bargain.

Do you believe that the government funding should be used entirely for national teams?

I think we also need funding for capital development. If we don't develop the infrastructure, the case of failure or poor performance on the international scene will continue. We need to have facilities in different regions. There are several indoor sports that can share an arena, so I don't see why we can't apportion a certain percentage that goes to those specific disciplines to help develop the facilities. For now, what we get might be small but if we do a joint proposal, we can bargain for it. Our own or government facilities can go a lot in saving the costs of renting facilities. 

Government support can also come in several other ways like tax holidays for companies that are funding sports activities to motivate them.

You were the Leader of Delegation for Uganda at the CAVB African Nations Volleyball Championship, how would you describe the feeling of finishing fifth?

The feeling of finishing fifth was sweet. It was the first time for me to move out on national duty in the sports field and it was memorable. Until now I feel like we had chances to finish third but there were a few areas of concern that affected our performance. We arrive to a 14-day quarantine and that cost us a lot both financially and technically.

Name: Abdallah Ahmed Kigundu

Role: Director at OBB

Position at UVF: First Vice President


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