Dr Stone Luggya has right medicine for Kobs desires

What you need to know:

Balancing The Boat. Dr Tonny ‘Stone’ Luggya spends most of his day at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University. He is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Anesthesia and Emergency Medicine but still has time for rugby, a sport that has been part of his life since he stepped foot in Namilyango College. He would go on to play for Makerere Impis but Kobs is the team he has dedicated his life to as a player, club captain, director of rugby and was recently voted into office as the club chairman. As a former Rugby Cranes player, he preaches improving player welfare, getting Kobs a new home and increasing revenue at the club. Sunday Monitor’s Emanzi Ndyamuhaki found out what drives him.

Congratulations upon being voted in as Kobs Chairman.
Thank you, I appreciate it.

How would you describe the election?

In elections there is obviously the victor and the loser and some people who were emotional were caught offside but going forward we appreciate that there were two different ideas. People didn’t understand what I was standing for and they thought the other option was a better one so we kept it open. We usually have organized elections but this time round there were some gaps in management that we initially thought we would straighten but chose to work with the system. Yes, there was a bit of disorganization at the end but the outcome was eventually Okayed and endorsed despite negating the online votes. We had a lack of constitution respect; we shouldn’t have had any of the URU non-members conducting the election because it is an internal process but these were oversights that can be addressed. It ended well, we shook hands with my friend (Isaac Lutwama), wished each other well and we hope we can now move on.

Considering the margin of your victory was slim, doesn’t that lead to a divided team?

Well, it means we are democratic and open in terms of allowing people to express themselves unlike some places where elections are usually decided prior in the boardroom. We decided that we should go out and let everyone choose, some members thought the vocal people on the weekend should be the ones to decide the fate of the club but the senior members and quiet ones were saying no, we have a different direction.

Are you in support of having active players involved in these elections?

That was another drop in management. We usually try not to get players involved and I kept emphasizing that as Director of Rugby but I was overlooked. I was not a senior manager then.

Is that something you plan to change now that you are in office?

Well, we encourage players to be members but not get as actively involved as this. It is also good that players come in and pay membership to show commitment but not to just pay this membership a day to the elections yet you have been around for three years without paying. It doesn’t make sense so we are going to try and make sure that this membership is actually paid annually for the benefit of the club and not for a selfish interest of someone who wants to stand for chairman of the club.

When did you get the idea of being Kobs chairman?

I was supposed to be chairman in 2017 but I chose not to stand because of some issues. I have always been a passionate Kobs rugby player and when the outgoing chairman asked me in 2017, I told him I was not ready. I have been an EXCOM since 2010, I think I have more time now and I have matured enough to run a club. I ran Impis for most of my university days and gave them best management and for Kobs this was an easy decision for me to make.

Do you stop at Kobs or your eyes elsewhere?

For now, I am at Kobs. I don’t know what the future holds but if I can leave a mark at Kobs then I can assess and see. Kobs and my academic work at Makerere is what I have, at least for now.

In what state would you say you find the club?

There are challenges. We have been winning on the pitch so we have not had significant issues there. Administratively, we have challenges. Our sponsor just left and we have to start looking for another. We have no facility per se. We cannot say we are the premier club in the country and we have no home address. Legends has been very good and it is part of our history from the start but as you know things that happened in the past put rugby at the back and business at the front and we have no say in that. We need to find financial stability; at the moment we have people paying membership for just the elections. We want people to become more passionate about the club and contribute more in terms of presence, membership and things like partnerships to develop the club.

African Champs. Against all odds, the Rugby Cranes travelled to Madagascar and defeated the Markis in-front of a packed-to-the-rafters home crowed 42-11 to win the Africa Cup in 2007. This picture was taken the morning after their stunning victory before they flew back to Uganda. PHOTO/COURTESY

What is that one thing you feel you must change from the onset as you get into office?

Just more regulation and control, especially financially. More discipline on the side of some errant players. On the overall we have been clean but there are a few things we can change going forward.

When you look at the players, as the most important stakeholders of the game, what is in it for one to play for Kobs?

Kobs is a family club. Unlike the other clubs, here we don’t only use players for their services but try to build people of responsibility even outside the sport. We have teams that come out of Kobs, each year has a group of ten people that are close and those are learning from the seniors how to manage life, finances and many other life skills. We have leadership teams in the club that have an effect on the younger players. We are not yet professional so we just give them small sustenance which is enough for some people to breakeven but the bigger picture is that we build a holistic human being not just a rugby player. We know that after you get an injury then you become useless. People elsewhere get injured and that’s it because they didn’t study and can’t do anything but here, we attach mentors. People come together to pay fees to help these players get some education and one becomes a better person in future.

At the time you played it was mainly students and the working class playing the game but that has since changed, now you have players who want to make a living out of rugby. How prepared is Uganda for this step?

We are not oblivious of the fact that rugby is going in that direction and how we prepare for it is key. That’s why part of my manifesto was about getting a place we call home to help with income generation to sustain our players. Our wage bill is significantly high (9-10m a month) so we need to look into that and try to get some income. We also have to try and change the public mindset about sport. We take it as just playing yet actually it is the biggest industry after film that has sustainability if well packaged and delivered. It can be a source of livelihood for a lot of people and we are thinking along those lines.

As Kobs, how do you get the financial muscle to actually realise this?

Sponsorships, that’s our biggest income source. If we had a facility of our own, we would do a lot of things like pitch activations, concerts, and employ our people to have contracted jobs. A player can study and then get a job with the club while playing, that’s the kind of framework we have in mind. It’s a long challenge but it will start if we put the right structures in place.

There are not many clubs that have a permanent physical address and yet still fail to have reliable online platforms like websites and social media, why is that?

The challenge comes from the top. Implementation has to come from the vision of the union, we may do as much as we want as a club but it starts from the top. The 10-year plan that came into place five years ago captures these things. It is now a requirement for teams to have active social media platforms, websites and you have to show evidence of this before you get the money from the sponsor. The union is still a small secretariat but they have a plan and as stakeholders we can only advise, it is incumbent on them to steer towards that direction. At least teams now have media managers and that’s good for a start.

Kobs has been really successful in the last few years and you get into office at a time when they have all the titles on offer in Uganda, what kind of challenge do you expect?

It will be tough obviously. Getting to the top is easy but staying there is difficult. I have been a Director of Rugby for eight years so it is not news for me how to get around it. First, having a good technical team and we pride ourselves in having technical development where we have former players that have the acumen to learn and coach and have shown. Kyewalabye is still an active player but chose to take on coaching the past two years and he showed that he has the brain to take on the coaching mantle. Timothy Mudoola has come in for strength and conditioning and he’s also a back player and backs coach. We brought them together and they are doing well, there are also seniors who help here and there as well as active players who aspire to get to what the coach has done like playing for the national team and delivering trophies as a coach. Staying on top is the problem but we have to try and maintain it.

How much time do you have for the club, considering your day job?

We envisioned those challenges and we wanted to have a Chief Operations Officer (COO) two years ago but it didn’t make sense because it comes with payment. What we tried to do is have units and busy teams that work. We have committees that help in different departments. We have a director of rugby who handles the coaches and technical aspects, a marketing and welfare committee that oversees marketing and publicity and we want to start fan coordination. We have different people working for the club although it is still voluntary. If we address the financial bit then it will definitely be a plan where we have a full secretariat with a COO that reports to EXCOM.

Sharing Passionate Commiserations.  Luggya (R) embraces Lutwama whom he congratulated upon the healthy rivalry when they stood for Kobs’ top job. PHOTO/DEUS BUGEMBE

The idea of a permanent home sounds good but how soon do you expect to realise this?
It won’t be soon. There are various stakeholders, there are people who have land and want to partner, there are people who want to lease out their land. All these options are in the business district because most of our players are university students. In the future we will consider moving out of town but mainly for matchday games. It wouldn’t make sense to go far when most of the players are at university and within Kampala. With those partnerships, we still need to work around training grounds and also matchday grounds. Those are the arrangements we are trying to get with people who have land.

What is your take on how the sport is governed?

There is room for improvement. There are gaps and the union is the clubs so we keep putting them under pressure to improve because they are supposed to be the bacon of management according to international regulations. We keep upraising them every four years and asking them to improve. If we have vibrant clubs, the union will be a reflection of that, if we have a docile rugby community, that is still what you get at the top.

Rugby in Uganda seems to be all about coming together, playing, drinking and that’s all, how can the sport be taken more seriously?
That’s the issue with sports in Uganda and we have a battle to change the mindset. First, the public should stop looking at sport as just a leisure activity, parents telling their kids to stop playing and focus on books. The truth is that the organization at the top is not encouraging for anyone to say, ‘fine I can allow my child to play rugby as a part time sport.’ If everything was clear like having partnerships with international rugby, the US and UK, then things would be better. There are many things that are missing and until we look at it as an industry and not just leisure is when we shall start improving the quality of the sport. We need to package, organise and brand the sport very well. There are also challenges at the top.

 What do you think the government can do better to support sports?
We are not getting enough support from the government. They don’t seem to appreciate the importance of sports; the little money comes late. At least each district should have a stadium and with that more people can take up sports. It is a big challenge from the priorities of the politicians and leaders, they don’t see sports as an option yet there is serious unemployment which can easily be sorted by this. If we had competitive regional tournaments then people would not have to even come to Kampala. Take an example of New Zealand, they are a small country but with the best sports structures and also produce the best academics and politicians. It’s all about priorities and how you package them. We have the resources, the space, the people but money and political will is still lacking. Those are challenges that are for the people at the top to think about.

Super Doc. Talk of the best centres to play the game in the country and Dr Tonny Luggya Stone’s name will come up by default. He played and owned the first centre position like he had been born for it, for both club and country.
He is decorated with various titles both for the Rugby Cranes and Kobs, a club he played for since joining in 1997 as a Senior Two student at Namilyango College.
His Kobs debut, though, came three years later in 2000 while in his Senior Four vacation. During this run, Luggya has won the Africa Cup, Elgon Cup, multiple League and Cup titles on top Sevens Series titles. 
In a nutshell, he has seen it and done it all when it comes to the sport.


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