Uganda Premier League (UPL) has been developing with every passing year since Bernard Bainamani took over as C.E.O. Every other season shows improvements.
This particular season 2017-18 has been better in terms of competitiveness. For the first time in a very long time, you find fans debating which team will be relegated and who will be champions. However, it will be a very huge mistake for UPL and its stakeholders to think of this competitiveness as an indicator for a developing league.
UPL’s competitiveness can mainly be attributed to the Federation of Uganda Football Associations’ (FUFA) move to introduce prize money and starting a top 8 tournament that will have prize money too, you can consider that as double prize money.
UPL has lots of challenges like; matches not kicking off on time, match reports not being accurate, fan violence not being checked, inconsistent officiation not being investigated, poor quality playing surfaces, players and coaches not understanding the rules, regulations and laws of the game, lack of ambulances at playing grounds, fixture congestion, league not starting on scheduled time, having unauthorized personnel within the perimeter fence during matches and on the pitch after league matches, league licensing requirements not being followed promptly, to mention but a few.
It’s important to note that although most of these challenges are societal problems that can’t be solved in a very short time, they are some of the minor details that are required to develop a league into a professional brand.
Development has no short cuts, requires ruthlessness too
For UPL to develop at a normal rate, all the stakeholders involved in Ugandan football will have to agree that their capacity is still very low. Stakeholders are; highly qualified coaches of different specialties, sports medicine personnel, match day officials, football administrators, media, players and fans. Having fewer qualified stakeholders running the game of football at the highest level like UPL should call for a reduction in the number of top-flight teams from 16 teams to 10 or 12 teams until we grow the football capacity in terms of quality and quantity of stakeholders.
UPL having twelve teams from sixteen teams would mean having less required but the best of officials, coaches, players, administrators, and media. It would be easier for the fans too but most importantly it would mean more sponsorship money for the fewer clubs to share.
You will never find a developed society that is lenient on certain aspects.
FUFA as the supervisors of league football in Uganda needs to be very ruthless on certain aspects. Club licensing requirements should be much more detailed and have acceptable standards set. Example; what are the playing field measurement dimensions accepted for a pitch to be used in UPL? How does a pitch qualify to be of UPL standards? In this case, I am mentioning pitch but not stadium because a stadium is something that requires a lot of finances that we can’t yet get to but having a quality playing pitch can’t be beyond a UPL club’s current finances.
Every society should have unique ways of solving its own problems. UPL needs creativity
Ugandan football especially UPL is a unique society in its own right, developing will happen when the leaders task the stakeholders involved to document the problems encountered then start coming up with creative ways to solve those problems.
When you mention about UPL having ten or twelve teams, the first response you get is, “those are few clubs in the league, and a professional should play an average of 40 matches in a season”. With our copy and paste syndrome, we forget that a UPL player will be involved in more tournaments like; Clan football, the drum tournament, Uganda Cup, CHAN, underage tournaments for the national team and Super 8 coming up. We forget that we keep exposing them to poor playing surfaces that make it easier for them to get injured.
A 10 team league can creatively have 27 match days, it can also have 34 match days. A twelve team league can have 27 or 32 league matchdays and be very competitive too yet using fewer resources as we work towards growing the capacity of football stakeholders.
The business question to answer would be how UPL teams would be reduced from 16 to 10 or 12 teams which would call for the kind of ruthlessness required to develop. As we head into the 2018-19 season, UPL and FUFA would have to agree on what they would want a UPL club to have, that is to say, set the licensing requirements and standards.
For instance; each club should have a quality playing surface (define what quality is for a UPL playing surface), club operating structures, standard training facilities, set criteria for a number of qualified and specialized coaches and officials, set suspended offense limits e.t.c. FUFA and UPL would then set a timeframe of two seasons and inform clubs that for the 2020-21 season, clubs would have to apply for a license to play in the UPL.
The clubs that will have met the required criteria will play. This should be open to all clubs in the country then watch how clubs out compete themselves to ensure that licensing requirements are met.
For the moment, with our current football capacity, 16 clubs in UPL is a crowd that can’t be efficiently managed to sustain the required rate of football development.