UPL is crowded at 16.

At the end of the 2015-16 season, I thought that Uganda Premier League (UPL) needed to be reduced from 16 clubs to 12 clubs.

Six matches into the 2019-20 season, I am certain the number needs to be reduced from 16 clubs to eight clubs. It sounds strange, very strange because I would have expected UPL to have improved and manage to become a 20 club league.

An observation of the majority of the 20 club leagues that have a huge following shows they have QUALITY and QUANTITY personnel in the following areas; coaching, match officials, football administrators, and football support staff that are COMPETENT too.

Besides, they have the availability of quality training grounds and stadiums that can support a 20 team league of 38 match days translating into 380 matches.

All the mentioned factors that make a 20 club league successful, were built over time. They were not given.

WHAT ABOUT UPL?

Uganda doesn’t have anything that would justify having a 16 club league. To make it worse, clubs are entitled to be in UPL. Some clubs expect to be given financial support from the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) to help them operate.

The human resource capacity is extremely low, non-existent facilities mean that four venues are hosting 13 out of 16 clubs in the 2019-20 season.

Wankulukuku has hosted Express FC, Bright Stars FC, Wakiso Giants, and Tooro United.
Lugogo has hosted Kcca FC, Proline FC and soon Police FC.
Luzira pitch has hosted Maroons FC, Onduparaka FC, and Mbarara City FC
Namboole hosts URA FC, Sc Villa, and Kyetume FC

Extremely poor officiating, poor timekeeping, a congested and disorganized fixture, extremely low standards of footballers to an extent that almost every club in the UPL has an average of three players with pot bellies, poor quality coaching standards, absence of specialist football coaches, very weak club brands that causes low match attendance levels, non-existent performance analysis, poor standards of facilities and unethical football administrators have been some of the 2019-20 UPL highlights.

The 2019-20 UPL season has a close resemblance to an amateur corporate league. Most times, it didn’t feel like 2019 but a stone-age version of football.

Ugandan society tolerates mediocrity to an extent that, we celebrate low standards. With all that incompetence in UPL, we are either proud of the work done or go silent about poor quality because we are afraid of inconveniencing the people in charge.

UPL secretariat operates in a very harsh football environment but they can do something about it. It’s very disappointing that UPL seems to be resigned to, “we can’t do anything about it” attitude.

WHAT DOES UPL NEED?

UPL needs to be reduced from 16 to eight clubs so that quality and competent human resource can be built over time to sustain a 16 club league and probably 20 clubs in the future.

FUFA is currently doing a very good job in terms of developing human capacity with very many football courses but the numbers are not yet at a level that can sustain a 16 club league.

FUFA needs to have realized this by now then change the football pyramid structure to have clearly defined number of clubs that should be in UPL and lower leagues.

UPL needs to be in charge of its own club licensing program that would be supervised by FUFA. The current club licensing is a stale joke that lacks professionalism because its not full time.

UPL needs to have a five-year strategic plan shared with all football stakeholders. Perhaps, that will be the start of getting football administration basics right.

Be in charge of issues in their control like proper time keeping, have in place a match day countdown, a proper player and club officials licensing system and proper regulations that govern the league. Take care of simple things, the bigger things will fall in place.

If it were my decision to make, it would be eight clubs in UPL because I’d rather have UPL with 8 professional clubs than have 16 amateur clubs.

Don’t bother wondering about the number of matches, an 8 club league can still have the same number of matches as a 16 club league. All you need is CREATIVITY.

Developing the Uganda Premier League.

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.