By Ronald Ssekandi:
I am an ardent fan of football, both as a casual player and a fan. I think football is one of the best inventions of mankind. I am a great supporter of my national team, the Uganda Cranes and despite our futile efforts to qualify for both the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup, my enthusiasm grows by the day. I am also a great fan of the Manchester United football club in England.
Currently in Kenya, the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup which involves nations in East and Southern Africa is going on and as expected, Ugandans are high contenders. While I was discussing the tournament with a friend of mine who supports Rwanda (we beat them by the way), he intimated to me that the reason our football was not as developed as that in the west was because we as Africans had neglected our teams in favour of the more lucrative ones in Europe and other parts of the world. To him, that was the reason why many of our local players had big dreams to play, say in the English Premier League or the Spanish La Liga.
Well, thinking about my friend’s concern reminds me of my concerns on cultural imperialism that I earlier wrote about. About three weeks or so ago, two Ugandans were awash international media after a betting deal that went rogue. Incidentally, while the big show down took place in England between Manchester United and Arsenal FC, two fans of those clubs here in Uganda betted against each other. The Arsenal fan staked his land and house while the Manchester United fan staked his wife and something else I can’t quite remember. As it turned out, Arsenal lost and this ardent fan of Arsenal lost his land and house!
In Uganda, English soccer is way more famous than anything I know. On weekends, bars and pubs are filled to the brim. I can recite the entire Manchester United squad by name while if you asked me to name my national team players, I doubt I could make it past the 5 mark. Ultimately, our local soccer growth scene has suffered and many of our players home can barely earn 200 dollars a month! When local teams are playing, the fan stands are empty and it is even worse if they play on a day when a European team is playing. There is also emergence of a new vice of betting. Today, we have over 50 sports betting companies and the culture of betting has eaten up, especially the unemployed youth who lay camp at these betting shops just to see if their predictions fell through. Our government reaps millions of shillings from these companies; in fact, they are currently one of the highest tax payers. Ironically, now the government is proposing stringent rules to control betting after realizing its negative effects to our society. Time and again we have heard of University students who have betted away their tuition fees in a hope of “doubling” the figure with some luck!
Football is meant to be fun and a source of entertainment but as it stands now, it has turned into a tool for so many evils; cultural and economic imperialism topping my list. Our nation and continent now stands at risk of an abuse we can barely fight. In Western Africa, national football bodies have complained of how their local players have abandoned their citizenship to play for countries in Europe just because of the great publicity and financial rewards. It is no longer about a sense of pride to play for one’s own country. I believe that great football leagues started small and given opportunity, local soccer can thrive. Apart from South Africa, I doubt if any African country can comfortably bid to host the world Cup, we simply do not have the facilities.
On a good note, various people like my friend Nesta are realizing the problem at hand. We know that sports are increasingly evolving and our economies and cultures can thrive through them. In the recent world cup held in South Africa, the country earned a lot of revenue. We also had a chance to show case our cultures through dance and music. Multi Choice is a business corporation which is also helping to grow football on the continent through bringing it on TV with its DSTV and GOTV brands. Actually, the current CECAFA tournament in Kenya is being sponsored by GOTV and I am able to catch all action from the comfort of my home. My heart races when I see our very own Daniel Sserunkuma and Captain Emma Okwi dribble and score as good as Wayne Rooney and Van Persie back in England!
I wish the Uganda Cranes team a deserved 14th CECAFA title!