By Esther Muwonge
Fufa’s announcement on Wednesday May 20, that the 2019/2020 season of the StarTimes Uganda Premier League would not resume as had been anticipated, caught many by surprise. The league’s stakeholders, especially the clubs and sponsor StarTimes learnt of this development during the Fufa President Moses Magogo’s address in Mengo.
Although there were still five match-days left to play, Magogo declared Vipers SC as the champions. He also announced that Proline FC, Maroons FC and Tooro United would be relegated. Magogo explained that the Fufa executive, which made this decision, invoked the competitions rule, that when 75% of the league has been played, yet for some reason, it cannot continue, a winner can be declared.
Yet, still, this has not just gone by without rubbing some stakeholders the wrong way. An official at StarTimes, who preferred anonymity because of how sensitive the matter is, said: “We just read about this development on Facebook. But I would think that normal procedure would have warranted, that we are informed before such a big announcement is made.”
The development has put the whole league and its sponsors in a total quagmire. StarTimes were due to remit the fourth quarter of their sponsorship package to the 16 clubs. That is approximately Shs 19 million to each club. With a champion already declared, and the 40 matches, that were due to be played, now up in smoke, it is difficult to tell whether StarTimes will feel obliged to remit that money.
Beyond that, there are financial ramifications to the clubs. Already, a number of them were counting on receiving the balance on their sponsorship, to clear debts and players’ wages. A few weeks ago, Proline FC director Mujib Kasule said, that following the extended lockdown, which meant that money from gate collections was curtailed, their fourth quarter was vital.
But so were the prospects of them staying in the top flight, had they been given a chance to play their final five games. Proline were just three points behind fourth from bottom-placed Police FC, whose form, before the lockdown was not assuring.
However, in a statement from Proline, following Fufa’s announcement, it read in part, that they accepted the decision made. They went ahead to assure their fans, that although it was painful, they would bounce back. As for Maroons and Tooro United, the other two relegated sides, there has not been a press statement on the matter.
Perhaps, they are still taking in the decision, even though the rule invoked, is one they agreed to, before the season begun, at least that should be the presumption. For what it is worth, at the time of declaration, Maroons had the league’s top scorer, on 13 goals, Steven Mukwala.
Unlike a number of Mukwala’s team-mates, who will be inconsolable, he returns to his parent club, Vipers SC, who had sent him out on loan, to get more playing time. Undoubtedly, Vipers will be thrilled about how much he has improved, which should boost their chances on the continent in the 2020/2021 season.
As league champions, Vipers will need to armed to the teeth, to stand a chance of making a mark on the continent. But before they can start focusing on the Caf Champions League, they must celebrate. Their coach Fred Kajoba could not hide his thrill, when they were declared champions.
Kajoba said: “I am happy, that I have been able to win my first league title as a coach. I guess God had prepared it this way. I thank the Blessed Virgin Mary for praying for me. I thank the Lord Jesus, for blessing me.”
On the other hand, not only Kajoba and Vipers will be celebrating. Myda FC and UPDF FC also earned promotion to the UPL. The third promotion slot will be competed for by four other clubs once it is considered safe enough, as per the Ministry of Health Guidelines on the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Cycling President Sam Mahaba Muwonge has announced, that this year, they will not be able to commemorate the International Bicycle Day. This was due on June 3. But because of the emphasis on social distancing, a measure put in place to fight the novel coronavirus, the International Bicycle Day would be putting people at risk.