|Youth Football Worldwide: Uganda|
In this section of Youth Football Scotland, we will look at how nations from around the footballing world, both major and minor, have approached the development of their youth systems. We will see how different countries put a different emphasis on their youth set ups and how they relate to the countries game in general.
Series editor Alan Evans and his team of writers looks at the ideas and strategies implemented throughout the world on how best to develop young footballers at all levels of the game. This should not be seen as a critique on the Scottish system, nor a way of suggesting how things should be done differently by the SFA. This is simply about exploring the different ideas that suit each nation individually.
David Armstrong reports...
Uganda is more widely known for its violent recent history than for its sporting achievements. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, the population of this remarkable nation have suffered badly at the hands of dictators such as Idi Amin whose oppressive regime left many Ugandans trapped in a cycle of poverty and discrimination. Landlocked in the heart of Africa and with deep rooted economic and social problems, there is nevertheless a growing sense of optimism regarding this nation’s footballing future.
There are already some football links between Scotland and Uganda. Firstly, there is Robert “Bobby” Williamson, the ex-Kilmarnock and Hibernian manager who currently coaches the Ugandan national team. David Obua (pictured right, with Williamson offering advice), who plies his trade in the SPL with Hearts, was born in Kampala and learned the game on the streets of the Ugandan capital. Tynecastle was also home to Csaba Laszlo during his time coaching in the SPLand the Hungarian’s CV includes a spell coaching the Ugandan national side along with spells at Fenecvaros and FC Sopron in his home nation.
However in most respects Scotland and Uganda are simply a world apart. The population demographic of Uganda is heavily biased towards the young; nearly half of the population is under 16. This is a result of a cultural tradition of couples having large families combined with a low healthy life expectancy which the World Health Organisation currently rates as just 42 for men and 44 for women. Yoweri Museveni has led the nation since 1986 and ran the nation as a one party state until the 2005 and 2011 general elections where opposing political parties were allowed to stand. The prevalence of hardship and corruption in many aspects of Ugandan society means that there is a burning need to find new ways to tackle the difficulties faced by many youngsters.
The story of football inspiring youngsters to chase a life away from the difficulties they were born into is not a new one. From the slums of Buenos Aires to the immigrant outskirts of Paris and Marseilles and the estates of Glasgow and Liverpool, children born into relative levels of economic adversity have grown into world superstars thanks to their skills with a football; Zidane, Tevez, Pele, Maradona and Rooney. More recently African nations have begun to stand up to be counted on the world stage. Ghana and the Ivory Coast both entered South Africa 2010 with realistic ambitions to walk away with their name on the trophy. Egypt have struggled on the world cup stage and lost out to fierce rivals Algeria for a place in South Africa 2010however their dominant performances at the African Cup of Nations has led to players such as Amr Zaki, Muhammad Zidan and Ahmed Hassan finding their way to top flight clubs across Europe.
Uganda, meanwhile, have been left behind. Having never qualified for a World Cup and struggled to make any impact at the African Cup of Nations, Ugandan football fans have few heroes from their own nation to look up to. Furthermore, attendance figures at matches across the country are in decline as people abandon the likes of traditional Ugandan giants Express and Kampala City Council (KCC) (pictured left, playing in a near empty stadium) to follow Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. Fans also worry about the integrity of the league in a nation where corruption and bribery are commonplace in so many other aspects of society. Stadiums which can accommodate 20,000, 30,000 or even 40,000 spectators often struggle to attract more than a few hundred. Ticket prices must also play a part in keeping fans away from the stadiums – although a Super League match may cost the equivalent of only a few pence to attend, that can still be a barrier to many in Uganda where UNICEF claim the average annual wage for an adult male is less than half what the average Scottish male could reasonably expect to earn in a single week.
The current national team contains an eclectic mix of players who earn their crust with clubs around the world from China and Australia to Slovakia, Austria and Iceland along with those who represent clubs from the Ugandan Super League. After getting off to a difficult start in September 2008 which saw Uganda fall to a 3-1 defeat away to Niger – a result which cost them qualification for the African Cup Of Nations – Bobby Williamson has helped Uganda reach 83rd in the most recent FIFA world rankings placing them ahead of Togo (101), Angola (88) and Malawi (91). Whilst the merits of those rankings are often hotly debated, they are indicative of the progress Williamson has made with Uganda who were sitting at 94th immediately prior to him taking over the national side.
Most importantly at youth level things are changing for the better. The Kampala Kids League was founded in 1998 to help children improve their lifestyle through sport. This charitable organisation have so far enabled more than 800 teams to compete in over 50 KKL football, basketball, baseball and cricket competitions and over 15,000 children from more than 165 schools have taken part.
It is particularly encouraging to see schools getting involved in helping children have access to football facilities because issues with government funding and land development costs have resulted in many schools being built without designated playgrounds or pitches attached to them. Some of the most talented children in each age group are taken on tours to Europe and sent to represent the KKL at the Gothia World Youth Cup. The trophies have been pouring into the KKL cabinet including six Gothia Cup World Youth Cup titles (pictured, right) and seven Tivoli Cup championships. The KKL league has been so successful in Kampala that the model has been rolled out across Uganda via The Kids League which aims to bring together children traditional rival factions in Uganda especially in the volatile north of the country to let them play together whilst educating them on topics such as gender and racial equality and HIV/AIDS awareness.
The future of Uganda at professional level is entirely unpredictable however there is real hope for the future. Organisations such as the KKL and TKL have clearly shown that Ugandan children have the raw footballing talent to compete with anyone in Africa. The spirit of the game certainly thrivesamongst even the poorest people in the country – it is commonplace to see barefooted children tying balls of newspaper in string and kicking it between makeshift goalposts. Despite a lack of professional national coaching system and with due concern for the significant obstacles that any Ugandan child must overcome in order to make it as a football player, it would seem that this raw passion for football might mean it is only matter of time before young Ugandans have a Drogba, Eto’o or Zidan of their own to show them the way to the top.