Is private sector investment in sports facilities a lucrative venture?

On 3 March 2017, the African football governing body, CAF, cleared the then newly constructed St Mary’s Stadium to host football games. The 25,000 seater stadium is a home of SC Vipers, located in Kitende on Entebbe Road was built by the club patron and former FUFA president, Lawrence Mulindwa. Vipers SC plays in Uganda’s top league Uganda Premier League.

The stadium is considered one of the best stadiums in East Africa, being the first ever artificial turf pitch stadium to be established in Uganda and has lately hosted all African competitions in the country.

It is the second largest stadium in Uganda next to Mandela National Stadium, and has offered relief to the otherwise over stretched Namboole. The multi-purpose stadium named after the South African then-President and anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela has a 45,202 seating capacity with a grass surface and was built in 1997. It currently is used mainly for soccer matches, although other sports such as athletics are also practiced. However, due to mismanagement, the stadium is struggling to remain functional. There have been attempts to run the stadium under a private-public partnership arrangement but these too have failed.

The challenges in infrastructure notwithstanding, Uganda has over the years recorded tremendous leaps in performance in international sports events. Pundits attribute these leaps to government intervention in the sports sector. Rogers Mulindwa, the former spokesperson for the local football federation FUFA narrates an incident in 2008 that led President Yoweri Museveni to step up his interest and funding for sports:

“After edging Kenya 1-0 in an entertaining final of 2008 and winning the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in Kampala, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni hosted the Uganda Cranes to a State dinner in Entebbe and promised better times for sports in our country.

As the President walked out shortly after dinner, Phillip Ssozi, one of the players got close to him, held him by the right hand and whispered, ‘Mzee tugenze tutya’ literally meaning ‘Mzee, how are you sending us off’? Ssozi was indirectly asking for funds from the President who signaled his security to allow the players further interact with him. He later instructed his staff to release 3000 USD to each player and officials as a token of appreciation.”

Mulindwa quotes President Museveni as telling the jubilant players as he left the hall: “It’s my promise that sports will get better and after I have completely dealt with Joseph Kony and these other groups, I shall allocate more funding to allow you my children enjoy your games.”

Mulindwa continues to narrate: “The funding to the sports sector by then was UGX 3.4 Billion which has since been increased to UGX 25 Billion. This is a springboard for several landmark achievements in the sports sector and a live testimony that the President has lived up to his promise.

Uganda has become a prominent sporting nation to reckon with. Having 11 Olympic medals, 45 Commonwealth Games medals and 5 World Records under its sleeve. This is in addition to other world and regional championship accolades. Uganda under the able leadership of NRM has showcased its potential and abundant sporting talents through the 51 recognized National Sports Associations/Federations.”

But just like football, other sports in the country continue to grapple with infrastructural challenges that the government funding may prove to meagre to address in the moment. It is without a doubt that the budget allocation to the sector, couple with government priorities will not change much to see a change in developing sports facilities, posing the question of whether the private sector can see potential in investing here.

President Museveni, in the aftermath of Moses Kipsiro’s Commonwealth Games double gold success in the 5,000 and 10,000m races in 2010, green stamped the building of the Teryet camp and construction started in February 2016. So far, the three-year project has born a hostel with an outside kitchen and a 3km-jogging track.

But multi-gold medalist Joshua Cheptegei, in a move of enterprise, began constructing his own high altitude training facility, the Joshua Cheptegei Training Camp, also in Teryet Sub-county. His dream is to facilitate other athletes to get an opportunity to compete. The training facilities will on top of facilitating more talent, also create employment as well as draw athletes from the region as well as host regional and international events.

Robert Jaggwe, the chairperson of the Uganda Table Tennis Association is a vocal advocate for public-private partnership in the development of capacity in the sports sector. Commenting about the local football tournament Masaaza Cup Finals that were held at the St Mary’s Stadium on 5th March, Jaggwe states; “I am very happy for Lawrence Mulindwa to be making lots of income from his infrastructure at Kitende. He is thus far the best example in Uganda that investment in sports is very lucrative.” Jaggwe is optimistic that Mulindwa will smile all the way to the bank as the stadium filled to the brim. Mbarara City North Member of Parliament Robert Mwesigwa Rukaari is another living testimony of the value in investing in sports facilities. The businessman cum politician has hosted two motor rallying events at his Kibega ranch in Sanga, Kiruhura District. Both events were a runaway success, attracting droves of people from all corners of the country.

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