The debate over football club governance has garnered a lot of attention among many Ugandan football circles. Issues concerning club ownership and club structures are now of deep interest to various stakeholders.
At the center of this debate are the local football governing body (FUFA) on one side and the clubs on the other. Both sides have grown accustomed to the altercations stemming from the application of FUFA’s club licensing guidelines, the main tool used by the federation to streamline governance between local football clubs.
However, a debate on club governance should not be exclusive to the federation and the football clubs. Football has a large ecosystem and any intervention aimed at having a healthy impact on the whole sector must aim to bring together all interested parties. Football governance derives its effectiveness from principles relating to the legal form of ownership of clubs which must then be complemented by sound club structures.
The structures of sports clubs evolve over time and are mainly influenced by the interaction of economic, social and political factors. In Uganda, the ownership of sports clubs can be classified into three categories. First private property, state property and finally community property.
According to FUFA records, the majority of Ugandan Premier League (UPL) clubs are either owned by private individuals or other private parent companies. The second category of state ownership is a typical reflection of the economic reality imposed by the state since it provides an immediate source of funding, this category includes clubs like UPDF FC and URA FC, although these clubs are not vulnerable to financial shocks, they remain vulnerable in the event of a change in policies by these agencies. Finally, the concept of community clubs is new and has not been fully embraced by local football circles.
At the start of the 2021-22 season, FUFA President Moses Magogo forwarded a proposal to the Villa Members Trust (VMT) to intervene in SC Villa’s leadership crisis. This VMT model is the closest reference to the community ownership model in Uganda. Community ownership has its origins in Germany, whereby a minimum of 50%+1 of the club’s voting rights are controlled by a democratic entity that has an open and inclusive membership. It also follows that all profits must be reinvested in the club instead of being distributed to its shareholders. Under this model, the club is committed to operating as a sustainable business.
Currently, Uganda is in the process of enacting a new sports law. It is hoped that the new law will guide the mode of legal ownership and ownership of sports entities, including sports clubs.
Football clubs exist to facilitate the participation and spectatorship of organized football. Whatever their form of business, football clubs are much more than businesses. While at the elite end of the game it has become an economic base, it still remains social in nature. Fans invest their financial capital in clubs in terms of entrance fees, annual club subscriptions and indirectly through television subscriptions to watch these matches. Some football clubs have a deep identification with particular cities or regions, they have merged with these communities. Clubs like Al Ahly and Zamalek in Egypt form a great community entity beyond just being football clubs.
In England, while the majority of clubs are owned by individuals and other private entities, opinion trends in this country are moving towards fan ownership. Many clubs, especially mid-sized clubs, adopt a combination of private and community ownership. Clubs like Brentford FC have been able to develop innovative legal structures to meet the interests of their supporters by applying the ‘privileged share’ principle whereby supporters are given that special category of shares allowing them to have their say. to say about certain aspects of their club. These actions can be used to raise capital, oppose hostile takeovers of the club and defend the interests of supporters within the club.
Under the community model, clubs exist as registered associations under the established laws of that country, for example in Tunisia clubs can only register as non-profit associations. Moreover, under the community ownership model, members can only exercise their control by electing a president in elections held after a specified period.
The community model has been instrumental in contributing to the success of a number of clubs. First, longevity. Many of the most successful clubs are community-based or apply it in a hybrid form with private ownership, for example Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain, Al Ahly and Zamalek in Egypt. These clubs also benefit from the advantage of having a strong and large fan base in their country and around the world.
However, the community ownership model is also not immune to instabilities since club structures are always suspect of administrative misdeeds and financial malfeasance. It is always possible to remedy this through routine elections resulting in a change of leadership.
The FUFA administration is already advocating for a more community model of football club ownership in the country. However, in trying to achieve this goal, she will have to face the reality of her German origins where the society is deeply rooted in the values of cooperation and the search for consensus. This message must be communicated to the communities as it is done during the current “FUFA DRUM” campaign. This model should also be sold to existing football club owners as well. Recently, Wakiso Giants FC announced that the local government of Wakiso District would take over some of its actions under a five-year partnership.
Players in the football ecosystem, including legal practitioners, should strive to develop club legal structures that promote communal ownership of clubs. If the community club ownership model is adopted with its principles of transparency, democracy and accountability, it will attract the full participation of supporters and the corporate world. This will thus remove the biggest challenge of local football attracting sponsorship and sustainability. With access to capital still being a pitfall for many businesses in Uganda, football clubs are no exception to this harsh reality and many club owners have succumbed to this financial talk of running football clubs out of funds. personal.
There are too many examples of club closures in Uganda. The community ownership model may not be the silver bullet to sustainable club management, but it offers a very realistic prospect of a bright future if the federation and other football stakeholders embrace it well with the good intention to use football as a vehicle for change in communities.