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The unanswered questions as the StarTimes UPL starts

the StarTimes UPL

As the world still grapples with the Coronavirus, the heralding of a vaccine brings glimmering hopes that normalcy will return soon. But it is a farfetched hope in Uganda, given that the geographical lottery places the Pearl of Africa amongst the developing countries, whose financial purse and global supply chains, unfortunately, dictate that vaccines may get here later than expected, and the sure way option left is to follow the set precautionary Covid19 operating guidelines to contain the virus.

Therefore, adherence to the Ministry of Health Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) intended to limit the spread of the virus is critical for the start and continuity of the Star Times Uganda Premier League.

Among the guidelines is observing social distance, sanitizing facilities and equipment, playing in empty stadia, and biweekly testing, all of which will continue to deplete resources of the already financially constrained clubs, and thereby creating a backdrop of uncertainty.

The burden of Covid19 tests

December 3rd is the commencement date of the 2020/21 UPL season and we do not have an insight into the status of players and officials at their respective clubs as regards to Covid19.

The FUFA COVID-19 regulations indicate that each club or team shall meet the cost of the COVID-19 PCR test of their participants. This comes as a backdrop of FUFA earlier committing to pre-finance the same and seek reimbursement from the clubs.

FUFA secured the monopoly of Covid19 Testing for FUFA related footballing activities, and as to that will procure a government authorized authority as a testing center where only results from such a center will be recognized by the football association.

What is not certain is if tests will be at a subsidized cost and if centers will be spread out to geographically reach the various football clubs, to reduce the logistical burden of traveling to Mengo to undertake tests or shall they reconsider their exclusive right and accredit other facilities to conduct the Covid19 tests.

The cost of a COVID-19 PCR test in government laboratories is now 185,000 Shillings and the Ministry also accredited several private laboratories that offer the test at 300,000 Shillings and 350,000 Shillings.

Going by the government rate, a 32 man team requires about UGX 5,920,000 every fortnight for Covid19 testing.

When do fans return to stadia?

In this new normal, soccer will be played without fans in Stadia, but only the technical bench, match officials, and journalists will be watching on.

One of the revenue streams for a football club is Matchday gate collections and related merchandise sales. Based on available data, in the 2019 season, KCCA F.C collected UGX 287 Million from their home games, a 7% revenue contribution to the club’s total revenue of UGX 3.853 Billion.

Fans in-stadia do not only bring in the gate collections and cheer their teams, but the ambiance they create is leverage for clubs to negotiate a basis for sponsorship mileage.

Globally, authorities are starting to let in a few fans into the stadiums. FUFA and UPL should also engage with NCS to convince the government to allow at least season ticket holders to a reasonable limit. Preference can be given to closed stadiums where crowd control and enforcement of SOPS can be effected.

Magnifying inequalities?

Unlike big-name clubs like KCCA FC, Vipers S.C, URA FC among others, the smaller clubs may not have the financial muscle to have a roster of 32 players with relative quality both on the pitch and on the bench.

The Covid19 uncertainties, coupled with the possibility of injuries or non Covid19 related illnesses can decimate the squad number considerably especially for small clubs and this might further dilute competition since the FUFA Covid19 regulations guide that a team will lose the match 3-0 if it fails to honor a game due to a matter relating to COVID-19.

The team will also lose the match 3-0 if it does not have the minimum number of players, eleven (including a goalkeeper) and four (4) substitutes.

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