Uncertainity hovers over district-sponsored league teams’ future

Bugesera FC are one of the eleven topflight league sides that are supported by districts. File photo.

Former Amavubi manager Andre Casa Mbungo stepped down as SC Kiyovu head coach last month allegedly for going five months without pay.

Just a week earlier, the annual budget of Azam Rwanda Premier League side, Bugesera FC, had been slashed by 33.3 per cent – from Rwf60m to Rwf40m.

The same happened to most topflight league clubs that largely depended on districts for funding.

One explanation that was given by the Mayor of Bugesera District, Richard Mutabazi, is that the decision was taken following advice from the Ministry of Local Government.

The decision was first announced during a local government’s retreat earlier this year. Then, it was decided that districts should not spend exclusively on specific sports but should rather fund different disciplines.

It was decided that districts that fund football clubs would reduce their contribution by at least 30 per cent to help cater for other sports as well. Instead authorities called on the private sector to move in and cover the gap.

This has prompted some clubs to ask players to take wage cuts while others have opted not to sign new players during the transfer window to cope with the changes.

For instance, Nyamagabe District-sponsored Amagaju FC did not make any new signing, which probably explains why they have only picked four points from their first five league games this season.

While it is unlikely that the likes of APR and Police – also sponsored government entities – will be affected by the new reforms in sports funding, financial instability is certain for topflight league clubs that get a big portion of their annual budgets from their respective districts.

Of the 16 teams that comprise the first division football league, only five are not affiliated to districts, and those are; APR and Marines (both supported by the military), Police FC (supported by the police), AS Kigali (funded by the City of Kigali) as well as Rayon Sports, who have Skol Brewery as their main sponsor.

Nyamirambo-based SC Kiyovu are sponsored by Nyarugenge District, Mukura VS get funding from Huye District, Espoir FC (Rusizi District), Amagaju (Nyamagabe District), Etincelles heavily rely on funding from Rubavu District, and so do Sunrise FC with Nyagatare District.

The rest of league sides are even named after districts where they are based, and their sustainability would be impossible without districts’ funding.

The districts of Gicumbi, Muhanga, Kirehe, Musanze and Bugesera have teams – named after them – in the 2018-19 league season.

During an exclusive interview with Saturday Sportthis week, football pundit and veteran sports journalist, Abdul Jabal Gakuba, said that the budget cuts have already started to affect district-affiliated teams, and it will only get worse if the decision is not overturned.

“Now more than ever, the league will be dominated by the usual top four teams because they have resources and can easily lure the best players from teams with budget constraints. The same teams will win trophies, not necessarily because they have better football but rather because they are much stronger financially,” said Gakuba.

He further pointed out that players of league teams such as Bugesera FC used to live and feed together but that has changed and it is affecting the planning and teamwork spirit, which will in the long-run have a negative impact on the level of their performance and the quality of the league at large.

According to Gonzague Muganwa, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Journalists Association, the Ministry of Local Government (Minaloc) should not decide for districts how much they should give to teams as long as it’s part of their annual budgets. He argues that sports unite people than anything else.

However, he also suggests that football clubs should find ways of generating revenues rather than waiting for government funding.

“The league could also be autonomous of Ferwafa, the same way English Premier League operates as a different entity from England’s football association. Surely, it would take time but that is where we should aspire to be – to have a professional league,” he said.

US-based Nigerian marketing consultant Idy Uyoe who was in Kigali last month to facilitate a sports marketing workshop with all local sporting bodies, warned that federations and teams relying on government funding is old-fashioned.

He told this publication that, “It is urgent and very important that sports in Africa embrace win-win partnerships with the private companies and multinationals.”