Futsal is the newest sport in the country, or at least under the auspices of the domestic football governing body, FUFA. Our reporter caught up with the founder and chairman of the Futsal Association of Uganda (FAU), Hamza Jjunju, a 34-year old trained teacher, to understand the sport, how it started in the country and its future prospects.
First things first, what is Futsal?
Futsal is a five-aside football-like type of game mainly played indoors on a hard court using a low-bounce ball called a futsal ball. The futsal court is relatively smaller with a width of about 25 meters by 45 metres.
How did Futsal begin in Uganda?
Futsal began in 2015. I got the idea of the game while attending a FIFA Beach Soccer course in Entebbe; the idea was brought to the table by our then instructor Talib Hilal, from Oman. That was in December 2014. Talib opened up my mind Jjunju Hamzah towards the opportunities Futsal would give Ugandans and I took it up and joined hands with Patrick Lugemwa, Richard Nandigobe Semanda and Pius Serugo to start the initiative. The first ever competition was the University Challenge that was organized by FAU at Lugogo Arena on 18th March 2015.
Since then, the game has been played through a number of competitions like Futsal Corporate gala 2015 and 2016, Futsal Mini League 2016, and Futsal Super league 2017 to date, Futsal Uganda Cup 2017-date and the Futsal Super Cup 2017 to date.
How far has the sport come in Uganda compared to other giants in Africa and where do you see it going in the mid and long-terms?
Futsal has grown much in Northern and Southern Africa, you could see that with the recent Futsal AFCON that were played in February. In East and Central, Zambia is still on top. Uganda has made strides by starting a league and cup competition and we are now full affiliates of the federation (FUFA) just after four years of existence. We are now looking at a holistic development especially by building the capacity of our members like the referees, coaches and administrators. In a short time, we have been able to groom two FIFA referees –Destiny Nsubuga and Emmanuel Ssenyondo. We expect to produce more.
Our administrators have undergone FUFA training and on addition, through our partnership with Uganda Olympic Committee, about 23 club officials have gone through the IOC sports certificate and diploma courses.
What steps did you go through to become full members of FUFA?
After starting our activities in 2015, the next step was to introduce ourselves to the federation. They gave us guidelines to follow in order to become a member. One of them was that we had to organize competitions running and file reports. So, since we had started the competitions, we continued submitting reports. We officially applied to be members in 2016 and in 2017, the FUFA AGM, sitting in Luweero, granted us partial rights to become associate members. When an Associate member, you are under monitoring and supervision as you continue to submit formal reports. Our main game plan was to create awareness by making the society and federation understand what we were doing. We did that a lot through the media and social media. In 2018, FUFA assessed us and made the decision to pass our association last year. But the main trick was the awareness, even the decision makers had fully understood the game through our awareness.
What are the benefits of being a full member of FUFA?
The major benefits are two: One, is that we are part of the budgeting process; we can now forward budget proposals for considerations. FUFA allocated about shs. 28 million though there are restrictions on how you receive the money. We can also ask for additional budget for development. Two, we are assured of representation in the assembly which is the football parliament and have a say in decision-making.
What are the major challenges FAU has faced so far?
There are two major challenges: Equipment and facilities. We don’t have equipment in the country in fact, being a young sport, we just import our balls from out because the balls we use are a bit different from the ones used in 11-aside. We also looking at importing a digitalized standardised clocks like the ones used in basketball. We don’t have facilities but we are in discussion with FUFA and Uganda Olympic committee to see how we can get funds or sponsors to invest and build Futsal-specific facilities in Uganda.
FUFA president Eng. Moses Magogo also doubles as a CAF ExCo and chairman of Futsal and Beach Soccer on the continent, do you engage him?
We always share reports with him as he guides as in line with what CAF is doing. AT the moment, he wants the country to be set for the continental games – AFCON 2024. We discuss a lot on what we need to do so that Uganda can be able to match the continental giants and improve its positioning on the continent and worldwide. we are privileged to have him as the head of the Futsal committee on the continent because he is able to guide us on the new trends of development and also give us more time to discuss and implement.
How do you finance the league and Cup?
At the moment we don’t have main sponsors though, we are searching. So, that means clubs pay to play in the league. FUFA supports us a lot by paying the referees’ allowances and also look for short-term partners. But now that we are members and have a budget, some of that will go into the league and some to develop the FAU secretariat.
There is only one league in your competition structure, how does it run in terms of admission and demotion?
This is still a growing league in a new sport. So, we have been admitting teams and maintaining the teams as we put parameters that ensure the clubs build their structural arms like administration. We are concentrating more on developing the ones we have and create good club brands that tick all the boxes of Club Licensing. From there, we are moving into regions to create lower leagues that will act as feeders for the Super League and that is when we shall start demotion and promotion in a systematic format.
FAU seems to be concentrating their activities in the Central region, do you have plans to spread countrywide?
Yes we do. I have also stated that we are now fully affiliated to FUFA as members; that means that Futsal has to be a national sport – played in every part of the country just like the 11-aside game. We want to take the game to the eight FUFA regions. We are developing a working plan to share with all the FUFA regions so that they put Futsal as part of their activities. This is not immediate because we have set this year for planning and if the regions fully comply, we can start next season and go ahead to also create a big league – Futsal version of 11-aside’s second division.
Another strategy is to start with the schools from primary and secondary schools to the Universities. We also have to make sure that both genders –male and female- take part in the competitions.
FAU currently depends a lot on Soccer 11-aside coaching, isn’t this a setback in your quest for professionalism?
At the moment we are majorly dependant on them because we have not yet received any FIFA coaching course. So, what we are doing is encourage coaches with a minimum of CAF C to come and then give them the literature and visuals which we received from UEFA. There is a plan in place to request for Futsal coaching courses from FIFA now that we are full members of FUFA. These are the very coaches that we shall be recommend to undertake the FIFA course when it comes. Some will later become Futsal coaches and others, coaching instructors.
What motivates one to play Futsal?
There are many. Our major objective is to build stronger local clubs that can be able to employ these players, an effort that is already paying because most teams are now paying the players and staff. Isn’t that what motivates players? (Smiles). Two, some of the players want to use Futsal as a platform to join the 11-aside clubs which are already established. We have seen some go through that route like of recent Samuel Kato (KCCA), Jamil Kaliisa (B. Stars), Sadiq Sekyemba, Enoch Sebagala and Avemah Shafiq (All Express).
We are also targeting AFCON 2024 so that some of the players can exhibit their talents and maybe, who knows, they might earn contracts with top African sides especially in North Africa and in Europe like in Italy.
Where do you see Futsal in Uganda in the near future?
Like I have explained, we are doing everything to see that we fast-track our plans and make the sport one of the most loved in the country. To achieve that we must move faster to professionalize the game by following the guidelines set by FIFA, CAF and FUFA. So, I see a very professional league that will employ a lot of youths both on and off the pitch. If everything goes as planned, I see the national team as a regular at international tournaments and therefore contributing in Uganda being the number one footballing (Futsal inclusive) in Africa on and off the pitch.