A call to action against the persistent threat of match manipulation

KCCA and SC Villa are locked in the battle for the 2022/23 StarTimes Uganda Premier League title | Photo Credit: Courtesy

OPNION A call to action against the persistent threat of match manipulation

Shafic Kiyaga 11:44 - 23.04.2023

Ugandan football in particular, has a chequered past with deliberate underperformance. And the conditions in which such incidents took place, visa vie current indicators raise concerns about the possibility of reoccurrence.

FIFA underscores the crucial role of integrity in maintaining football as an entertaining, fair, and accessible sport.

The international football governing body maintains in its guidelines that all matches must be protected from manipulation, especially given the past history of corruption scandals in football.

Ugandan football in particular, has a chequered past with deliberate underperformance. And the conditions in which such incidents took place, visa vie current indicators raise concerns about the possibility of reoccurrence.

Uganda’s football's governing body, FUFA, asserts that they are proactive in addressing all forms of manipulation and unlawful influencing of football matches or competitions, adopting an effective approach in dealing with such issues.

"The global game is under attack. We are all at risk. Uganda is exposed to the same threat as everywhere,” FUFA President Moses Magogo told a press conference in March as FUFA launched the ‘Kick it Out campaign’.

“We have seen instances in our local games, so we need to come up and fight this cancer. Everyone should join this fight against the growing vice of match-fixing.”

It is undoubtedly advantageous for players, coaches, and fans to hold on to the belief that exceptional performances where incomparable ability singlehandedly influence the outcome of a game, are indeed authentic.

However, it raises a thought-provoking question: what about the instances where matches are decided by underhand tactics and selfish pride in order to achieve alternative goals?

Match fixing may be the term applied in general, and indeed, financial incentives have been identified as one of the leading motives behind match manipulation in football but in Uganda, it manifests itself in a different way.

There is a proven background of players, coaches and officials deliberately orienting individual or group performances during a game to fulfill the outcome of a gambling bet.

The connection between match manipulation and financial incentives has often been more intricate than merely fulfilling a betting prediction.

In a society like Uganda, where the stakes in terms of gains for winning a title are way less than world standards, then results are affected for completely ridiculous reasons more often individual centered and driven.

Ugandan football's most infamous scandal that involved SC Villa and Akol FC in 2003 is attributed solely to motvies driven by pride, gratification, self worth and contentment.

Since then, there have been instances where the outcome of a club's season has been deemed so crucial that human intervention has taken precedence over integrity.

Former KCCA FC head coach Mike Mutebi made a 'reasonably mad' allegation in 2018 that league titles for the past 20 years until then, had been fixed. Obviously heads were turned, but it is the same statement he carried to a commission of inquiry set up by FUFA.

And haven't we been treated to glaring examples of football authority attempting to either win a title or save a club. And no club has clean hands because at a certain point they have all been carried, although some more than the others.

KCCA chairman Martin Ssekajja also recently cried that 'the club's season had been affected more by factors beyond the pitch than their own lethargy on it' under former coach Morley Byekwaso.

That was a statement that carried more political meaning than the subtle defence aimed at protecting his faltering boys. Because the club has not been entirely in the good books of the footballing power recently.

All that stems from a recent political decision to back their former board member and MP for Makindye East Hon. Allan Ssewanyana to run for the top football seat.

The repurcussions have been plain to see, because we all remember that 'dark day' for the club where they were made to replay a game that should never have been replayed against Onduparaka and how much the result - no disrespect to Vipers' brilliance - shifted momentum in the title race.

I was shocked when in 2017, a respected football official told me that a top flight club would 'definetly win the title' if they could maintain top spot going into the final 10 games. That plot was foiled as the club bottled the run in.

All you need to have sympathy with the man in the driving seat, and your almost sure to receive a bounty of favours. And it does not stop at the top level. The lower divisions are even worse.

The Uganda Premier League is entering its most exciting period, with every game carrying huge bearings at either end of the league table.

In the chase for the title, defending champions Vipers, KCCA and SC Villa who despite being the record champions of the league are the elephants on top of the tree. On the other end, five clubs are involved in the hunt for survival.

The situation is shaping to be a box office advert for the league. There is drama expected everywhere and with every match day, but as the stakes get higher, how much sporting success will prevail, when all is said and done?

One of Uganda's most respected referee recently admitted in a private conversation with me that it is at this stage of the season where every appointment comes 'with an order'.

He had these damning words to say about the situation: “It seems an accepted norm in football that people know that we work under orders but no one will deal the matter.”

Despite the lack of a clear halo on their own part, Ugandan football's custodians ought to play thier part to protect the game especially with its reputation now being built back from the Arrow Boys ruins. Though, whether and how this will happen remains to be seen.