When Uganda passed on the opportunity to partner with Arsenal

In 2019, Uganda and FUFA signed a one-year partnership with the Uganda Tourism Board in a move geared towards promoting tourism in the country | Photo Credit: FUFA Media

FOOTBALL When Uganda passed on the opportunity to partner with Arsenal

Shafic Kiyaga 13:35 - 29.08.2023

In 2017, Eden Sports Group, a UK-based sports marketing group with the full backing of Arsenal FC, presented a lucrative pitch to various branches of the Ugandan government.

On Sunday, Bayern Munich agreed a new five-year partnership with Visit Rwanda.

It was the third significant partnership that the Amavubi nation has struck with top European sports clubs, from three of the world’s leading economies.

The partnership with Bayern joins the already existing partnerships with Paris St. Germain and English Premier league giants Arsenal.

The move leaves neighbours across the Katuna border admiring the potential benefits that Rwanda will reap from the partnership.

Which will see the Bundesliga club work with Rwanda’s ministry of sports to set up a football academy and strengthen the development of football in the country.

As part of the deal, Bayern will display ‘Visit Rwanda’ branding on the LED boards during matchdays at the Allianz Arena. Different activities will also be organized to promote tourism and investment opportunities in the country.

Now Ugandans will be shocked to learn that before the neighbouring country signed with Arsenal, Uganda was given the opportunity to ink the deal, but government officials let that opportunity pass.

A deal that could have potentially shaped the future of Ugandan football and tourism fell through, and the benefits are now being reaped by the neighbouring country of Rwanda.

In 2017, Eden Sports Group, a UK-based sports marketing group with the full backing of Arsenal FC, presented a lucrative pitch to various branches of the Ugandan government.

“It was only natural that Eden Sport Group thought they’d sell the Arsenal Partnership to Uganda,” said an official from the Uganda Tourism Board involved in the pitch.

Uganda's strong footballing culture and significant Arsenal fanbase made it an obvious candidate for what was branded as ‘a partnership to be proud of’.

Pulse Sports has been told the Ugandan team was convinced and the National Council of Sports was begged not to take this opportunity lightly as the returns would be massive and far-reaching.

However, what seemed like a mutually beneficial deal ended up being a story of unfulfilled promises.

“The government officials listened attentively, asked all the right questions, and we even agreed on timelines.”

“Everyone we met promised to consult and revert, but no one got back to us. It was like our ideas were all lost at sea," said a source involved in the negotiations.

The repercussions of Uganda's indecisiveness became palpable when Arsenal chose to form a partnership with Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in 2018.

The deal, worth an initial £30 million over three years, was renewed recently for a staggering £40 million, lasting until 2025.

This increase supports the growth of Rwanda’s economy, creating more revenue they can reinvest across all key sectors, and empowering citizens.

Rwanda saw a 17% increase in tourism revenue and a 22% boost in European tourists just a year after the partnership was formalized.

By 2019, these numbers rose to a 30% year-on-year increase in visitors from Europe and an 18% increase from the UK.

What Uganda Missed

Had the Ugandan authorities acted on the opportunity, they would have enjoyed a range of benefits.

The partnership offered football development opportunities, including three coaching camps each season led by Arsenal legends like Freddie Ljungberg and Nwankwo Kanu.

It also promised women’s coaching clinics and up to 30 instructional videos each season to bolster local talent.

Moreover, a youth match would have been organized between Arsenal’s Youth XI and Uganda’s Youth XI, filmed professionally for Uganda’s digital platforms.

Also, training opportunities in the UK for Ugandan players and coaches would have been facilitated by Arsenal’s top coaches.

Instead, after missing out on the partnership with Rwanda, the Uganda Tourism Board turned to FUFA to ride on the fame of the Uganda Cranes brand.

A year long renewable partnership was officially unveiled to the public between the two parties at the FUFA House on 20th June 2019 in Kampala, however, there has been little tangible returns from that partnership.

While Uganda can only ponder on the missed opportunity, the details of this untaken partnership serve as a lesson in seizing opportunities that could have far-reaching implications for the country's development and international standing.

The magnitude of what was lost here is not just in millions of dollars but in the possibility of fundamentally uplifting Ugandan football and its tourism sector.

As Rwanda basks in the success of its foresight, one can only wonder what might have been for Uganda.