Innocent Kihika & Cedric Babu on Sports Management.

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to Innocent Kihika (IK) & Cedric Babu (CB) on Sports Management.

RK: Welcome everybody who has joined us for this session. Many of us love sports. We remember the day Kiprotich won. Where we were when Cheptegei won? But is it that we never seem to get the management side right?

Ladies and gentlemen let me introduce Innocent Kihika who was once a president of the Uganda Golf Union under whose tenure, we won some trophies. Inno, you are welcome.

IK:  Thank you Robert.

RK: I didn’t know you had a sports thing. I knew you as a singer not as a sportsman. At what point did you get interested in sports?

IK: My interest in sports was totally accidental. I do remember when we were at university, we were called upon to participate as stewards and other positions in martials. At that time, the team was mainly run by the Kihugurus.

We qualified to host a WRC event in Uganda but the only thing is that they needed 3000 hotel rooms at that time and we had none. That was my first stint in doing something in regards to sports administration and management.

Previously in high school I wasn’t doing much sports but I was a referee for volley ball and I was very good at that. Likely, I will tell in this discussion, sports is divided into different aspects, coaching and refereeing being one of them.

After we finished campus the most we did was to go for parties, drink, watch football on TV as we supported our dear teams and that was it. In between, as you may recall, we were a very big team of people who were from university into work. People started getting married. We started setting calendars for their weddings and started getting ourselves organised we knew how to get around the fundraising. We knew how to deal with the uncles and the aunties. The rich godparents and the guardians and all that. But in between there, one of my friends who was the Country Manager from British Airways in Uganda, George Mawadri, started playing golf. He invited me over to a place called Namulonge to start playing golf.

RK: We know Namulonge to be a research station

IK: Yes, within that agricultural research station, there is a golf course. I would sneak away on Thursdays and go and hit balls. I would go back on Saturday and do the same. I played something similar to golf but it wasn’t golf. From there, we shifted. We went to the Uganda Golf Club, which was the mecca of golf in Uganda. We looked like villagers coming from a field with dirty boots.

RK: I can imagine, coming from Namulonge!

IK: Yes, and we were traumatised by that. We were intimidated by the place. The welcome was not so good, so we went to Entebbe to try it out. And while we were there, we bumped into Dr Kihumuro Apuuli who was the chairman of the Uganda AIDS Commission at the time. He told us the club was dying and he needed young people to join it. He gave us the forms and asked us to pay immediately.

In joining Entebbe Club, we realised there was a void there. It was filled by an older generation then, mainly working in the civil service. There were no younger people there.  Within three months of joining the club, I was voted in as the house member- generally to take care of activities. That’s where it started from. And we started the recruitment of members. We stated with our friends. one of them was very stubborn to join. One day he went to our kafunda where we used to meet and he was alone. “Where’s everybody?” he asked. He eventually came and joined the game and became the president of the union before me.

RK: Now you have revealed him. what did you do as a House Member?

IK: Entebbe has golf, basketball, tennis and cricket. We had to revive all those sports to make the club sustainable. And we realised there was no financing for that. we had to go looking for financing for that. people would say, ‘we only know one club in Uganda.’ ‘There are no people there.’

One of the people that came on to support was British Airways and that was because of the country manager was as friend and he had started playing golf as well. with that sponsorship, we were able to do renovations in the club. That was the beginning. from that point other companies like MTN followed British Airways.

Eventually, I rose through the ranks and became chairman of the club but we still needed to grow the sponsorship. We had other sponsors like Kwame Ejalu. But we still needed a big push. I was dealing with financial analysts, marketing guys, managing directors. We sought out Nile Breweries who were doing a lot of sponsorship at Jinja Club. It took long before the break could come through.

The MD told me they had had issues with the Jazz Safari, they needed somebody who was very strict. They needed like lead bouncers who would control tickets from being stolen. People coming in with fake tickets and all that, he asked, “Innocent, can you do it?” I said yes.

He talked to Daniel Ogeng who was head of marketing then. “You mean Innocent can do that work?” he laughed it off. I walked to the Serena Hotel, went through the security brief and I was introduced as the lead bouncer and I was given my big tag, SECURITY. I remember Silk Events was the one doing sound on the stage. I remember Elvis coming in without a tag and I bounced him. To cut the long story short, it was as a successful night. I had done my job very well.

A few days later, I was called and asked how much I could be paid. To their surprise, all asked was sponsorship to my club and that is how the Entebbe Open was sponsored by Nile Breweries for the first time. They didn’t realise that they were going to pay much more than what they wanted to pay me from that event. That is how I managed to get a sponsor.

RK: All this was before you became president of the union?

IK: Yes

RK: What else did you do to raise sponsorship for Entebbe Club?

IK:  We had to create attention and awareness of the place for the name to sound. I can’t look for a sponsor when you have nothing. You’ve got to have something to offer. What we did was to make sure that we were in the papers as many times as possible. The events that were happening were always published as much as possible. I kind of went into journalism also. Every time there was an event, I would write the articles and send them to the journalists. Every month we had a magazine that we put out.

RK: You went behind my back and recruited my sorts journalists.

IK: That was before. As I got busier, I recruited journalists. As social media improved the times, we had a forum for journalists where we would give them all the information they needed. The moment you want to look good before the sponsor, the journalists are your best friends. We conned the media without the media heads knowing.

RK: I knew it. I just forgave you.

IK: The moment you make yourself known, it becomes easier to talk to the sponsors.

RK: But Inno, is there any brand bigger than the Cranes? How come their sponsorship wasn’t able to be put to good use as you guys did?

IK: Now that you mention football, there is one thing I need to mention; you cannot outcompete football. Football is the most popular game in the world. Even when I was at the union, I had to make sure I knew what was on the football   calendar. If Uganda Cranes was playing on a weekend, don’t bother putting your event too because you won’t make it to the back page. The back page I sports is equivalent to the front page.

 If Arsenal was playing Man U at a particular time, you had to make sure that you fixed yourself somewhere else. You have to be the star of the moment. You don’t want to be the ‘mperekeze’.

Because if you are the bridesmaids, you won’t get any sponsorship. Unless you put in that effort, you won’t get the attention. It is easier for football to get government’s attention than it is for any other sports.

RK: Could you tell us about the time you took the teams of the youngsters to South Africa and win awards

IK: For golf, many of the people who grow around golf courses end up playing golf. There is a perception that golf is for rich people, that is not true. All these young kids that you see hanging around golf courses whether in Mbarara, Fort Portal, Soroti or Arua, or Jinja or Lugazi, they hang around, imitate the way you play and end up playing.

And it’s not only for golf but all sport facilities, whether its tennis or rugby, the kids who hang around these facilities are one that end up going to represent our country. That’s how it was in golf. We would organise qualifiers during holidays. I remember telling one of the managers that we can get to the world cup.

Fortunately for me, in my first year as the union president, the junior team qualified to go for the world cup. That’s when the South Africans realised that we had talent. Under one of my predecessors’’ regime we became champions because we beat South Africa. At that time people argued we beat South Africa because the event was held in Uganda but during my tenure, we won regional competitions outside Uganda.

RK: What do you think put you in position to organise a team and put you in this kind of victory? What were the factors that enabled you to do that?

IK: One of the main factors was the funding. We would make sure we fund. For a sport like golf, it is not so much about the sponsorship. The golf sponsors are not so much interested in the national team. They are more interested in the other golfers. We had to put in money. Many at times, it was our own money to get these people through.

Two, we had to put in the time for them to train. For example, when they were going to play Mauritius or Tunisia, what we decided to do was to take them a week or two earlier so that they acclimatise themselves with the situation out there.

Many at times the people we were taking out were leaving Uganda for the first time or they had never been on a plane. They did not now about jetlag. All that had to be handled.

Another thing was team building. When you make the team feel that it is loved, it is cared for. These superstars are stars and babies at the same time. and this happens in all the sports tennis or volleyball. Any sport. They have to feel cared for. Let them know their allowances are ready. At times like if you have gone to a different country, you take them around. you make them feel happy. Take them out for dinner. As an administrator, there are things you take for granted. You say let’s go and eat Chinese food and like three quarters of the team have never eaten Chinese food in their lives. That bonding actually helps. It gives them a feel-good factor. And then there’s another thing, the moment they win a trophy, the first question that ask you, “shall we go to State House?”

It is always a moment of glory to the country and they always want to present the trophy to the President.

RK: Let me bring Cedric Babu (CB). For those who may not know Cedric, he has had a stellar sports career. He is a tens great and he is very passionate about his sport and at one point I remember he even had a spots management company called Kinetic. He lit up our Friday nights with the Friday Night Lights.

Cedric, the big issue which brought us to this subject is that scandal of the Basketball team, how does that make you feel?

Cedric Babu

CB: Well, you know, I have been in sports long enough to know that feelings do not have much to do with the reality of sports. It is so unfortunate that that happened to Silverbacks. Unfortunate for them, covid hit. they just run out of room. government is very complex in terms of how supplementary budgets are allocated. Unfrtunalty for them, they qualified at a time when there were limited resources. They have been playing catch-up since they qualified. That is the situation they are in.

RK: You were very successful at the tennis federation, you were successful as a tennis player yourself, your successful sports manager with kinetic. What did you do right that you would recommend to people in other sports but also life principles and how to get results.

CB: First of all, when you become an administrator, people need to understand, it becomes a really different ballgame from being an athlete. The only thing that you carry with you is your passion in terms of wanting to get things done.

You talked about the Friday Night Lights, I worked with a guy called Thomas Ocamuringa who had an idea. We put some bells and whistles on it. It was a concept of fun and engagement. We wanted a platform on which corporates would meet to have fun on a Friday night. at the same time, Kampala Sun was also launching and Castle light. A lot of people did not understand what we were trying to do. It was only 2or 3 years down the line that people began to understand that this thing was big.

The first two years we struggled. We used to have a budget of UGX 15M from every night. you have to sacrifice. It is an investment. With time it become the biggest sports even in the country.

It is the same thing with the federation. You’ve get to understand the sport you’re getting into. it is one thing liking a sport and another being involved in its administration. A lot of people do not understand it. people need to understand how the eco system works or else you are going to be left out. you must an exit structure and a strategic plan of running federation. This is my second last year at the federation.

When I came in 2015, we had many problems. We had not paid our subscription of USD 5,000 a year for the last 7 years. ii had to find out what this subscription was. Then I had find a way of paying it off. Since 2006, we had been suspending from the international tennis federation.

Secondly, we had to develop a team. Everyone wants to see a Cheptegei but you’ve got to identify him. you have to work with the grassroots. You have to be very deliberate about the kind of athletes you pick and their support systems and how they can become great. It is a combination of many things. I was there as a player, I had a perspective then. Then I was there in between with kinetic. Kinetic is a sports management company that is profit making. That is what it has to do. Unfortunately, with covid, we haven’t had much to do in the last 18 months.

RK: I wanted to stay with on Kinetic, one of the things that managers can do is to be creative. I remember, every Friday night you would bring a prominent figure to play basketball. This creativity some media buzz. How important is creativity?

CB: Creativity is a talent. Some people can draw. Some can’t. some people know how to dress and others don’t. But the ultimate component is fun engagement. I asked myself what is the thing that brings people together to watch all the big games? It’s the entertainment. Everybody had a reason for going to Friday Night Lights. Some want to go and drink. Some want to go and see fine looking people. others want the music. Other people it’s a place they can mobilise and be know better. Some people just have FOMO. They don’t know why they are there but they are there anyway. So you had to find a formula that everybody could engage with everybody. You would find fans siting next this favourite basketball player who could be sting next to a politician and the politician would be siting next to his favourite drink. Sport is the ultimate unifier.

How do you engage the fans? Sports is just the platform. The fans just want to have fun. They don’t care whether the ball is orange or oblong like a rugby ball. What they are looking for is a return in involvement as opposed to a return on investment.

RK: Looking at our big sports in this country, the sports you see thriving is because there are private entities involved. Someone told me Australia had a 5-year plan to win the medals at the Olympics. What can we do?

CB: Therein lies the answer. Planning. What Australia did, Britain also did. That’s a deliberate move; we want to win medals. But in terms of Uganda, we have to look at sports as a business. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. What you need to do is to look at it as an industry just like you do that has a return on investment. It is worth investing. Once we have a funding policy, a respectable budget that can allocated to sport by government on which federations and the private sector can invest then we can start taking sports to another level.

RK: Would you say it deserves a standalone ministry?

CB: I think it does. The trend of global sports, yes it does. You need the good will of the people and government to fund the agenda. A stand lone ministry would do very well especially with a minister who understands sports, the economics, and the return on investments we are trying to achieve.

Comrade Otoa: Are we prepared enough to take sports to the next level?

RK: What are management organisations supposed to do exactly?

CB: They say preparation meets opportunity. If you look at all teams, we are really far in terms of how we prepare our athletes. And it’s been left to the global management companies. We have to start preparing our athletes to move forward. It can’t be the federations. They don’t have the resources. They exist on resources given to them by the National Council of Sports which also receives money from the Ministry.

What we see today of Joshua Cheptegei going around fundraising shouldn’t be happening. His marketing manager should be doing that. That’s something that needs to be done.

Robert, the National Council of Sports is mandated to do that. as a country we don’t have invent anything new. We just need to find a niche and concentrate on that. Ministry might be cumbersome. The trajectory of Jamaica was to concentrate on short sprints. Australia built the Institute of sports which created multiple institutes in our case, that would be in the districts. In effect, that would be like the UCC or NITA of sports.  This body would then work with the private sector, the infrastructure sector, the stadia owners and other sports investors to try and create this eco system of sports.

Private companies should come in to manage the athletes. Your job is to come in and amplify the brand of the sportsperson. Sports, like digital media is ever evolving. It is a conversation that needs to be going. So if you sit in one place, the world will leave you by. We have talent but talent on its own is not enough. Our boxers used to win on talent, today they are losing because of poor feeding.

RK: Innocent, how huge a task is the work that needs to be done to sort out the issue of logistics.

IK: When we talk about logistics, I will break into two;

  • The administrative logistics
  • The technical logistics

Administrative logistics. This covers the boardroom politics. When you go for an international meeting, you do not just sit back at the bar or stay in your room or just appear in seminars and keep quiet. You’ve got to be noticed.  They need to know that the Ugandan Innocent has said this, has done this etc. The moment you win the boardroom, you get involved in the decisions that are going to be made and you make sure they are going to be favourable to your country. You have an advantage because you know the weaknesses of your team. Many of these countries win in the boardroom. If there’s an international meeting, don’t go there and sleep.

I will give you an example of Moses Magogo of FUFA, he knew how to get it to an international level. That’s why you see the FIFA president came to Uganda. The moment he came here; Uganda began to get noticed. We began qualifying for championships.

Then you come down to the technical aspects of sports. That is divided into three.

  1. The junior talent
  2. The senior players
  3. The technical teams.

These are responsible for the feeding and all that. For example, when we were in south Africa, we were told we were feeding our teams poorly. We allowed them to feed on sugary drinks which is wrong. Those western teams have every technical person a team needs. The logistics, the equipment, the dressing, the accommodation. All this logistics cannot be handled by the president. The business of appearing two days before play-day.

Last Wednesday I travelled with the Silverbacks on the plane. They were going to connect to Kigali from Nairobi. I wrote a note to the Captain and told him we have the Silver backs on the plane and asked him to do something to cheer them up. Fortunately, the crew passed it on to him. As we were flying the captain announced that we had the national tem on board and everybody clapped. That helps the players.

RK: Can we think of having an engagement with the corporates of Uganda and say instead of having ads after our teams, athletes succeed, can we do an investors conference where can raise money and invest in these sports people who have showed promise, is that something we can do.

CB: I think that is a good idea. I spoke at a sports conference in Doha, Qatar, which does exactly that. Sports administrators come together and speak to the corporate world and do exactly that. We need to have the Sports Committee in Parliament come on board as well. We need the Uganda Investment Authority on board as well. If we can do it like that, the sports industry can take off.

RK: Thanks Cedric for making time. I will let you go off for your next meeting.

CB: Thank you very much for having me.

RK: Innocent, can you take it from there?

IK: During my tenure I never ever looked at getting funds from government due to a couple of things. The conferences you are talking about are something that I actually did. I invited all the sponsors and potential sponsors for a cocktail and then a dinner.

Sports is a big brand. I tell people, I moved golf from the inner pages to the back pages and later on to the front pages. To be able to attract sponsors, you must give them content. The moment you win; you go to the front page because you made the country proud. When you are doing certain things, you don’t just go to a funny hotel. You gather people in a beautiful place and tell them. Many of the corporates in big companies want to be seen giving to these events. It will work.

RK: The aspiring sports persons, what do they need to do?

IK: As federations, we poach from the clubs. Federations are always following how the teams are performing. The coaches are always on the look out to see the new talent on the market. You go out and see this talent and then harness it well.

At times it is the individual who comes to push themselves to say I want to be there but usually you go and hunt for talent.

TMS Ruge: There was a time I wanted to represent Uganda at the Olympics and the authorities at the ministry laughed me out of the room. One of the thigs we need to focus on is national pride. We were talking earlier about not reinventing the wheel. The combination of sports and education already is good. Sports is an extra-curricular activity. Young talents are identified through school. This is how American Football players are chosen, this is how soccer players rise up through the systems. Our athletes are our investment. We need to invest in them.

Dark & Lovely: Sports is focused on winning and that comes with a lot of habits, could Innocent help point out some of those habits. They contribute to the challenges in our sports

OPP: The perception out there is the rot in the system at individual level and at organisational level, there’s a systematic problem that needs to be overhauled.

Peter Magona: Who are the groups of people that the national Anthem is sung for particularly on travels and even locally? I believe sportsmanship to a certain degree should be a government obligation.

IK: Peter is the vice president of the rugby union; it was good hearing from him. On travel as far as sports teams are concerned, it is true, government should step up.

Dark & Lovely talked about winning, for the federation that depends on publicity, bad news is dangerous. The moment you are fighting and it is reported in the papers, that is bad. Winning is everything.

The issue of numbers that OPP was talking about, at Golf, we always went to Ipsos to get the numbers. Those are the numbers we would present to the sponsors. That is what they want to hear and see. And those show you where you end up getting the money from them.

In travelling with national teams, let the federations stick to talent development and the facilities. Let’s stick to the technical details. I remember when our junior team was in Tokyo, Japan, for the Junior World Cup, we had the best uniform despite the fact that we came out at the bottom. It was our first time appearing on such a big level. There is something about Ugandans, when Ugandans go out there, we become crowd favourites. We are loved so easily. I don’t know whether it’s our nature or what. Sports is a brand that can be used to promote the country. That’s why Uganda Tourism Board came to us. They wanted to brand our jerseys with ‘VISIT UGANDA’ and we took on the sponsorship. We were very happy because they were helping us on that.

There is one other thing and this goes out to people managing the federations. Perception. Because I was the president of the Golf Union, I found myself being approached to join certain boards. Two of them I am the chairman and in one I am a director. There is one organisation which approached me form Jersey, USA. They asked me to volunteer. They came because they had read my profile. They though they would help me deal with an issue relating to mental health. Mental health is a big problem in Uganda and we need to talk about it more. but this was about mental health from rural women in Uganda. I didn’t know that rural women were suffering from mental issues. It was because of golf that they got me to be part of this organisation. When you are out there as federation leader, secretary, treasurer, everything you do out there reflects upon you and your well-being and reputation. Once you run a clean sheet, you get the rewards for that.

RK: Inno, I would like to thank you, like Ugandans say, for taking off time your busy schedule. This has been an eye opening conversation. A couple of ideas have come up.

A big thank you to Cedric for the insights and perspectives and all those that called in.

One thought on “Innocent Kihika & Cedric Babu on Sports Management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.