Women’s football in Uganda has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 90s. From not being played in many schools to filling up facilities with passionate fans, the women’s game has seen a remarkable growth in popularity and recognition. While it’s been a collective effort, there are certain individuals who have gone the extra mile in developing women’s football to what it is today. Guinness in conjunction with FUFA will be celebrating people bridging the gender gap in the beautiful game at the Women In Football Bonanza on November 29. We cast the spotlight on the men who have revolutionalised women’s football in the country.
Paul Ssali is regarded as the co-founder of women’s football in Uganda and he played a crucial role in popularising the game. He was one of the first coaches of Kampala Women’s Football Club which was founded in the 90s and owned by the Late ‘Maama’ Becca Kazibwe, a diehard Express FC fan. Later other clubs emerged from Entebbe, Jinja, Mbale, Buikwe, Mbarara and other areas.
In 1997, women’s football clubs started to play against each other in friendly matches and this led to the formation of the first ever women’s national football team in 1998, with Ssali being named head coach. His first duty was preparing the team for a continental qualifier against Egypt. The first leg was played in Alexandria and ended in a 1-1 stalemate. Uganda’s scorer was Jane Nandukye. Uganda though was eliminated after losing the return game 1-0 at Nakivubo Stadium. After that match, women’s football grew in stature across the country. Owners of teams got more serious about supporting women’s football and suggested the start of a women’s league.
In the early 2000s, the famous Kampala United Women’s team was formed and led by Ssali. Between 2002 and 2004, Kampala United played against different men’s teams as there were not many women’s teams. The team became defunct in 2009 but its impact remained.
Ssali, also former Uganda Cranes goalkeeper currently serves as a FUFA delegate but remains very passionate about women’s football.
Just like Ssali, Chris Kalibala is regarded as one of the co-founders of women’s football in the country. In the 90s, Kalibala helped promote women’s football in Western Uganda at administrative level. His impact was later felt in the Central as well as Eastern Uganda thanks to his collaboration with Ssali.
Kalibala who has been in the federation executive (FUFA) since 1991 organised the first ever women’s football symposium in Bushenyi in 1995. After the symposium, exhibition games for women were held and were graced by emerging clubs and schools.
In 1999, he founded Western United FC and it was one of the pioneer clubs to play in the Elite League and was the only upcountry outfit in the division then. The side did well and finished fourth in the division, though it got relegated after three seasons. The players would later secure football scholarships at universities as well as landing deals outside the country.
Western United has produced lots of players who currently feature for the senior national team while others are serving the game under various capacities. Some of the exceptional players who hailed from the club include; Fiona Asiimwe, Ritah Nabosa, Adrien Birungi, Annet Nakiriga, Joan Ainembabazi, Norah Alupo, Halimah Katushabe among others.
Kalibala still serves as club Chairman and continues to inspire many girls to play the game. He is also currently serving as Vice Chairman of FUFA Women’s Football standing committee.
Ayub Khalifa Kiyingi is a serial winner and a revered personality in the women’s football circles. The Kawempe Muslim SS and the women’s national U-20 team coach has trained so many girls at school level, with many of them reaching the national team.
Ayub started engaging in women’s football when he joined Kawempe Muslim in 1999. He started with a very small but talented and passionate group. When numbers grew, a girls’ team for the school was formed albeit with resistance from some administrators for the school is Muslim-founded with strict religious principles.
Later, some girls started getting admitted to universities on government scholarships after adding the four points that were given out through the sports’ bonus points scheme. Kawempe Muslim would later become one of the top schools with girls being admitted to universities, something that changed mindsets of those who were opposed to women’s football at the establishment as well as encouraging more girls to join the school and play football.
Ayub has also since seen the school emerge as record winners of the secondary schools girls’ championship with the side also excelling at the local leagues and other engagements in the region.
Some of the girls that were mentored by Ayub at Kawempe Muslim include; Shamim Nakacwa, Sandra Nabweeteme, Hasifa Nasssuna, Juliet Nalukenge, Ruth Aturo, Tracy Jones Akiror among others.
With the junior women’s team, Ayub bagged an U-17 COSAFA gold medal in his debut month in September 2019. He also almost guided the team (U-17) to the World Cup but COVID broke out with the side yet to play a final qualifying match.
Ayub currently doubles as coach of the women’s U-20 national team where he is doing a good job.
These men, among others, have played a crucial role in shaping women’s football to what it is today. Their impact on the sport will be felt for years to come, as they continue to fight for gender equality and inspire young players to pursue their dreams.
Women in Football Bonanza
These men will be recognised at the Women in Football Bonanza that is slated for Wednesday November 29 at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel. The event which is powered by Guinness aims to shine a light on women’s football in the country. Exceptional female footballers, coaches, referees, and the women championing the cause of women’s football in the country will also be recognised at the function.
“Guinness and football are the perfect match, hence this unique partnership with FUFA comes as no surprise as it underscores our commitment to the sport. However, it’s more than that. This partnership also aligns perfectly with our Black shines Brightest Campaign. The campaign is an initiative that was designed to foster collaborations and shine a spotlight on remarkable talent in the sports and creative space. We have been doing a lot of work in the creative space with our Guinness Bright House platform and this partnership is just a continuation of that,” Head of Beer at Uganda Breweries Limited, Matilda Babuleka said.
“It is also important to note that inclusivity is a core value for our brand, and this event provides a unique platform to showcase our unwavering commitment to this principle. We are thrilled to celebrate women who defy expectations and excel in what is generally perceived as a male sport,” she added.
The symposium will include a dialogue on the state of women’s football, addressing crucial aspects such as finance and savings for female athletes.