The 7th season of the Airtel Rising Stars U-17 Football programme will kick off in mid-June 2018 with the district qualifiers across the country.
For the next three months, this boys and girls’ championship will then spread wings from the districts, regionals and finally the national grand finals at a venue that will be confirmed in the short course.
Airtel Uganda’s Brand Strategy manager Noella Byuma in an exclusive interview with Airtel Uganda Football talks about the back ground, success story, current situation, challenge and the future of this programme.
Q: Welcome madam. Tell us about yourself and the ARS U-17 programme in Uganda.
A: Greetings everyone. I am Noella Byuma, the Brand Strategy manager at Airtel Uganda Limited. About the Airtel Rising Stars. This is a youthful U-17 boys and girls football programme that started in July 2011. It is only played by young boys and girls between the ages of 13 to 17 years.
Q: How has the journey for ARS been in Uganda?
A: It has been a smooth journey for the Airtel Rising Stars from the first edition which was held in 2011 up to date. Throughout the seasons, a lot of talents have been discovered through this expansive football development programe.
Q: Who are some of the football products that this programme has produced?
A: A lot. There are very many young boys and girls that the ARS has produced in Uganda. A good number of players have progressed from the ARS programme like Farouk Miya, Muhammed Shaban who played at the 2017 AFCON finals in Gabon. Others are Allan Okello, Faizo Ssekyanzi, Kezironi Kizito, Martin Kizza, Pius Obuya, Bashir Asiku, Joshua Okiror, Fazila Ikwaput and many more others.
Q: Who are your main partners?
A: At the moment, we have only one partner and that is Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA). FUFA has been so crucial in the provision of the technical support with officials right from the District Football Associations to the national level, referees as well as scouts.
Q: What is the current situation and what future do you project with the ARS in Uganda?
A: We are excited that season 7 is kicking off soon after a year of lapse when the domestic calendar was congested.
Preparations have been done and we are soon launching before the district qualifiers kick off. Then, we shall have the regional qualifiers in each of the eight FUFA regions (North, East, West, West Nile, Buganda, Kampala, North East and Kitara) before the grand finals. The future of ARS is bright and we can not wait for the 10th year mark. We want to be consistent, improve and grow as the editions multiply.
Q: What prizes do winning individuals and teams get?
A: There are jerseys that that given to finalists at the regional qualifiers. We offer balls, nets, medals, certificates and cash. For regional winners, each pockets Shs 1M for boys and girls teams each and the runners up get Shs 500,000. At the nationals, winners get Shs 5M and runners up each gets Shs 3M.
Q: What challenges have you encountered?
A: Not so many but of course like all projects, there are pitfalls and a few challenges here and there. The age cheating vice is fastly reducing. Obviously as Airtel Uganda, we provide all the players selected at the regions with money to cross check with the MRI tests and this is one way we are tackling the problem.
Q: What is next for the exceling players at the ARS?
A: The ARS has provided a rich plat form to expose young talented players. From here, scouts do a great deal of work to identify such players and recommend them to schools, training camps and for clubs in the Uganda Premier League, FUFA Big league clubs as well as the national underage teams.
From such teams, they will graduate to the National teams. A good case in point are two KCCA players Muhammed Shaban and Allan Okello. These two players played at the ARS and they also played for the Uganda U-17 national team. At the moment, they are playing for the Uganda U-20 team (The Hippos) and will soon graduate the senior national team, Uganda Cranes.
Q: Any last words
A: I take this opportunity to thank Airtel Uganda Limited for the initiative of the Airtel Rising Stars U-17 football programme. The fruits are vividly seen. I also appreciate FUFA as the main partners, parents of the children, teams, schools, regional DFA’s, the media and the general public for the support accorded to this programme.
We can not wait to see this programme grow bigger and better. I know as you grow bigger, the expectations also widen. We are eager to make the ARS an enviable football programme in Uganda and across the boarders.