'Project Uganda' is the first of three projects in sub-Saharan Africa activated under 'The KANJU Projects' umbrella - a group of projects focussed on small-scale, high-impact organisations that are already supporting aspirational sportsmen and women from some of the most deprived regions in the world. Harper Performance CIC are working in collaboration with the Football-For-Good Academy in Kampala and Gulu and the Equator Sports Group, also based in Kampala, to build capacity in sports science and medicine across the region, democratise access to performance-science and combat one of the most pronounced instances of inequality in sport.
Africa has a proud history of producing footballing talent and football quickly became one of the few areas where emerging states could aspire to achieve the same prestige as their Western or European counterparts. International competition provided a stage to measure themselves against their former colonisers. As a consequence, football does not only intrigue the continent across all levels of society but it has also become a true political stake.
Despite this heritage, East Africa has been all but shut out of global football, despite a passionate culture for the game, peaceful and emerging economies and an ever-growing population of determined and talented youth footballers. For a multitude of reasons, countries in East Africa have little to offer in regards to local training, competition and club development to retain their players at home, meaning some of the best East African youth are moving to Europe and the Middle East to realise their full sporting potential. This so-called "muscle-drain" impoverishes local leagues of talent and infringes structural development across the region, consigning places like Uganda to the status of perennial underachievers on the international stage, despite the raw talent being produced across the country.
More worryingly, without real domestic opportunities in East Africa, malpractice through football's labour market has grown out of control with countless talented footballers falling victim to predatory agents offering fake development opportunities abroad. Culture Foot Solidaire, a French NGO, estimates that up to 15,000 African footballers are illegally trafficked overseas every year for profit. According to the BBC, players "gratefully accept invitations" from shady agents who offer them false contracts, confiscate their passports, and abandon them in foreign countries. Even the legitimate transfer market has been manipulated and abused to fuel the ever-expanding wallets of the European super-clubs with Belgian clubs in particular considering the transfer of young African talent as an investment, to be bought cheaply or without fee and sold abroad for a significant profit.
Footballing infrastructure and talent pathway development in the region has stalled following years of conflict, political unrest and the instability of emerging local economies. Outside help, whilst noble and motivated primarily by goodwill, is more often than not focussed on misplaced mass participation, 'sport-for-all' projects staffed by under-qualified and inexperienced Western students and high school graduates that do little to support talented footballers in the region, creating a damaging leadership gap on and off the field, endorsing a reliance on never-ending Western intervention and providing little to no mechanism for good players to become 'great players' or for real improvements in local footballing infrastructure to be made a reality.
But there is a solution...
THE SOLUTION AND OUR APPROACH
The Football for Good (FFG) Academy, founded in 2013, unlocks the competitive advantages of frontier regions in East Africa to identify and develop local footballing talent, deliver world-leading training, education and character-building, and provide opportunities to the youth it serves to realise their full potential, both domestically, and if the time and circumstances are right, to pursue real opportunities overseas responsibly.
One of the the key challenges for organisations like the FFG Academy in Uganda, is accessing relevant, sustainable and appropriate levels of performance-science support - services like sports medicine, sports nutrition, sports science and athletic development support; all of which are freely available to the FFG's European counterparts and peers but are all too often out of reach to those in East Africa. Project Uganda is about helping bridge that gap; utilising the HP Projects team of some of the leading practitioners in global elite sport to build capacity at the FFG Academy and across the region so that talented athletes can be better supported at home in East Africa.
Our mission at Harper Performance is not to transplant the high performance sports systems of Western Europe, Australia or the USA to East Africa. Instead, we are looking to utilise the expertise of the small and agile HP Projects team and the local know-how and experience of the local staff on the ground to foster free-form development in these disadvantaged, deprived and marginalised athletic communities.
Ownership of the performance-support systems of the FFG Academy remain in the locality, with our team there to plug skills-gaps in the short term, provide expertise in the same way we would with a client back home and help facilitate the development of a ‘Ugandan’ solution to performance-support for elite aspiring footballers. After all, the best solutions to problems, in elite sport or otherwise, are local, developed by the people closest to the problem and not solely by our team and not through the inhibiting lens of Western "solutions". Our mission is to build capacity, not reliance, to complement, not take over and at the very core of that is to deliver sustainable interventions, that can flourish and self-sustain themselves long after we’ve gone home.
Find out more about our initiative to develop local sports science & medicine practitioners in the region HERE.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT PROJECT UGANDA?
Like all young non-profit, third sector organisations, our biggest challenge is funding our work. We don't qualify for a lot of grants and funding sources here in the UK because we operate internationally and with athletes that aspire to reach the very top of their sport and not just 'take part'. Similarly, we absolutely refuse to feed the growing voluntourism industry to fund our work.
We are building a sustainable business based on the "social enterprise" model where we invest the proceeds of our work with UK-based athletes and teams to fund our projects overseas and over the next 2-3 years, we expect to be fully-sustainable through this model. In the meantime, we are reliant on the goodwill donations of our amazing supporters and from the proceeds from our supporters club; the Mkimu Club. You can become part of our mission and help support Project Uganda by making a one off-donation, purchasing something from our online store or joining the Mkimu Club for as little as £1 per month by clicking the button below!