What have sports got to do with grassroots engagement?

A stocktaking of the Mayuge Sports League 2023


When the world seriously went into a face-off with Covid-19 in early 2020, Sam Magumba from Mayuge in Uganda reached out to me (Andrew Julius Bende) – with the narration below.

The pandemic had forced the country to close schools and force a lockdown on its population. The young people, in particular, were most hit – this is both from not going to school, but also because the school functioned not only as an education/learning space, but equally as a socializing, friendships growth and maintenance, and an escape space away from homes – a space of both love as well as chores, restrictions, conflicts, etc.

Many young people were resorting to spending their days hiding around corners, habits like substance abuse were on the rise, and the national statistics for teenage pregnancies were on the rise. Sam suggested that we should provide some form of leisure activity to mitigate some of these and purposefully engage the young people. Luckily, we had many years before with success started and ran a soccer league that was now in slumber – and with about 600 USD (4.500 DKK) we reinitiated the league towards the end of 2020.

This blog is an update on the league and what role sports can play in community engagement and eventually empowerment/agency – three years after setting the ship to sail. The blog also delineates a few thoughts on the future of the league. Enjoy your read.


The RISE Mayuge Sports League is as of January 2023 a football (soccer) and Netball sports tournament running twice every year with each round lasting 6 months. The tournament involves eighteen sports teams including – twelve (12) football and six (6) netball clubs spread across the rural central section of the Mayuge district located in Eastern Uganda, which lies about 130 kilometers from Kampala.

Each of these clubs is comprised of a minimum of 30 players/members, which gives the league a total player population of around 540 youths between 12 and 30 years, and at least 54 managers and trainers. Community-wise, the league has a spectating rate (people that follow closely, watch, and cheer the teams up) of at least 2800 closely connected community members per month. And, in one way or another has impacted its close to 250,000 community population in areas surrounding central Mayuge.

Now running into its fourth round (Jan 2023), the league has the following major objectives:

  1. To provide a set of accessible leisure sports activities for youths during their free time.
  2. To draw youths away from destructive behavior to more engaging peer-run alternatives.
  3. To promote the talents of youth in Mayuge within the sports field.
  4. To provide space for coming together by building common linkages and networking.
  5. The league acts as a mobilization platform for talking about community and youth issues.


In August 2020, right at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic closures and lockdowns in Uganda, Samuel Magumba a former volunteer at RISE Uganda where he worked with Andrew Julius Bende, reached out to the latter proposing the rejuvenation of what was earlier called the RISE Soccer League. By May 2020, Sam could reveal that with all young people out of school and present on the streets in the rural town council, the level of redundancy and no meaningful engaging activity for this population was a recipe for some real social challenges.

Already, there were clear indications of rising substance abuse, and social crime as young people devised ways to feed themselves and live through the lockdown and unconstructive gang/group activities. Girls were most at risk. The number of teenage marriages was on the rise, credited mainly to the rise in teenage pregnancies and consequently forced marriages of pregnant teens. The school closure also meant that education aspirations and or skills development was on hold, youth mobilization, mentoring and guidance systems were down, and the isolation caused by quarantines and social distancing was only adding more stress to already distraught communities – especially the youth.

The league thus re-started as a counter to a downward spiral on the social front, and hopefully, a mitigation to some of the challenges communities, and especially youths were facing.

Achievements so far:

It is a little over two years now that the current phase of this sports social mobilization has run, and the results and enthusiasm created in the communities are unimaginable. Below are some of the achievements listed during our most recent reflections on 11th January 2023.

Community mobilization wise:

  1. Starting with 8 soccer teams in August 2020, now the league is home to 18 clubs (12 soccer and 6 netball). And five other soccer clubs remain on the waiting list to join the league. These have not been admitted yet because the sustainable league resource level currently only permits 12 soccer clubs.
  2. As mentioned earlier, the league is a mobilization and activity platform for at least 540 players, and 2800 spectators, and has a social influence on at least 250,000 people in its catchment.
  3. The league is now home to 6 netball teams – championing girls’ sports (mobilizing girls and women into sports) in a community that is not keen on this. As we start the 4th round, girls are already asking for a women’s football/soccer league in the near future.
  4. At our last meeting, it was clear to experience that the league is a platform for discussing other community development issues. Managers and captains attending the meeting talk of social projects, savings culture development, the need to partner with other institutions and develop sponsorships and scholarships for further education, as well as infusing discipline in players.
  5. Several community leaders, here including – the Mayuge District Youth Councilor who attended the most recent trophy giving on 27th December 2022, the district education and sports office, Mayuge District Football Association (MDFA) officials, Busoga Kingdom sports officials, etc. attest to the value the league is creating and sustaining towards sports development and youth engagement in the district and region at large.
  6. The league has created an opportunity for the youth in creating a platform for advocacy for service delivery through the program of the youth parliament which goes on air on the local radio station every Friday influencing service delivery to the community, influence decision-making, and institutional strengthening.
  7. The league has also created an atmosphere of soccer beyond the field of play by creating awareness of environmental conservation, health, and education.

Sports and skills development-wise:

  1. The league acts as a platform for players/young people to showcase their talents in soccer and netball and this has paved way for some players to be scouted to other leagues. Notably, at least 30% of the current league players are also playing in different FUFA divisional tournaments that lay the ground for entry into the National Premier League.
  2. Over 50% of the players fielded in the Busoga Clans tournament for the clans close to Mayuge are RISE league players. This also goes for that neighbouring districts are hiring players from the league to play for teams outside Mayuge.
  3. Over 70% of the teams fielded by different schools in Mayuge taking place in the post-primary football tournament (an inter-school tournament) are players from the RISE soccer league.
  4. Some go directly to the Primer League. For example, three players have been spotted from Mayuge Rise Youth League and further undergone trials in the Uganda Premier teams of Busoga United and BIDCO Uganda Limited FC (BUL).
  5. One of the Mayuge Rise Youth Soccer League team coaches (Afani Ikoba) was appointed to the technical team of Busoga United as a fitness coach.
  6. On the netball front, a combined team from Mayuge joined a regional league in Jinja at the end of September 2022, here this team ended as number 2 – winning a special price, as well as 4 players attaining bursaries to freely study in schools in Jinja while they develop their skills.
  7. There are at least 28 bursaries offered to league players across different Mayuge Secondary schools, thanks to the identification and the need for these talents in the schools.
  8. In June 2022, a league select team was mobilized and pitched against the FUFA Ex-players (old players that played for the National Team and major league teams) that were touring the country to support the development of football. Although the RISE league team lost 1-2, playing with their idols and these legends sent a clear motivation to the young players in Mayuge.
  9. The netball league is motivating and creating girls’ and women’s talents in a community not well-supplied with such mobilization and opportunities.

Economic wise:

  1. All the league teams have as of th3 3rd round started micro-projects and gained small-scale sponsorships to help sustain their sports activities. Notably, PRIMA FC has started producing detergents as an avenue. Boda Boda FC has united with motorcycle taxi drivers as their sponsors. Katwe and Giri Giri have started joint community gardening. While other teams have decided that each player contributes 100 UGx (25 Danish Øre) every week to a savings fund that will be utilized to develop their team.
  2. The league employs three coordinators at the local coordinating NGO The Hope Alive Initiative (THAI), and this has now been the case for the past three years, creating a stable income stream for these, as well as building their skills in sports management and coordination.
  3. The league hires at least 10 referees and linesmen every weekend, each being paid at least 10,000 UGx (20 DKK), meaning that each of these earns at least 40,000 UGx (80 DKK) per month, thus gaining a little but sustainable income.
  4. Several community members have started setting up selling/marketing stands at pitches on matchdays. People are selling water, refreshments, snacks, bananas, etc. This makes the league economically meaningful and contributary to the general community.
  5. The league now hires a commentator on major matches (semi-finals and finals) giving these a job. For the record, the first commentator was hired by local radio to commentate matches, and the second is being hired by all kinds of leagues and tournaments to commentate matches.
  6. The economic impact of the bursaries offered by schools both in Mayuge and out, as well as sponsorships – although not defined is an impact that the league never imagined at the start.

Consolidating these achievements and plans to strengthen the league further:

As we enter into the 4th round (4th year) of the league, the test period is over. Now we want to develop the league to a level that deepens these achievements in the lives of the players and teams involved, as well as multiply them to a larger community level.

The following are the plans that were discussed and passed at our annual coordination and managers reflection and planning meeting held on the 11th of January 2023 in Mayuge, Uganda.

  1. Supporting The Hope Alive Initiative (THAI) with a sustainable office:

The coordinating partner (THAI) has been renting an office for their operations. As of the start of 2023, THAI has been offered free office space in the Civil Connections-supported Mayuge Community House (Andrew’s house in Mayuge is being turned into a community house). This will lessen the economic burden of THAI and increase their possibility to effectively run the league.

The house will also operate as a meeting/convening space for the sports clubs, where the plan is for this to turn into a youth-friendly center – with youth support and building amenities.

  1. Finding production means for the league teams – buying a piece of land for agriculture projects:

Over the year 2022, Civil Connections has been saving up funds under a Community Impact Fund, and as of the end of 2022, this fund accumulated 65,000 DKK. The league coordination has now identified a 6-acre piece of land costing 120,000 DKK, and Civil Connections has decided to start buying this land. Our projects indicate that we will have gathered another 60,000 DKK by mid-2023 to cover this purchase.

The plan with the piece of land of that the 12 teams will each be offered ½ an acre to start an agricultural project and hold on to this over the next 3 years. Across this time, they will be officered capacitation and training, support, inputs where possible, and mentoring, to ensure that their projects succeed and that they generate sustainable resources for their clubs. The capacitation and coordination will also span other areas of both organizational and individual development.

  1. Increasing networking and partnerships opportunities for larger-scale benefits

We have across the past three seasons tested and identified that going into networks, as well as the teams being into networks with each other brings huge benefits. We want to consolidate this by intentionally increasing networking, joint activities, learning, training, etc.

Although we have been careful opening the league to external networks, we will in 2023 and beyond look into and test out sustainable partnerships from both wider Uganda and abroad, to see how these can contribute to the sustainable growth of the league. In 2023, we will start intentioned scouting of clubs in Denmark where Civil Connections is headquartered, as well as trainers and other technical people that can be supportive of the league.


First of all, we are looking forward to a great 2023 season.

When we started football, and later-on sports activities in Mayuge in the 2008 – 2009 season, we were positively energized by the energies and dedication we saw rise up from day to day and the amount of support the community gave to us. Christian Berthelsen – the Danish volunteer that championed the first tournament and later leagues can indeed attest to the energies these 12 – 20-year-old young people exhibited, as they ran kilometer after kilometer in training sessions, fought tooth and nail to win their matches, and yet remained friends and community champions for development locally.

Across the 2 – 3 years that followed, we saw over 10,000 young people and community members engage with the league. We started agriculture and livelihood activities within the league and surrounding communities. Groups started thinking about sustainability – some went into crafts making, some young people wanted to be musicians and we encouraged them the try. One good one was with his stage name SHY clearly destined. Years later, he had a hit or two on the radio and our gratitude to him was for sure high. Many years later, as we recounted at our meeting on the 11th of January 2023, league cadres include headmasters, political leaders, national and regional referees, managers and trainers in big clubs, businesspeople, and semi-professional players across many bogger teams. The league has been a real boost to our local community.

The resumption of the league some years after slumber (2020), and its test over the past 3 years gives us a platform for – this time to grow it in a more sustainable way and change the Mayuge terrain of sports as well as local social economics for the better of the people here. The start has been great, the results humbling, our feeling privileged, and our enthusiasm high. It is now anyone would want to join this journey – later will be too late.

Looking very much forward,

Andrew Julius Bende.

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