25 years ago, Coca-Cola, then a brand with no association to local football in Uganda, came together with a group of football enthusiasts to conceptualize and eventually launch the football tournament that is known today as the world’s largest and most inclusive football grassroots program.

Back then, none of these football enthusiasts ever imagined that the tournament would go on to last quarter a century and have the impact that it has on sports in Uganda today.

Cutting the cake to celebrate 25 years of COPA.

A humble beginning

The COPA Coca-Cola journey started in 1989 in Zimbabwe as the Coca-Cola National Association of School Heads Football Tournament. Fast forward to 1998, the tournament was named COPA, the Spanish word for “cup,” following Mexico’s 1998 football tournament.

“COPA Coca-Cola started with full steam in Uganda with a plan to develop promising football talent and a very capable sponsor who was certain that through this tournament, we were going to change millions of lives in Uganda,” recalls Raphael Bwire, a former national team player, accomplished coach, and one of the brains behind the successful story of the COPA Coca-Cola Schools football tournament.

Raphael Bwire

Now the Chairman of the COPA Coca-Cola National Organizing Committee, Bwire says he has seen many football tournaments start and die out in just a few years.

“It has been a very successful journey through which many talented players, coaches and even referees have made their name and earned their positions in Uganda football history. Currently, our national team boosts of over 50% former COPA players and many others are playing for the various clubs in and outside Uganda. Today, more schools are interested than ever before – they all want to be part of this tournament that has made its mark in Uganda as a life changing opportunity for the players and the schools,” he notes.

Talent

Over the past two decades, this tournament has proved to young players that there is indeed a future for them and their families thanks to their football talent.

Footballers such as Farouk Miya, known for scoring the decisive goal which earned Uganda a spot in the African Cup of Nations 2017 after almost four decades, credit COPA for cultivating a “hunger that drives me each time I step out on the field.” After winning COPA Coca-Cola titles in 2012 and 2013 with St Mary’s Kitende, he went on to play in CECAFA and the Uganda Premier League in 2015. Currently, he plays for the national team Uganda cranes. He is currently on loan from Standard Liege to FC Sebail – one of the top 10 clubs in the Azerbaijan Premier League.

Media

During the 25 years of existence, this highly successful tournament has moved from the fields in schools and towns, to TVs in living rooms and community halls across the country. Part of the credit goes to the media who have played a pivotal role in keeping the records of this tournament and relaying them to the public year on year.

Coca-Cola Uganda Marketing Manager – Mrs. Maggie Kigozi

“Unlike common belief, football is not only a sports activity; it is both a social and economic angle. Social because by just giving 13,14,15 year-olds the chance to have an organized tournament, Coca-Cola gives them a chance to build disciplines such as perseverance and team work, and offers them an avenue to positively use their spare time.

Economic because the talented players get a chance to play for both local and international teams and earn enough money to support themselves, their families and communities.

Through the COPA Coca-Cola tournament, we have managed to reach thousands of individuals and schools and give them a chance to feel the refreshment that an ice cold Coca-Cola offers through our sampling efforts – a chance that we shall continue to offer to the players and fans throughout the tournament this year.

On behalf of Coca-Cola Uganda, I would like to thank all our partners who have supported us throughout this journey. We look forward to continuing these relationships as we invest in youth football and improving lives across the country in the future.”

25 years into youth football in Uganda, Coca-Cola is now renowned across the country, not only for COPA Coca-Cola but also for its unequaled and consistent contribution to football across the globe.