SWILA: Why the 2019/20 portends tougher times for KPL


SWILA: Why the 2019/20 portends tougher times for KPL
Gor Mahia FC team celebrates with trophy after winning the Kenyan Premier League season 2018-2019 at kenyatta stadium in Machakos on May 25, 2019. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha/Citizen

In Summary

  • After a two-months break, action has resumed in the Kenyan Premier League for the 2019/20 season with a bang.
  • Gor Mahia has seemingly picked up the pieces from where they left last term hitting five past Tusker in the 5-2 rout in Kisumu at the weekend as AFC Leopards proved that their claws are still blunt after falling 1-0 in their season opener to Kakamega Homeboyz at the Bukhungu Stadium.

Isaac Swila

After a two-months break, action has resumed in the Kenyan Premier League for the 2019/20 season with a bang.

Gor Mahia has seemingly picked up the pieces from where they left last term hitting five past Tusker in the 5-2 rout in Kisumu at the weekend as AFC Leopards proved that their claws are still blunt after falling 1-0 in their season opener to Kakamega Homeboyz at the Bukhungu Stadium.

Be at it may, a lot has changed in the football landscape. Sponsors have left the stage, coaches have changed clubs, players have transferred from one club onto the next, but the common denominator is that the league is still poorer, financially that is!

Let me break it down. Figure out this: When pay television network Supersport first came into the Kenyan game in 2008, it heralded greater things. Hope for a better tomorrow.  Hope for better lives for our players. Hope that, at one time, the Kenya Premier League will become one of the most coveted brands in Africa if not the world.

Rightfully so, gains were made when they entered the fray as broadcast sponsors. Teams, 16 of them at the time – all competing in the top-tier– received monthly grants totaling Sh785, 000, while a further percentage, running into millions, went into production of matches and operation costs at the KPL secretariat.

By this, players knew that at the end of the day, their pay cheque was guaranteed, as the TV monies augmented what the clubs received from shirt sponsorship.

And most importantly, the platform that Supersport gave them, through the live broadcast of matches was quite colossal, in fact quantify it may give a mathematician some headache. Many, who took their game seriously like Michael Olunga, Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma et al have since traversed the globe, changing clubs at will, and with it comes tidy sums hence earning the economic freedom and career breakthrough.

However, before proper fruits could be realized, the devil reared its ugly head, and things went south, when the transcontinental pay TV halted its partnership with KPL on April 7, 2017 throwing the game into limbo.

Their exit, coming after a protracted battle between KPL and FKF on the expansion of the top-tier in which the latter had its way by expanding the division to 18 teams from 16, seems to have driven them to the edge.

Behind the confined walls of their offices, Supersport executives held the view that an expanded league would water down the quality and gains made, and so they closed shop in Kenya, though in public they played the PR card, pointing out that they had no role or interest in the size of the top division.

Fast forward, another new KPL season has begun with a dark cloud hanging over Kenyan football.

FILE: AFC Leopards coach Andre Casa Mbungo instructs his charges against Gor Mahia FC during their Kenyan Premier League dubbed Mashemeji Derby at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on February 09, 2019. Gor Mahia FC won 2-0. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha/Citizen

There are neither broadcast nor title sponsors after a leading gaming firm pulled the plug on its sponsorships with sports federations, associations and clubs citing the stringent betting laws instituted by the government.

This portends grave danger. The general organization of the league is likely to be in chaos. Fixture release, logistics, hiring and paying of personnel such as match referees is likely to be a nightmare.

At club level, teams have struggled. For instance last year, Mt Kenya United FC, formerly Nakumatt FC, gave two walkovers as the financial burden bit hard.

Players went for months without salaries and allowances to the extent that they couldn’t afford fare to training. In a nutshell our league became too broke and the picture could get gloomier this year, a typical case of jumping from the frying pan into fire.

Bar institutional clubs such as Ulinzi Stars, a team for the disciplined forces, Western Stima, Chemelil Sugar FC bankrolled by Chemelil Sugar Company et cetera, clubs without solid financial muscle will certainly find life too hard to live.

The Government hasn’t done much on its part either. Yes, they are the number one financier of sports, through the construction of the requisite facilities such as stadia, and through financing teams for international events.

This column holds the view that the Jubilee regime hasn’t done much to ensure that operations are streamlined, not just in our league or football, but sports in general.

It was thought that the coming into force of the Sports Act would create some order, at least some semblance of it, but looked at from a distance, for no scrutiny is needed here, it hasn’t achieved much.

To call a spade a spade, there are corporate giants that litter our capital Nairobi, the once Green City in the Sun, making insane profits but whose Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is nothing to point out. They don’t give back in any meaningful way, and the government, in my view, needs to ensure that the tax remitted by such firms, apart from the provision of basic social services to mwananchi, a chunk of it should be ploughed into sports development and talent incubation.

File: Mt. Kenya FC players react during their Kenyan Premier League match against Posta Rangers FC at Kenyatta stadium in Machakos on April 14, 2019. Posta Rangers FC won 6-2. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha.

For instance, gaming firms have been earning an arm and a leg through their SMS and online betting platforms.  Instead of withdrawing their licenses, the government should perhaps pass legislation that ensures a quarter of their earnings are directly ploughed back into sports, that way, some cash to revolutionize our sports will be aplenty.

There is no bigger stakeholder in sports than the government and the picture can only change if and when they decide to lead from the front instead of barking from the roof top.

KPL belongs to Kenyans and no one will make it better for us unless we take the necessary steps.

In the stadia there is no doubt it will be tough action-packed season but the clubs too need to wake up and smell the coffee. Gone is the era when they could walk around with begging bowls, asking for help from well wishers and politicians.

Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Jack Oguda addresses the media at a Nairobi Hotel in Nairobi on April 26, 2016. Photo/Stafford Ondego/www.sportpicha.com
Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Jack Oguda addresses the media at a Nairobi Hotel in Nairobi on April 26, 2016. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha/Citizen 

Innovation could help clubs realize more financial freedom to augment the little they have already, but they have simply refused to learn let alone move the goalposts.

Finally, it is my submission that other teams need to rise and challenge Gor Mahia stranglehold. With 18 titles under their belt, the last three in a row, is an indictment to the level of competition that is KPL, and it’s my prayer that the likes of Tusker, AFC Leopards, Sofapaka, Posta Rangers and Mathare United will offer sterner tests.

 

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