Unplayed Kenyan derby in 100 years turns searchlight on deep-seated rot in country’s football

Unplayed Kenyan derby in 100 years turns searchlight on deep-seated rot in country’s football


The graft-infested Federation Kenya Football has worked itself into an intractable strait after its president Nick Mwendwa slapped hefty punishments on the East African nation’s most successful clubs – AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia – for boycotting a league match to protest non-settlement or delayed payment of prize money.

Hours after the Mwendwa slapped heavy penalties on the two clubs for boycotting a league match on Saturday, the title sponsor of the Kenyan premier has signalled intention to pull out of the league citing incessant bickering involving the FKF boss and clubs.

Fans have weighed with a 14-day ultimatum to the federation to honour promises to clubs, failing which they invade federation headquarters to eject officials they accuse of running down the sport.

Ironically Mwendwa uses AFC Leopards SC and Gor Mahia to market the league to potential sponsors. Even as he gloated over punishing the two clubs, questions were raised about the legality of his decision as similar decisions have in the past been quashed by the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT).

Should Betking make good its threat to pull out of Kenya, Mwendwa will have shot himself in the foot in same way he did with SuperSport Television sponsorship.

For the first time in the history of association football in Kenya that goes back to 1920s, one of Africa’s fiercely contested derbies failed to take place on Saturday July 31. The two clubs had written to the federation demanding to paid or fail to honour the match.

The withdrawal of the sponsor would be the third time a sponsor would be pulling out Kenyan football since Mwendwa took over the reins of FKF leadership. South African broadcaster SuperSport TV quit after Mwendwa unilaterally expanded the league from 16 to 18 teams. He brought on board SportPesa betting firm, which was already sponsoring AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia.

SportPesa was pushed out of Kenya football following a protracted controversy over taxation following the exchequer’s decision to raise tax to 45 per cent (later reduced to 35 per cent) following the mushrooming betting firms. SportSpesa used to make over Ksh20 billion ($200 million) per week, which raised concerns about the concomitant spike in crime as youths resorted betting for a living.

Betking, a betting firm with roots in Nigeria, sponsors the Kenya premier league, while Betsafe has an agreement with AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia for sponsorship. A number of other betting firms sponsor sports in Kenya, but football, volleyball, rugby and athletics enjoy the lion’s share of the sponsorships.

Against the backdrop of persistent wrangling between Mwendwa and clubs, Betking has signalled unwillingness to do business with what it tags irretrievably corrupt sports federation. Details of its Betking grouse with FKF are yet to made public, Tell understands that the Ksh350,000 ($3,500) given to winners of the women’s league was a slap in the ace of the title sponsors. In short, FKF cannot account for the money it receives from the sponsors.

With money always vanishing, incidence of match-fixing has been on the rise as players, match officials and the technical benches take advantage of non-payment of salaries and allowances to make ends meet.

After the government suspended sporting at the onset of Covid-19 pandemic in March last year, clubs that depended on fan attendance found the going even harder. Self-supporting teams such as AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia have been the hardest hit by the pandemic that has closed key revenue streams for community clubs that rely on high match ticket sales to offset overheads.

Gate collections enable the clubs to pay bills, including player salaries, office rent, transport, accommodation and incidentals.

The clubs have been fined a total of Ksh10 million ($100,000), besides their chairmen being suspended from football activities and programmes organised by the federation for an indefinite period. AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia, which were in the third and eighth positions respectively, have each been docked three points that has pushed them further down the league table.

The hefty fines and other punitive non-monetary penalties come on the back orders by world football governing body Fifa that direct the two clubs to settle all salary arrears for former players and technical bench staff before they are cleared to sign players.

AFC Leopards owes salary arrears that amount to Ksh12 million, ($120,000), while Gor Mahia owes Ksh7.5 million ($7,500) to former players and coaches. Fifa gave the two clubs up to the end of the current season to settle the debts.

The two clubs are going through a rough patch financially, which has been exacerbated by coronavirus pandemic after fan attendance was banned by the government to stop the spread of the pandemic.

The standoff between FKF and the two clubs over non-remittance prize money that comes with winning FKF Cup – Ksh2 million ($20,000) for winners, Ksh1 million ($10,000) for runners up and Ksh750,000 ($7,500) second runners up – has kicked off a row with far reaching ramifications.

FKF says it had advised the clubs that the money would be paid on or before August.

“I thought they were joking. It sounded like just a threat,” Mwendwa said at media briefing where he announced the punitive measures taken to rein in the defiant clubs. AFC Leopards chairman Dan Shikanda and his Gor Mahia counterpart did not categorically respond to their suspension from football leadership. Shikanda, in a social media post laughed off the suspension.

“These people threatened us and gave us timeline within which to pay them. What will the other teams do after this? They did not tell us that they had a problem, instead they went to (Camp) Toyoyo to play a friendly match when we had cameras in Thika for a league match. They money they were agitating for are not in any way related to the league match they boycotted. They monies they wanted was for the FKF Cup, sponsored by a separate entity while the league match they boycotted had been organised by television broadcasters. Other clubs have had problems with finances but we had conversation with them and came up with amicable solutions. These clubs did not act lawfully,” the weedy-voiced FKF boss said.

Social media has been inundated with calls to rid Kenyan football of Mwendwa, who is accused to running down the sport. He is accused of corruption with questions raised about the contract by Betking, the sponsors the Kenyan premier. A Twitter hashtag #ConManNickMwendwa trended for days after FKF’s action.

In a Twitter post, political and social commentator Lord Abraham Mutai says, “The corrupt Nick Mwendwa at FKF is using his position to crash teams that he deems affiliated to his opponents. He reported Zoo FC, largest team in Rift Valley, to Fifa for fabricated allegations and had them expunged from the league.”

Shikanda has scoffed at the decision deduct points from AFC Leopards, describing it as meaningless as the league had lost lustre because of corruption and favouritism. The AFC Leopards boss explained the boycott thus: “If we needed the points, we would have honoured the game on Saturday against Gor Mahia, but we did not go because we did not need the points. He can take the points and give them to Kariobangi Sharks.”

Kariobangi Sharks FC is owned by Mwendwa, who is accused of forcing national coaches to pick players from his club for national team Harambee Stars’ international assignments. FKF supremo is also accused of colluding with foreign agents to sell players foreign teams and in the process undermining the competitiveness of the Kenyan league.

There are unanswered questions about how Kenya lost to Cape Verde in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifications. Concerns remain about the return match, with allegations of manipulation of the outcome implicating FKF top brass.

More crucially, it has been alleged that FKF dropped then coach Francis Kimanzi and replaced him with the current Jacob Ghost Mulee after the former refused to give away the match. To this day, FKF has never explained why Kimanzi was relieved of national team duties.

  • A Tell report/jk
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