By Kenyatta Otieno
In one of my articles in this magazine, I enumerated how the common man’s approach to the law makes the law look more foolish than an ass. I spoke about how I used to wonder if it is an “ass” or an “arse” until I came to my own conclusion. To the rich it is the animal ass (donkey) because in its foolishness, it can carry their burdens. To the poor it is the bottom (body part) because in its foolishness, at best, it will fart; at worst, it shits on them.
Recently, Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union officials were sent to cool their heels at prisons for disobeying a court order. They agree that they disobeyed the orders but their cause is just, and that man was not made for the law but the law for man. Nevertheless, the law is foolish; they had to go to the court of appeal to seek their freedom.
On Wednesday 15th March 2017, the John Ohaga-led Sports Disputes Tribunal overturned an earlier order by FKF to relegate Sofapaka and Muhoroni Youth from KPL. Sometime last year, FKF announced that all clubs playing in the KPL must adhere to a set of guidelines set by CAF, which would culminate in the issuance of a license. The guidelines require clubs to have a stadium equipped with special facilities, training grounds, two age group youth teams, financial robustness and good governance structures.
Looking at the said regulations, only Kasarani Stadium fits the bill in Kenya for starters, which means Mathare United are the only club who met the cut as that is their home ground. Secondly, only Mathare United owns a training ground that comes close to what a football club in KPL needs. Also, Mathare United is the only club with standing youth teams. It is common for clubs to assemble their teams only when KPL Under 20 tournament dates have been announced.
Further, only corporate and institutional clubs like Ulinzi, Bandari and Tusker can confidently speak of good governance, especially on finances. They rely on the structures of their parent organizations. Mathare United also has a long history with donors, so they are safe.
In short, if clubs like Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Thika United and Kakamega Homeboys could pass that test, then there is no reason to believe Sofapaka and Muhoroni Youth failed, or that their relegation was justified. Again, in law, that is a flimsy argument. Just because someone else managed to beat the system does not justify my exemption from the law. Sofapaka have won the league once and FKF Cup on several occasions. Muhoroni Youth won the Top 8 Knock Out Cup last season. We are not talking about lightweight football clubs but two community clubs worth their name in the top-flight league.
But the law is the law, an ass.
It has always been said that institutional clubs are not good for Kenyan football. This is because the sponsoring institution’s core business is not football, and so the clubs tend to be the first casualty when costs have to be cut. Then, because football is just another non-essential department, the club will never develop and bypass the institution because it will be a monster they cannot tame. This makes clubs like Sofapaka and Muhoroni important for the growth of football in Kenya.
The small remedy is that two community clubs in Kariobangi Sharks and Zoo Kericho have been promoted to the top flight. That is a good development. But what is the guarantee they will not end up like Sofapaka and Muhoroni Youth? Elly Kalekwa, Sofapaka president, insists that he demonstrated he has enough money in his account to run the club. Adagala the Muhoroni Chairman claimed that Muhoroni Sugar Company has assured him of tenders that will enable him to run the club through the season. The truth is the two clubs have struggled to pay players in the last two seasons.
Everyone who has run a business will tell you that once in a while, things get thick. The case of Sofapaka and Muhoroni is not unique. It does not mean that they are the worst run clubs this side of the Sahara. Football does not pay in this country; it runs on individual passion and some clean money from Fifa, Supersport and some change from corporates. For Kalekwa and Adagala to run the two clubs this far is good example of sacrifice, despite the pain caused to players and coaches. The two clubs were not going to get the Sh8 million they get annually from KPL/Supersport, which has been their only lifeline. It is highly likely they were going to close shop by the end of this season.
The ideal is for FKF to stagger compliance and support clubs to meet the standards set. Executing the law just because CAF has set it is not good for local football. FKF can talk to partners, including Fifa, to extend some grants or loans so that the clubs can work out a formula of sustainability. If FKF brings corporates on board who can walk the clubs through the regulations, then we might see a gradual growth in management of clubs in Kenya. It does not sound wise to kill two clubs so as to scare the rest into line. The law does not think, but it was made for our good. If the law inhibits our growth, then it beats logic to execute it as it is.
Muhoroni and Sofapaka happen to be private entities of their two chairmen. This is bad, especially if personal finances run out for the one-man-show outfit. It would have been more prudent to insist that the two clubs float some shares to other investors to bring in diversity of thought in management.
Another thing is that FKF must set stringent rules in the type of people allowed to run community clubs. FC Barcelona has a rule where anyone running for office must deposit an amount of money with the club as a guarantee before assuming office to safeguard the club. The current situation where some chairmen claim clubs owe them unknown amounts of cash in handouts given is not healthy for the sport.
Sofapaka and Muhoroni have managed to overturn the decision by FKF. It is not a loss to FKF but an opportunity to learn. Our football is still ages behind other leagues in Africa in terms of revenue. Before the axe falls, we can try to water the trees. Executing guidelines for the sake of it beats the very objectives that FKF exists to achieve.