Kenyan sports federation wars are about purse strings

This month, there were sporting events that were not so out of the ordinary, but that said much about Kenya’s team sports, and their attendant federations.

Early in the month, South Africa’s national rugby team, the Springboks, won a match they probably expected to lose because they were pitted against the best in their country.

Mandela Legacy Cup, the one-off charity event was called, and all proceeds were going to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The rugby team and their opponents, the Proteas, the national cricket team, donated some money to the foundation even as the cricketers were embarrassed for losing a cricket match to rugby players.

To raise more funds, a private firm promised 10,000 rand for every six, and it announced publicly after the match that it was going to give 160,000 rand as the match produced 16 sixes, half of which were hit by the Springboks.

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One minor detail about the event: The players, all professionals, did not receive appearance fees.

Lost embarrassingly

Around the same time the Springboks were hitting Proteas for sixes, Pakistan’s Under-19 cricket team was in Nairobi for a five-match One Day series against Kenya’s Under-19 team. The hosts embarrassingly lost all the matches.

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Please be reminded that years ago, when Kenya’s cricket was doing well, then chair of Kenya Rugby Union (KRU), who is a lawyer, used to ask his learned friend who was then heading the cricket association how he had pulled it off.

Going by the current events at KRU, it seems they learned everything from cricket — and what is happening is exactly what happened to Kenya’s cricket. The cricket team not only failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, but also lost its One Day status yet a decade ago it wanted to be promoted to the elite club of Test-playing nations.

While the Kenyan youngsters were getting beaten at home early this month, the senior side was getting stumped by Namibia as if it had won a tender to lose matches. Kenya’s main national team beat Namibia’s second string team, Namibia A, and again proved that when it comes to hopelessness, Kenya’s cricketers are unbeatable.

After the loses to the Southern Africa nation which has never reached the cricketing heights Kenya has, the local boys went to Pakistan, and lost all five matches against Pakistan A, another second string team.

During that time, Pakistan’s senior side was in the United Arab Emirates, playing all formats of the game against New Zealand. The New Zealanders are coached by their countryman Mike Hesson, who once coached Kenya but threw in his bat just ten months into his two-year contract when the playing conditions became unfriendly — or when they were made so.

When Hesson quit in May 2012 and cited insecurity, we could have believed him, only that his resignation came a few days after that of Englishman Tom Sears, who was the general manager/chief executive officer of Cricket Kenya.

Still, we could have let that pass, but Barbara Kokonya, a Kenyan who replaced Sears, also resigned a year later. Kokonya had held the same position at Kenya Rugby Union from June 2011 and resigned in October of the following year. Again, we could have let Kokonya’s resignation from Cricket Kenya pass, but her replacement, South-African-born Kobus Olivier, who was hired in November 2013, quit under hard-to-understand circumstances mid this year. Oh, early in the week, Cricket Kenya hired a general manager, who, like the coaches of the Under-19 and the senior side, is a Kenyan. Just like the rugby union is doing!

December has been a hectic month for Kenya’s sporting fraternity and sorority. The national Rugby Sevens team was on a losing streak at the IRB Sevens series while the officials — all of them members of the Ngong Road mafia — were fighting it out in the boardroom and resigning left, right and centre.

In the meantime, officials of Kenya Premier League Limited and Football Kenya Federation were once again displaying their legendary ignorance and lack of a world view of sports management.

Underhand deals

At Riadha House, things were not any better, what with officials running their mouths over the doping scandal and running away from one another over issues they cannot resolve because some of them think Athletics Kenya is a personal concern.

Back to the Proteas-Springboks charity match, and why such a thing cannot happen in Kenya.

First, Kenya’s sports men and women know little or nothing about other sports disciplines. For that, blame the (education) system.

Second, they cannot come together for a charity event since officials of their different federations will give lame excuses, will fight among themselves and with organisers, and above all, they will demand to be paid, mostly in underhand deals.

Then the sports men and women too will eventually want appearance fees because in Kenya’s sports federations, money is the name of the game, and is the cause of all antagonism among officials, their factions and players.

The boardroom brawls are not without consequence because they affect performance of the teams as the players become pawns in the fights over purse strings.

A perfect example is cricket, which was doing so well. Corporate sponsors were falling over themselves to put money in the game, and then the grant from the world governing body, but it lost all its lustre when the boardroom fights led to court cases and threw development programmes into a spin. Now, even raising decent teams is a problem.

Money is the biggest problem in Kenya’s sports federations. Not lack of it, but its abundance. It is the cause of the boardroom fights that spill over into the changing rooms and eventually to the playing fields where losing becomes routine.

Red flag

Ideally, lack of corporate sponsorship or grants from the world governing bodies should be a cause of concern, and a reason why teams should perform poorly. But in Kenya, it is the reverse since officials cannot handle public funds under their custody and have problems speaking the truth about deals with sponsors, suppliers and the grants.

When corporate firms start having faith, and there is a steady flow of money in the coffers of Kenya’s sports federations, different factions come up and officials start accusing each other of lowering the standards. Each one claims to have the capacity to take the game to the highest heights.

All these fights have nothing to do with promoting the game. From athletics to cricket, football, rugby and every discipline in between, the wars are about controlling the finances as factions realise they have been cut off from supplying air and getting paid for it, and the public is lied to about the deals, the grants and the expenditure.

Many a time even sponsors themselves do not release the finer details about the deals. That is why they always sit back and watch these fights, ready to cut deals with whichever faction takes over, and continue that way until another faction comes up and raises the red flag after it feels it is not getting its unfair share of the underhand deals.

Accountability is a foreign concept in Kenya’s sports federations, and distrust, and of course fraudulent deals and corrupt practices, are the norm, the legal tender, the language of transacting business.

Unless accountability becomes part of the rules, the fights will continue, and Kenya’s dominance in the sports world will continue to diminish.

So, Kenyans, have yourself a prosperous New Year, and remember that the biggest enemies of sports in Kenya are not foreigners, but your venal compatriots who cannot see a public till in which they do not want to dip their fingers.

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