Self-censorship and disdain for media crippling KPL

SuperSport withdrawal

The bliss and romance that followed the marriage of Kenyan Premier League (KPL) and SuperSport mid 2008 was one out of this world. Well, just like any marriage which promises lofty dreams – a good life thereafter, this one was no exception. However, we are now living in interesting times.

KPL and football clubs are now sending a deluge of emails asking the media to “make noise” following Treasury’s plans to raise tax on betting and gaming to 50%.

The argument is, this will kill sports in the country, which is benefiting from various betting companies putting money in diverse disciplines. Fair-point.

The problem is I am not sure if the media need to chase the fox away again and warn the hen later against wandering into the bush.

You see, the media did a great deal of work making a case for Kenyan Premier League at the height of in-fighting with then Kenya Football Federation in 2006 through to 2011.

A great deal of work by the media opened a lot of possibilities for local football. The sad part though is that no sooner had the horizon broadened than club officials slowly started pulling the curtains on our faces.

The understanding from 2006 was that as stakeholders (the media and football people) should strive to have a product from which everyone would go home happy on a daily basis.

With hindsight, it was may be wrong if what German TV investigative journalist, Hajo Seppelt’s assertion is anything to go by.

Seppelt holds the view that: “It is not the role of journalists to promote sport but report truthfully and honestly.” However, the circumstances that obtained at the time, 2006 when I joined The Standard, necessitated that something needed to be done to pull Kenyan football out of the abyss. It was the time we had two parallel league fixtures - one by KPL and another by Kenya Football Federation. The chaos made Kenya the laughing stock of the world.

It provided fodder for two columnists at Times of England, The Two Dannys, who wrote a hilarious piece saying Kenya was the place to be for ‘new ideas to shake up boring order in the English Premier League!” They said something like: “Imagine Everton’s Goodison Park packed to the rafters for their home game against Aston Villa. Yet the Toffees were in a train heading to Tyneside to face Newcastle as Villa fans await Everton at Villa Park!” It was novel according to The Two Dannys. It was practically happening in Kenya. Coast Stars heading to Awendo while Kangemi United had pitched camp in a two-star hotel in Mombasa ready for Coast lads!

We had to do something. That something resulted in the order we now call Kenyan Premier League. Sadly, as soon as little money trickled in, KPL aficionado came up with self-defeating censorship that now threatens the existence of the very clubs.

When AFC Leopards pioneered with a deal with Smart TV, KPL wielded a heavy stick against Ingwe threatening to ex-communicate the country’s second most decorated side. All AFC Leopards wanted to was create a show to highlight its progress while documenting its history and hopefully generate some money out of it.

The deal was to be an initial Sh5million. KPL would hear none of it. Instead, they were told Supersport would do a magazine show in return for Sh3million.

If the Smart TV’s was peanuts, I am flipping through the dictionary to find a word for this. Gor Mahia were roped in with a show of their own.

Restless, as is usual with Ingwe, they sought Zuku, who forked Sh5million without batting an eye lid. Again, as KPL felt of AFC Leopards that they can’t learn and won’t learn they bludgeoned them into submission to refund the cash.

The net effect was all club chairmen cowed in the face of the all powerful KPL Governing Council, which is controlled by a few masked owners of the league.

It meant no club would negotiate any deal perceived to antagonise the broadcast rights holder. What KPL failed to do was to encourage as many partners as possible while helping them structure partnership.

Mathare United have fought a tough battle at the Sports Disputes Tribunal to have one of their shirt sponsors, Betway, enjoy reasonable publicity in a SportPesa-sponsored KPL. I will not go into the merits and demerits of this case, but there have been attempts to muzzle clubs’ desire to diversify their partners.

In short KPL legislated to their detriment. The EPL is the richest football league in the world today not so much because of putting legislation ahead of innovation, but the other way round. Do we media set out to promote sport or report truthfully?

Robin Toskin is the sports editor of Standard Newspaper 

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