Why community clubs face bleak future if rules are not changed

By Robin Toskin: Sunday, November 3rd 2019 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Football
AFC Leopards Whyvonne Isuza shield ball from Ernest Wendo of Gor Mahia FC during KPL match at Kasarani stadium. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Industry leaders call for change in club structure to allow local and foreign investment.

Kenyan football is caught up in a time warp that will need a radical shake up as far as management of clubs, ownership and direct local and foreign investment is concerned.

This call was amplified on Thursday night as storied yet debt-ridden AFC Leopards, Kenya’s oldest football club in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season held a fund-raiser that yielded a paltry Sh2.7million - not even enough to service three-quarters of its monthly salaries and overheads.

Deputy President William Ruto accounted for Sh1 million of the amount realised with Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka offering Sh300,000, opposition chief Raila Odinga (Sh100,000) and ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna Sh50,000.

AFC Leopards, formed in 1964, as a social club that brought together Luhya communities trying to find their footing after years of colonial yoke, is a classic and perfect example of local teams caught up in a time warp.

Gor Mahia, the most successful club in the country fares no better. Also a product of social belonging following the amalgamation of Luo Sports Club and Luo Union in 1968, the world has stood still for the record Kenyan champions foraging and combing through offices of politicians, begging bowl in hand, as it struggles to live day at a time.

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The common denominator being that these are community-owned clubs – a retrogressive tag that serves only those claiming to manage them in trust for the said communities.

AFC fan shakes hand with Gor mahia fan at the Kencom stage.Kenyan football team Gor mahia and AFC Leopards supporters meet in town cheering their teams as they buy merchandise of the teams for Mashemeji derby at nyayo stadium on 19th May 2019/PHOTO David Gichuru

Remedy the situation

“It is simply tiring to always be called for harambee to bail out one football team after another,” ODM Secretary General Sifuna said on the sidelines of AFC Leopards fundraiser.

“Yet it is not that nothing can be done to remedy the situation. We need to change the rules and allow foreign investors in our football like is happening elsewhere in the world,” Sifuna suggested.

While AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia’s peers in the continent such as Simba SC (Tanzania), Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates (both South Africa), Petro Atletico (Angola), Asante Kotoko (Ghana), TP Mazembe (DR Congo), Horoyo AC (Guinea) among others have moved on largely due to dynamic laws and sound management, time has stood still for Kenyan clubs.

“We need a radical shake-up,” Uriri MP Mark Nyamita said.

“The law must be changed to allow for local and foreign investment. This way we will be able to stimulate a sports economy with football taking the lead,” Nyamita said.

So bad is the local situation that SportPesa CEO Ronald Karauri said Kenyans must have a candid talk on the future of sports.

Karauri’s comments came in the wake of a stand-off between Football Kenya Federation and Sports Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia over the funding of national teams with calls that KPL giants Gor Mahia be also funded from the National Sports Fund.

Adequately funded

Karauri tweeted: “It is indeed good news that @OfficialGMFC are getting the support they need from government at this time, but is it really fair to offer support to one team when all teams are struggling to even show up for matches and pay their players? I think this is a waste of taxpayers’ money for government to fund PRIVATE sports entities.”

Karauri contends that “what they (government) should do is make a conducive environment for corporates to support and thus build football from the grassroots.”

“When did you last hear of the government offering financial support to Arsenal or Barcelona? Government should ensure national teams are adequately funded and sports infrastructure is adequate, but also support the sport ecosystem to ensure private teams don’t struggle for funding,” Karauri said.

The tragedy with local sports is that as a country, we are still engaged with the embryonic steps of ownership and basic needs when the rest of the world has moved to trying to improve on the fans’ experience in the face of disruptive technology.

The world yonder, governments and private clubs are working to improve sports facilities that offer unrivalled fan experience in respective disciplines.

Wazito FC founder and director Solomon Alubala said clubs must adopt company models to survive.

“The foundation of developing our football will be developing strong clubs. In Kenya, there are over 2,500 clubs which cannot sustain themselves.

“To resolve this problem, we have to embrace the company model for football clubs in the country so that they enjoy the benefits of a company encompassed in the Companies Act No. 17 of 2015,” Alubala offers. “A company model caters for private placement, which therefore allows companies to sell shares to specific groups of investors thus raise its liquidity.”

A Gor Mahia fan prays during the penalty shot out against AFC Leopards during the Mashemeji derby at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru on May 1,2018.Photo:Kipsang Joseph/Standard

Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards and Shabana FC, three of Kenya’s most recognisable clubs have long depended on handouts from politicians.

In Alubala’s view, “foreign investors are easily attractable in the company model. If football clubs enjoy this regime of registration, then it’s easy to boost its capital and hence enjoy long term sustainability.”

Besides that, Alubala argues, “there is equity control. This basically allows major shareholders of a company to control the status of the company. This helps in financial management of a company’s capital because of the supremacy enjoyed by major shareholders of a company.”

The recent crackdown on betting firms, however, compounded the problems of community clubs more so AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia that were enjoying a combined Sh112 million a-year sponsorship from SportPesa.


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