Why FKF, Betking deal attracted reservations and not excitement

It will be interesting to wait and see if the deal will actually materialise after a growing list of stakeholders dismissed it as a stunt pulled off for political mileage.

In Summary

• Securing sponsorship for a league that was left limping after the controversial exit of SportPesa, was by all standards a major turning point in local football and the news should have been treated with more seriousness.

• Mwendwa’s tact, however, produced the desired results, as it whetted the appetite of local football enthusiasts, yearning for a larger swallow of the news the following day.

FKF president Nick Mwendwa at Moi Stadium, Kasarani
FKF president Nick Mwendwa at Moi Stadium, Kasarani

The Sh1.2billion BetKing sponsorship deal that Football Kenya Federation (FKF) secured for the Kenyan Premier League on Thursday is much welcome, our hope being that it will benefit the right people.

It comes at a time when Kenyan football is experiencing monumental financial difficulties as local clubs literally continue to writhe on their deathbeds in unbearable pain while frantically clutching on to the life support in a determined effort to survive.

It will be interesting to wait and see if the deal will actually materialise after a growing list of stakeholders dismissed it as a stunt pulled off for political mileage.

If it really does exist, then the entry of the Nigeria-based firm into the local football market offers a new lease of life and provides the much-needed solution that will go a long way in solving the perennial financial constraints bedevilling local clubs.

It is also a big sigh of relief for local footballers who have been wrestling with a wide range of financial hurdles occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, cases abound of footballers who have been evicted from their homes over unpaid rent and those whose marriages stand on shaky grounds.

Securing sponsorship for a league that was left limping after the controversial exit of SportPesa, was by all standards a major turning point in local football and the news should have been treated with more seriousness.

The nonchalant manner in which FKF President Nick Mwendwa approached the whole issue raised eyebrows in different quarters, subsequently, kicking up a heated debate that has so far overshadowing the excitement that should have come off the launch.

Firstly, Kenyans caught wind of the deal through a casual social media post doodled by Mwendwa, after he took to his Twitter handle late in the evening to let the cat out of the bag, perhaps too excited to wait until the next morning.

The tweet was devoid of the official element that should naturally accompany such vital pronouncements. It was more of a motley of words sewn together in haste to churn out an ambiguous piece of information whose outcome sent football stakeholders into a spin.

Mwendwa’s tact, however, produced the desired results, as it whetted the appetite of local football enthusiasts, yearning for a larger swallow of the news the following day.

Finally, after a long night of trepidation, the skies gave birth to a new day and local journalists positioned themselves strategically to capture the epic moment. As this took place, a sudden flood of hope swept across the country, momentarily carrying away the consecutive months of endless agony that local clubs, coaches, players and referees had persevered.

Fortunately, the nation had endured the gloomy days together, the government chipping in at some point to calm down the nerves of an increasingly restless population with the Ministry of Sports rolling out an initiative to financially cushion sports personalities from the effects of the coronavirus restrictions.

There was doubt though if the government could sustain the program long enough.

The conspicuous absence of the BetKing executives from the launch may have watered down the occasion altogether, but this was compensated by the news that ultimately came through.

The sinker eventually rose out of the lake with a big fish glued to the hook. Mwendwa delivered the crux of the matter: “Ladies and gentlemen we have a new partner in town,” he proclaimed as an applause of excitement reverberated in  the air, and added: “I am glad to announce to you that FKF has managed to secure a record sponsorship worth Sh1.2 billion.”

While at it, he also revealed that the 18 clubs in the league would each receive Sh8million and 20 balls over the next five years as part of this deal.

Despite the announcement putting smiles on numerous faces, it also unearthed several fundamental legal issues in its wake. A section of stakeholders opine that Mwendwa chose to steal the show in order to rejuvenate his dwindling career.

According to them, it’s the rule of thumb in the corporate world to ensure that the sponsoring organisation and the potential beneficiaries are all roped in and taken through the details of a deal before it is unveiled to the public.

Curiously though, the scenario at Goal Project on Thursday held out a contrasting picture. Mwendwa cast a forlorn figure at the podium while tabulating the gains of the deal to the press, with only Barry Otieno — the federation’s secretary-general — flanking him.

BetKing representatives were nowhere. Nor were officials of any of the 18 KPL clubs that had been earmarked to reap big from the deal. The only object that symbolised BetKing’s presence was a Nigerian flag that was mounted on the edge of the podium.

It shouldn’t escape notice though that the clubs were belatedly invited to a briefing the following day, only after smokes of doubt arose from a wide range of chimneys in the football industry.

Perhaps, it was Mwendwa’s unique way of doing things, but he got it all topsy-turvy. Indeed, the embattled federation boss may have had a good explanation why BetKing didn’t send a representative.

It’s not yet very clear why BetKing skipped the event although sources at the federation said it was due to travel restrictions. Perhaps it was also impossible to have the clubs present because the ceremony because it was held on short notice.

However, stakeholders point out that such haphazard planning only serve to cast the federation in an unfavorable light, furthering speculations about issues raised in the past concerning its accountability, governance and inclusivity in decision making process at Kandanda House.

Kasarani, the locality of Goal Project, is within reach for all Kenyan clubs. Prior to the deal, President Uhuru Kenyatta had just eased travel restrictions within the country and it was therefore quite baffling that not even a single team was represented during the event.

The immediate former FKF chief Sam Nyamweya has weighed in on the matter, saying that unless the deal was laced with political exploits, it should have been put on hold until credible elections are held to usher in a new office.

As we speak, FKF is embroiled in numerous legal battles along the corridors of justice and the mandate of the current administration has seriously been undermined by a recent verdict reached by the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT) which stated on March 17 that the tenure of the (FKF) National Executive Committee expired on February 10, 2020.

This being the case, Nyamweya wonders if it is appropriate for the Mwendwa-led administration to sit at the negotiations table on behalf of the federation.

According to Nyamweya, the SDT ruling put a  leash on Mwendwa’s power, effectively turning him into a ceremonious president with most of his powers curtailed. This includes the privilege to enter into any contractual agreement for and on behalf of FKF.

“In the absence of the National Executive Committee, no other organ or individual can enter into binding contractual agreement for or on behalf of FKF,” he said.

Interestingly,  Mwendwa also hinted that FKF will be taking over the running of the league, a clear testimony yet that Jack Oguda and his team will not be presiding over the activities of the top tier when the new season kicks off. This, despite the fact that a valid contract still exists between FKF and KPL until September 24.

“You know our players have struggled for the past year, now as we approach taking over the running of the FKF Premier League we wanted to have a sponsor,” said Mwendwa.

The general feeling among stakeholders is that KPL’s mandate is still intact and until it runs out, they need to be involved in every decision making process that touches on the top tier. They have faulted Mwendwa for capitalising on the misfortunes of KPL clubs to secure himself a second term in office through an ‘illegal sponsorship deal’.

“This deal is shrouded in controversy, secrecy and illegalities. Simply the deal between FKF and BetKing and or its holding company is not adding up,” wrote Nyamweya in a statement.

Nyamweya is not the only stakeholder who has come out to poke holes in the deal. On Sunday, SportPesa Chief Executive Ronald Karauri was embroiled in a nasty public spat on Twitter with Mwendwa over the same issue.

Karauri, who presided over a Sh450 million title sponsorship deal between the KPL and SportPesa a couple of years ago, claimed that Mwendwa pulled off the deal for political mileage and even questioned why the FKF president turned a blind eye to 100 local gaming firms while shopping for sponsors.

“FKF, even if it is looking for votes, shouldn’t you consider Betika or Odibets or any of the other 100 licensed Kenyan companies,” wrote Karauri.

In answer, Mwendwa reminded Karauri that besides the fact that football  supported him while his father Adams was still at the helm of the federation, he (Ronald) also presided over bigger sponsorship deals with foreign football entities on behalf of SportPesa.

“Not a fair comment Captain! Coming from you and knowing that football supported you even when you went outside and sponsored others for more than in Kenya,” Mwendwa replied.

All in all, Mwendwa and his team deserve a pat on the back for a job well done in bringing the sponsors on board. What they need to do now is prove the doubting Thomases wrong. The federation has had a share of its challenges revolving around the management of funds pumped into the game by both government and other partners.

The federation has been caught up in a string of financial scandals in the past, casting aspersions on its capacity to handle funds appropriately. Wazito president Ricardo Badoer recently lashed out at FKF, whose activities he described as opaque.  He questioned the federation’s accountability for sponsorship funds, adding that there was nothing much done around to justify their use.

“I’ve realised that it’s not easy to work with the federation because there is no transparency in what money from sponsors is used on. Somehow, magically, all the money disappears. If you look around, there is no money spent on the players or infrastructure. So where does all that money go? That’s what I’d like to know.”

Ricardo appealed to stakeholders to think of ways of owning and running the sport if they nursed any hopes the situation might improve anytime soon.

“That’s why I’m starting to think, if we want to start developing sports in Kenya or East Africa, then we have to do it all by ourselves. We need to take trouble and start digging and building and not to rely on those kind of people whose only interest is to fill their pockets.”

Sometime back, FKF presidential aspirant Lordvick Aduda also said he had a bone to pick with the federation over issues to do with accountability.

Although, clubs part with huge amounts in facilitating player registration, Aduda wonders what happens to all the revenue raised.

“Right from the day we founded KPL, the accountability has always been a big challenge. Clubs were paying participation and registration fees. Registering one new player required one to pay Sh7,000. The clubs kept asking where all this money kept going because at some point even referees were not being paid.”

Aduda also weighed in on the issue of fund management which has kicked up a dust of controversy around FKF, with a section of stakeholders questioning the use of money disbursed to the federation by both the Ministry of Sports and Fifa.

“Being in the know about the working of Fifa and CAF, I will ensure that the funds disbursed shall be utilised for the very purposes as voted for by both Fifa and CAF,” promised Aduda.

Mwendwa and his team recently found themselves in the eye of the storm after they were put to task by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to explain how they used the Sh244 million that was set aside to help the national team prepare for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.

Aduda believes that maintaining high integrity standards could also attract more corporate sponsorship deals into the country and alleviate the financial constraints slowing down the growth of our football.

“It will be important to create an atmosphere of utmost transparency in the governance so that we can attract confidence of the corporate sponsors to inject the funds while in the know that the funds will be properly utilised and fully accounted.”