Why the government should bail out football clubs in this pandemic

Monday, April 20th, 2020 00:00 |
Austin Odhiambo of AFC Leopards attempts to dribble past Gor Mahia midfielders during the Mashemeji derby at Kasarani Stadium. Photo/PD/RODGERS NDEGWA

Eliud Owalo 

I am ardent soccer fan who is concerned about the plight of our non-institutional local football clubs, especially in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic effects.

For instance, our leading clubs—Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards—have not witnessed any form of financial stability since the betting firm SportPesa cancelled all sports sponsorship last August 2019 following regulatory and taxation issues between the government and the firm. 

The withdrawal by the betting giants brought to a halt its four-and-a-half-year deal with the Kenya Premier League (KPL) reportedly worth Sh450 million, plus an annual sponsorship to both Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

In the last deal signed in 2018, the firm financially supported the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) to the tune of Sh69 million, the KPL (Sh259 million), Gor Mahia (Sh198 million) and  AFC Leopards  (Sh159 million).

The withdrawal left both the KPL and the two teams with no sponsors. The same plight is extended to other community soccer clubs since the gaming firm was the KPL’s title sponsor. 

Since then, the clubs have struggled to pay players’ salaries for the past seven months. This is a very gloomy picture.

Local football had hardly navigated through the harsh economic times informed by the SportPesa exit when the global Coronavirus pandemic struck.

Consequently,the local football league has been suspended, with the situation likely to continue over the next three months, or even longer.

With no games, the implication is that  most clubs are not getting any revenue by way of gate collections, yet this would have been their primary source of revenue at the moment.

Yet, the clubs have constant recurrent expenditures such as players’ salaries to pay.

Informed by best practice, our local football clubs enter into performance-based contracts with their players.

Granted, one may argue in the prevailing circumstances that the players are not meeting their part of the contractual obligation because they are not playing.

However, Covid-19  is a risk that could never have been effectively mitigated by both  the clubs and the players themselves since it is a global problem that has arisen out of reasons beyond everyone’s control.

It is, therefore, mind-boggling how the non-institutional soccer clubs are expected to generate revenue in the absence of gate collections to enable them pay salaries to the players. 

Of great concern, quite a number of the players have their contracts running out during the June transfer window and Ceteris paribus, they run the risk of complete loss of livelihood if their contracts are not renewed.

My hypothesis is that clubs may be unwilling to enter into new contracts with players in view of the current economic uncertainties, but the net effect is that the players equally have nowhere else to go based on the same.

In a nutshell, the clubs which are at the heart of Kenya’s football are on the verge of closing shop all together.

If Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards collapse or operate at sub-optimal capacity levels, this will spell doom to Kenyan football.

It is for this reason that I appeal to the government through the Sports ministry to formulate a short-term policy intervention at macro-level to cushion the non-institutional soccer clubs in the country.

This should entail either directly off-setting the players’ salaries over the next three months or provision of subsidies; which can be underwritten through the Sports Fund.  —The writer is a management consultant

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