To own or to sponsor: An Argument Against Counties Owning Clubs

There is a new craze in town; Counties want a share of clubs and following steadily in Vihiga County Government’s steps.

The promotion of Vihiga United to the top-tier has created a buzz around club sponsorships, and we could blink an eye, Kakamega County Government was inking a deal with Kakamega Homeboyz. Then Kisumu County followed suit to announce they would be sponsoring another football side. The rush is finally on and everyone is angling to get a piece of football clubs, aping what the Vihiga County Government has done thus far.

Since over 5 years ago, Kakamega United, bankrolled by business mogul Cleophas Shimanyula, has been a club on the rise. This season, they also outshone themselves, finishing 5th. However, despite the commendable show, the club never went out for big players, as it’s chairman Shimanyula maintained a lean budget and certainly the club cannot say to have the same transfer war-chest like the big boys AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia or Tusker.

This week, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya announced that the County Government would be sponsoring the club ahead of the new season, and this has raised more questions than answers.

High Appetite

Just what would whet County Government’s appetites for clubs?

Over the years, one of the biggest concerns raised by football faithfuls has been that of corporate vs community clubs. The big question then has always been, “Why can’t corporates concentrate on their core businesses and let people who are passionate about sports run the football clubs?”

My first point of concern would be with Vihiga United. Without taking anything away from them for their splendid run to qualification for top-flight football next season, it is time the County Government gave the club to individual who can run it, and let the County Government sponsor the club.There needs to be a distinct line between the County Government and Vihiga United FC.

Strictly speaking, owning or sponsoring clubs  is not the County Government’s core business, in as far as sports and football is concerned. In fact, it is  big shame that the same counties on mad rush to sponsor and won clubs, have done little to attain their core business in county sports, which is creation of sufficient and modern sports facilities.

Bukhungu Stadium

I have studied the Kakamega County budget over the last 4 financial years and there has been massive amounts of money allocated to ‘establishments of sports grounds and facilities.’ The best that has come out of this, is a below-par,  mid-sized 5000-seater stadium. Without mincing my words, Kakamega deserves a better stadium. Maybe two or more. Alongside other sports facilities.

It is common knowledge that we were left to cover our faces in shame, after County Governments and the national Government too failed to put up proper stadia in time for the CHAN 2018. Now, everyone has almost forgotten that counties lack appropriate and sufficient sports facilities, and they are running to own and sponsor clubs.

You cannot cheat the grind. First things first. In as much as it sounds all rosy and glamorous to sponsor clubs, County Governments need to put up enough facilities first. Besides helping the clubs, these facilities are the key ingredients for talent development.

Vihiga United for instance, are playing in the top league, and will have no home ground, simply because Vihiga County has no stadia worth its salt.

Don't get it twisted. I am not against County Governments sponsoring football clubs. However, this should be done in a structured way.

Furthermore with any regime change, comes massive policy and structural changes. If Counties own these clubs, then a new regime comes in, the fate of such clubs always hangs in the balance.

The same zeal that criticized corporate clubs, should be the same that speaks against Counties owning clubs. Clubs should be left to professionals to run them, and counties should, if interested, sponsor the clubs and market themselves even more through football.