The Great Rugby debate finally went down this last Thursday at the Strathmore University and televised by KRU broadcast partners BAMBA TV.

The John Allan-Namu moderated debate was a master class in how sports Federations, especially the likes of that dung heap called football, should conduct campaigns in a cordial, mature and level-headed manner.

Immediately after the end of the debate, Bamba Sports ran an online poll, asking Kenyans who impressed them the most and likely to become Chairman. By the close of the poll and with 362 votes tally, see the results for yourself.

Obviously we don’t put much stock in opinion polls and the last few years have lent credence to our skepticism. Didn’t Peter Kenneth score massively in local opinion polls showing him as a top Presidential contender in National elections? What did the American polls say about Donald Trump..? That he could NEVER rise to the White House, yet today he is in his 3rd year as US President.

Debate continues on who stood out in the debate, but the reality is that the Rugby voters will be the ones making the decision come 20th March and we can only wait to see whom they choose.

The sport of Rugby was definitely the winner on Thursday night, thanks to the stoicism of the 3 candidates on the podium, Asiko “Bobu” Owiro, Jeff Oduor Gangla and Alexander Kiplagat Mutai who gave a good account of themselves.

As largely expected, Ezekiel Owuor stepped down from the race and was therefore excluded from the debate.

Bobu, a former club official at KCB RFC and one-time Director of the KRU is seeking to make a return to the helm of the game. He displayed a gentlemanly mien, in-keeping with his age and stature as a one-time Director at the giant KCB, and from where he has since retired.

He represents the breed of aging gentlemen who wish to continue having a say in a game that has radically changed over the years, and can be equated with the likes of outgoing Chairman Richard Omwela.

It is an open secret that Richard, despite his good intentions, was unable to keep up with the frenetic pace of the new game, and handicapped by the fact that he had never been in any club leadership position, he appeared to have mixed up priorities and, preferences.

Have you noticed the national team-centrism that grips Rugby anytime the KRU is headed by someone who has never been at the helm of an actual Rugby club? Actually, Mwangi Muthee, as a credit to his many years at the leadership of Mwamba RFC brought about a breath of fresh air with renewed focus on clubs – an increase in clubs, affiliations and unprecedented annual grants to affiliates.

All this happened because Muthee, while serving for many years at the helm of Mwamba RFC became painfully aware of the ambivalence of many KRU leaders like Richard Omwela (whom he replaced in the 2011 elections) and others who didn’t have the benefit of ever holding a club leadership position, such that when he took over the reins of leadership at KRU, effected club-centric radical changes which live on today.

Almost instantly, a buoyancy in the game could be felt with a direct effect on the National teams.

But alas, we digress…

15 years ago when Bobu served on the KRU Board, at times even in the position of Treasurer, the entire KRU budget for all activities would probably fall in the range of 25 million or thereabouts. Currently, the annual turnovers for the KRU amount to over 10 times that amount to range somewhere between 250million and 300 million

How would he expect to bridge the gap occasioned by a 15 year absence from both club and KRU levels?

How would Bobu handle the fact that he would be working with a brand new crop of younger and more dynamic KRU Board and club leaders…?

Listening to him during the debate, one gets the impression that Bobu would be more partial to bringing back the older (and sometime retired) Rugby pointmen back into the game. Wouldn’t this just create unnecessary antagonism and bad blood between them and the young crop..?

During the debate, he appeared to dismiss off-hand in-coming National 15s head coach Paul Odera while rooting for the return of the Micheal “Tank” Otieno, who retired from administration to get back to club coaching.

Tank was a member of the celebrated 1985 Kenya team and a former coach of the Kenya 7s and 15s team, all of 20+ years ago.

Will Bobu at the helm be another throwback and who in the process of ring-fencing himself with the older gentlemen, will turn the KRU into a veritable “nyumba ya wazee”?

It would be well worth noting that Bobu came from the most stable and well-funded Rugby clubs in Kenya, KCB RFC and his outlook of Rugby is greatly influenced by his time there. KCB RFC has been the most financially stable club for close to 3 decades.

While other clubs ebb and flow according to availability of funds, KCB has always been stable and a perennial contender for the KRU top flight league championship.

Bobu does not know what it means to lack, for players to participate in Rugby without insurance, he assumes that the influx of insurance professionals in the game will automatically remedy the situation, which is a rather pedestrian thinking.

It is the kind of thinking and poisonous rationale that permeates the KRU Board anytime that KCB brings Directors to the KRU Board, case in point, the erstwhile Chiro Nyinge and lately, Moses Ndale. Rugby insiders will tell you that these two gentlemen have silently had one of the most devastating effects on the game in either by default of ignorance or by shady scheming.

Will the voters give the game a #TBT by voting Bobu or a clean break from the past?

However, Bobu had the most poignant thought for the evening. With viewers being constantly inundated with talk of “South Africa” and “New Zealand” and a narrative being created by one candidate that everyone else in Rugby is a small-thinker, Bobu had a thought.

What is the use of building one coach to international standards by sending him to SA and NZL, when all the coaches below him are complete “matope”…? Won’t the quality of players produced by the lower coaches and sent to the top coach, equally be “matope”?

This was a jibe at Alexander Kiplagat Mutai known to many simply as Sasha and who will be making a 2nd attempt at the Chairmanship of the KRU.

Sasha has made a big deal out of the fact that he bought an airticket for Mwamba RFC Coach and Kenya 7s assistant, Kevin “Bling” Wambua to travel for a coaching course in New Zealand.

Sasha is has arguably been one of the longest serving members of the KRU, having done 2 terms as a Director and one term as Vice-Chairman, before he was trounced by his former bosom-buddy Philip Jalang’o

To illustrate the irony, Kenya has only 2 level-three qualified coaches (Paul Odera and Charles Ngovi) and less than 10 level-two qualified coaches. Ideally, for anyone to coach a club in the top league and a National team, they should have attained a level-3 certification.

After 6 years on the KRU Board, two of them as Vice-Chairman, it’s so sad that the only thing Sasha can show in terms of coaching development is a picture of him giving a personal ticket to “Bling”.. And in the process, seeming to “buy” the gratitude of Mwamba RFC.

Remember, the 7 out of 10 of the coaches with level-2 certification have received them during the last 3 years, when there has been an accelerated program of coach development.

How does Sasha do it? It’s absolutely amazing…

How is Sasha able to convince a section of the Rugby fraternity that he is the messiah for the game, yet he avoids the game as though it has leprosy, on non-election years?

The guy only becomes visible in the run-up to elections, with rudimentary tokenism and in return expects to be rewarded with the top seat.

This was an issue raised during the debate and Sasha was at pains to explain away his ambivalence to club rugby and obsession with administration of the game at National level.

The insult, is where he intimates that he adopted a National outlook since he was first elected to the KRU Board as Vice-Chairman, and therefore cannot be encased in a “mere” club.

Over and over he was asked, if he truly has the best intentions of the game at heart, and through his so-called networks which he professes he has people willing to put money in the game, why not elect as small group of struggling clubs and give them basic sponsorship…He kept fudging on the responses…

In the run-up to the 2017 Chairmanship election, several clubs had been asked to give in their budgets to Sasha, and that he would get a sponsor to fund these budgets. In what has become a well-known campaign gimmick, for some reason, this sponsorship would only come through once Sasha had been voted into office.

This is extremely dangerous notion, where a potential sponsor of a sport can actually dictate its leadership from the sidelines, by dangling supposed funding in the faces of voters…What special interest does this sponsor have in the game that he would want to impose leadership on it?

Needless to say, the so-called sponsorship by Sasha continues to be a pipe dream and clubs live in abject poverty.

The truth of the matter is that anyone shouting about an ability to bring 100s of millions into the game, should be able to (at the very least) get a million or two to struggling community clubs like Kitale RFC, and spare Kenyans the idle boast of supporting a thriving institutional club like the UON Mean Machine.

Rugby is one of the few sports in Kenya which counts actual BILLIONAIRES within its ranks, some of whom support clubs and others have even made it to the KRU Board level.

Rugby is not short of serious networking power, however, the game has been unable to sell its value to potential suitors and where it has, its internal conflicts have chased away those funders.

Which brings to sharp focus the concession made by Sasha during the debate, that there is no corruption within the KRU! To be sure, John Allan Namu made the candidates repeat it several times, that there is NO CORRPTION IN KRU.

So, why the fuck has Sasha been going around talking about credibility, when clearly there exists no credibility gap? And if there is no question of credibility, why sell potential partners the narrative that their money can only be safe with him at the helm of the game?

Current KRU Secretary & Chairmanship candidate Oduor Gangla didn’t do a great job explaining how the current status of a Ksh. 90 million budget deficit came about especially based on the assertions by Bobu that KRU has always operated on budget surpluses.

KRU Secretary General Oduor Gangla, who is also vying for the position of Chairman

In fact, Bobu made it clear that by the time of his departure, he left over Ksh. 40 million in cash reserves, what the hell happened to all that money, yet the KRU continues to operate as a going concern?

The second very gray area that Oduor was unable to properly deal with was the KRU human resource policy especially the hiring of National team coaches. While he attempted to explain how Paul Murunga was hired, a lot of the feedback seems to imply that Murunga was not the top ranked candidate, and that a lot of strings had to be pulled within the board, particularly by a Director – Oscar Mango – to lobby for his preferred candidate.

Isn’t it clear how consistent coaching can build the performance? Can’t the whole World see what former Kenya Coach Mike Friday has managed with what were perennial whipping boys – USA?

The same feedback is also pointing similar vested interests in the hiring of Paul Odera as the coach for the National 15s team.

Why hasn’t he KRU Board adopted a HR Policy that would be followed at all times, when there is money or when there isn’t? Has the KRU been arrogant and refused to engage the Government to pay salaries of coaches and assistants directly, which would allow them to get the best foreign talent?

There you have it folks, a great outing for the game of Rugby and all the best to the candidates. We sure hope the game wins in the end!

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