NAIROBI, Kenya, February 21- The small corner office can pass as just any other nondescript room at Riadha House.But it is from the headquarters of Kenyan athletics that one of Africa’s fastest rising and increasingly visible leagues is run from under the stewardship of its chief executive officer and former Mathare United Striker Jack Oguda.
Since Oguda was appointed three years ago, the Kenya Premier League (KPL) has emerged as a viable entity reigniting the interests of corporates, broadcasters and most importantly the fans.
“Last December we had a FIFA workshop where we were told that we needed to concentrate on fan development, and we are already starting to see it with the clubs,” said Oguda.
“AFC Leopards have started selling replica shirts to their fans, getting marshals for their matches and making fans feel part of their club. I think if we step up on that front we can get more fans into the stadiums,” says Oguda.
It has been an eventful tenure for Oguda who has been praised and vilified by the KPL clubs in equal measure, his past affiliation with the defending KPL champions forming the basis of that criticism.
The controversial relegation of Leopards and Shabana FC in 2007 was also another bone of contention both from within and outside the clubs as KPL was accused of trying to kill community football in favour of corporate backed clubs.
“I can’t comment on the clubs who are unhappy with my position because I have not been criticized directly, so its better the clubs speak for themselves. I can’t speak on their behalf,” said Oguda.
Three weeks into the new season, there was uncertainty over whether Oguda would continue at the helm of KPL after it was reported that he would return to Mathare to take up the same position.
“The matter is still before the board of directors and the senior management committee. Mathare United are still my employers. What happened was I was seconded by the members to work for KPL in the mean time, but it was agreed last year that they would look for a new CEO. But until then I’m still at KPL,” said Oguda.
One of the high points for Oguda has been the securing of a Sh932 million broadcasting deal with pan African sports broadcaster Supersport International who will relay live KPL matches to the rest of the continent.
The deal which is currently in its second year has raised the profile of Kenyan football which is usually known for the infighting amongst its administrators but Oguda believes that the development has brought with it great tidings.
Next weekend will see this year’s first double header from the Coca Cola stadium with Sofapaka taking on Chemelil Sugar followed by the legendary fixture between tow of Kenya’s most successful and supported clubs AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia.
“Supersport’s involvement was a step in the right direction which exposes our players and gives them a chance to for trials at other leagues on the continent,” said Oguda.
“Players like Osbourne Monday and Francis Ouma have gone to Azam United in Tanzania where players are paid very well. So it has stepped up within the league with every club capable of winning it,” said Oguda.
With players moving to the other leagues, concerns have risen over player drain that might ultimately rob the league of its best players, concerns which are shared by Oguda.
“Players leave because we don’t pay them well unlike in other countries. We pray that this season we will be able to get a title sponsor to inject more funds in to the clubs. Player drain is certainly a worry and we will soon be having a workshop to address the exodus of players,” said Oguda.
Oguda is disappointed at the fact that the lack of corporate funding has been compounded by the incessant wranglings within the football hierarchy.
“When we go too look for sponsors, the fighting within the associations we are affiliated to brings a problem because people think there wars throughout. But at KPL we try to be professional in everything that we do and that with FIFA’s involvement we can steer the game to a better future.”