NAIROBI, March 18 – A divided house, a rival faction claiming they are bonafide office bearers and a yet to be resolved financial scandal are some of the burning issues on the in-tray of incoming Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) chairman, Richard Omwela, who recaptured the seat he lost in 2012 on Tuesday night.
The reserved, suave and respected lawyer, 59, was re-elected to the chair for a two-year term during an acrimonious Annual General Meeting (AGM) that mocked rugby’s standing as a gentleman’s game that was a culmination of a bitter internal dispute that saw aggrieved parties turn to the corridors of justice for remedy.
His election was only possible after High Court judge, Justice Alfred Mabeya declined to grant a rival group seeking control of the national governing body led by former vice chairman, Sasha Mutai an injunction to stop the meeting whose main agenda was to vote in a new chairman and four directors.
Omwela bounced back after losing the 2012 polls to Mwangi Muthee, who in turn, left the post pre-maturely last December after the heat in the KRU kitchen became too much for him to bear and his fresh mandate starts with the looming shadow of a pending case in the Sports Tribunal to determine legitimate office bearers.
This is after Mutai (chairman), Gerald Chege (vice-chairman), Jack Okoth (secretary general) and Joshua Aroni (treasurer) in addition to Kennedy Monari, Patrick Mwangi, Daniel Kimoro, Ochieng Ohaya and Doris Mwanzia (all directors) we elected to office during a Special General Meeting convened on February 10 despite then interim chairman, Gabriel Ouko, who took over from Muthee and his set of officials obtaining court orders to stop the gathering.
The SGM took place after Stomers RFC petitioned then Secretary General, Eddie Omondi to convene it to discuss alleged financial impropriety by some of the members of the board but Ouko and his team termed the meeting illegal.
A week after their election, Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Arts and Culture, Hassan Wario referred both factions to the newly created Sports Tribunal when they paid the minister a courtesy call.
Moments after being declared winner over interim chairman Gabriel Ouko, Omwela, extended the olive branch to Mutai’s faction as he seeks to end the dispute that has seen sponsors threaten to pull out.
“My first responsibility will be to clean our house and bring back sanity, but it will not be easy since I’m intending to reach out the other faction and try and reconcile so that we can have united rugby like before.
“As a leader it’s my duty to find out what is their problem and close the gap because at the end of the day we should be playing rugby and not fighting,” the returning chair declared.
“As a step to the right direction the authority has enacted the Sports Act 2013 and it’s hoped the same will bring sanity in the administration of sports in this country not only for the benefit of sportsmen but also to the lovers of game.
“I have always known rugby to be a sport played in stadium and designated fields but not in courtrooms or before tribunals. For the sake of youngsters whose talent requires being natured, the court needs to firmly tell administrators of sports that their place is in the stadiums and not in court rooms,” the judge sagely advised when dismissing the stop orders.
Despite the judge’s wise counsel Mutai and his group boycotted the AGM, maintaining they are legally in office therefore, the election exercise is null and void or as learned friends prefer, void ab initio.
“The matter is before court and it was our request to refer the matter to the Sports Tribunal, so how do they rush to call for AGM to elect a third office and yet we already have two offices that are in conflict, I think it’s an exercise in futility and malicious.
“They delayed filing the case in tribunal but we will not stop until we get the right structures. We cannot agree this to go on, this thing has to end and it’s ending this year,” Okoth who told Capital Sport they will head to the Court of Appeal to stated.
Troubles in the Union intensified last November when seasoned national Sevens players led by vice-captain, Collins Injera went on strike after opposing proposed performance contracts and other pay perks and bonuses.
Head coach Paul Treu, then resigned after Port Elizabeth 7s barely a month later after a disastrous start to the 2014/15 HSBC World Series before Muthee dropped a bombshell by quitting his chairmanship post citing frustration and disagreement with some of board members over misappropriation of funds days later.
Directors Godwin Karuga, Maurice Masiga and Peninah Wahome also resigned their director’s posts.
Omwela who sat on the fence as the turmoil unfolded, was proposed to contest by ten Kenya Cup (top tier) and two Nationwide clubs but some affiliates who opposed his candidature expressed fears that sides based outside Nairobi will not develop under his watch after the Muthee regime expanded the sport outside the so called ‘Ngong Road Axis’.
“During his (Omwela) tenure rugby was only played in Nairobi with the so called Ngon’g Road clubs; Harlequins, Impala and Nondescript holding sway but when Muthee took charge, the game was devolved and that’s why teams like Nakuru were able to win Kenya Cup twice while newcomers Kabras shocked many by finishing runner-ups this season.
“I don’t think Omwela will bring change because he is at the mercy of clubs that voted for him,” one of the delegates who sought anonymity told Capital Sport.
Unlike Muthee’s regime the 15s side of the game grew by not only expanding Kenya Cup clubs from 12 to 14 but also seeing the national team, Simba XV miss 2015 Rugby World Cup by a whisker after Zimbabwe crushed their maiden dreams.
Omwela on the other hand popularized the shorter version of the game as Kenya rose from whipping boys to establish themselves as a core World Series side besides sealing a broadcast rights deal with pay television SuperSport before Muthee ended the partnership to bring onboard rivals Zuku.
The newly elected chairman’s in-tray is overflowing but his immediate task will be to restore the Union’s image as well as convincing sponsors to invest in the sport by resolving to their satisfaction claims over embezzlement of funds.
With the Simpson Osiemo taskforce that was mandated to investigate alleged misappropriation of funds at last year’s Safaricom International Sevens and Bamburi Rugby Super Series is yet to be released while current Union auditors, PKF’s annual report and consolidated financial statement for 2014 was trashed by members.
“The board has received the Osiemo report but I’m yet to look at it, we will meet as a board and examine it but if there are people who are affected by the report, we will not relent in exercising the constitution statutes and make sure they leave the board,” Omwela pledged.