It is almost a year after AFC Leopards found itself in a catch-22 situation, with two sponsors pulling different directions, each wanting a share of the club. Ironically, while the potential sponsors were clawing each other to associate themselves with the club, Ingwe was just dusting itself from a terrible year both on and off the pitch.
The club had seen a resurgence of the so-familiar political struggles, and key players had quit the club. Majority of the fans had lost hope in a season that Leopards saw its players boycott matches, get locked out of their houses and others went home hungry. The once indomitable giant of Kenyan football, was falling.
Despite putting pen to paper on a 5 year deal with Sportpesa, details have emerged of a fierce political contest that preceded the signing of the sponsorship deal. A key member of the then AFC Leopards executive committee, and one of the crusaders of the Sportpesa deal, Asava Kadima told Kenyanstar, “I regret signing the deal. We denied the club something good.”
After the disastrous 2015 season, the club was divided into two; One faction co-opted into office, while the other capitalizing on a constitutional gap, to ascend to power. The co-opted faction was led by Dan Mule, while Matthew Opwora led the other faction. After months of trying to outshine each other, the two would finally be brought to the table by Sports Disputes Tribunal chair John Ohaga to form the AFC Leopards Intermic Management Committee (IMC).
John Ohaga’s mediatory efforts, did not bear much fruit. It laid ground for a more fierce political contest. The fans too were split top bottom. Despite the power struggles, the clubs accounts and on-pitch matters did not get any better.
It is in late 2015, that one of Western Kenya’s key political supremos Cyrus Jirongo sought to find a long term partner for the club.Kenyanstar, has reliably learnt that Cyrus Jirongo kick started negotiations with bookmaker Betway. Multiple sources reported to Kenyanstar that ‘CJ’ as he is affectionately known, felt that the club was headed south, and that as a patron, something needed to be done.
“Jirongo moved in to save the club out of sheer goodwill. I would admit that he had good intentions for AFC Leopards,” then secretary general Asava Kadima told Kenyanstar.
Following months of negotiations, and with the 2015 season drawing to a close, Cyrus Jirongo brought AFC Leopards and Betway to the table. CJ was set to midwife a deal that would finally shed some ray of hope on the dying club. Everything was certainly playing to script. However, sharp political differences between the AFC Leopards IMC slowly started to emerge, and the centre was no longer holding further.
“It was a good deal. However, our side of the IMC held that Jirongo’s otherwise good deal had been hijacked by brokers. It is these brokers who first scuttled an otherwise good deal. Besides that, we could not support the Betway deal due to political differences between the two factions,” a member of the Dan Mule led faction said. “The Matthew Opwora led side had hopped onto a deal that they did not know about. They were keen to gain glory and political mileage. It certainly did not sit well with us, and hence that became a key factor that caused us to reject the deal,” he added.
“We were not interested in gaining any political mileage,” Matthew Opwora noted in an interview. He added that, “My team’s main interests were in rescuing the club and that was all that mattered. Cyrus Jirongo had worked so hard for this club and we merely supporting his efforts. The Dan Mule side were all but interested in causing chaos. The brokers being referred to here are Sportpesa.”
Towards end of the same year, and with talks at a really advanced stage, Sportpesa got wind of an imminent deal between Leopards and Betway. According to a member of the IMC then, AFC Leopards had made several unsuccessful attempts to try lure Sportpesa into sponsoring the club in previous months.
“When word went round that the club was close to signing a deal with Sportpesa rivals Betway, Sportpesa begun making advances to our faction. They(Sportpesa) were aware of the in-fighting and this is where they would strike,” he said. His opinion was shared by Opwora, who laid blame on the betting giants saying they came to the club, disguised as good Samaritans.
Betway agreed to sponsor the club to a tune of Ksh.30 million a year. This amount was to be negotiated upwards at the close of the third year. Kenyanstar has confidentially established that among other benefits, Betway would; Sponsor AFC Leopards women and youth teams, establish AFC Leopards TV, aid the club in procuring and sale of jerseys with 100% sales going to the club, create annual exchange programs between AFC Leopard and West Ham United and also ensure the club’s legends were well feted. Sportpesa on the other hand, had offered an initial sponsorship of Ksh.35 million a year. The bookie’s deal included among other things; Taking home 40% of the club’s replica jersey sales, have a say on who should be on the club’s technical bench, and have an accountant to maintain the club’s books of accounts with the accountant drawing their salary from the sponsorship money. The contract would be signed on strict condition that any incidence of violence in the club’s matches would lead to immediate termination of the deal.
Asava Kadima, a member of the Dan Mule team told Kenyanstar that Betway brought to the table a better deal. Ironically, he(Kadima) fronted the Sportpesa deal initially. “Betway’s deal made much more sense. They were offering the money, were keen on branding the club, and would also source for kits. Besides that, they were willing to develop talent from the club, and build better partnerships for the club locally and abroad.” Kadima’s views were shared by Mathew Opwora who in an interview this year, told Kenyanstar that Betway was after building the brand and also offered to help the club source for another partner.
However, the duos assertions were strongly refuted by Dan Mule who said, “Those claims are not true. Sportpesa had a better deal. Betway’s deal was just verbal,and nothing in the contract supported what Opwora claimed.”
Dan Mule and his faction, in a bid to gain political mileage, also put pen to paper in a 5 year deal between Sportpesa and AFC Leopards.With pressure mounting from a section of the fans and the Western Kenya political class, Kenyanstar has learnt that Dan Mule and his team were forced to sneak into Chancery House to sign the rival deal.
On the second day of February 2015, Matthew Opwora led the club in unveiling the sportpesa deal at Nyayo Stadium. Betway expressed its delight with deal, as did AFC Leopards. The Dan Mule led faction, skipped the launch. The launch, was however, rejected by a considerable number of AFC Leopards fans, who had received information that Sportpesa was knocking at the club’s doors, with an even better deal. In fact, grapevine on AFC Leopards social media forums had it that Sportpesa would offer the club a number of benefits and that the sponsorship monies would be well managed by Sportpesa’s own accountant.
Asava Kadima, who was among those who skipped the function, told Kenyanstar that his faction, and largely Sportpesa benefited greatly from this rumours. “Majority of what was being peddled around at that time was not entirely true. What is true is that Sportpesa wanted a seat on the board. The rumours served well to grow our political profile and endear Sportpesa to the fans,” he claimed.
Matthew Opwora told Kenyanstar that Dan Mule and his group, falsely accused him of many things, and that they fanned lots of falsehoods on the Betway deal.
Eventually, the launch happened and Betway wired money to the AFC Leopards accounts. It is at this stage, that John Ohaga had to weigh in and deliver a verdict.
The Sports Tribunal chair cancelled both deals, on grounds that both parties had failed to agree on either. Ohaga, sought to find the ‘better’ deal amongst the two.”Ohaga called both parties to the table, and with two deals signed, there was so much tension,” recalls Asava Kadima, who played a key role in the club then. As things would turn out, Ohaga eventually picked on Sportpesa.
“Ohaga delivered a proper and well thought judgement,” recalls current AFC Leopards chairman Dan Mule. “Both parties came to the table and agreed to it. In my opinion, it was the best deal.” Mule’s partner then, Asava Kadima refuted Mule’s assertions saying, “I think Ohaga made the ruling on who had more money. Not exactly about who had a better deal. Sportpesa had a more money while collectively Betway offered a better package.”
“In as much as we signed the deal, I feel I denied the club something good. Sportpesa only came into the club to elbow out Betway, not necessarily to sponsor the club.”
The then co-chairman Matthew Opwora while in an exclusive interview this year with Kenyanstar defended the Betway deal, laying blame on John Ohaga who he says, was compromised. “John Ohaga was compromised by Sportpesa, and never took time to really analyze both deals. He took sides on this issue and collaborated with Dan Mule’s side to frustrate the Betway deal,” claimed Opwora. “He never called both parties to the table to discuss the deal bit by bit. Instead, he called us on the final day to sign off the Sportpesa deal.”
Opwora went on to blame Ohaga for picking on trivial issues to deny the club what he terms, ‘the best sponsorship deal ever.’ “Betway was kicked out further because they are not a Kenyan company. This to me is quite malicious.” Opwora’s co-chair then, Dan Mule refuted the claims saying, “That was not the sole reason. But working with Sportpesa which is a local company is a great thing. Their investment in this country in football is unmatched.”
However, while speaking during the launch of the Sportpesa sponsorship deal in March last year, Ohaga had indicated that he worked tirelessly with both sides of the coalition to ensure the club secured the best deal.
Eventually, Leopards unveiled a 5-year deal with Sportpesa. Betway pulled out, and asked for a refund of the monies they had deposited in the club’s accounts.
“Matthew Opwora displayed great character and passion for the club,”Asava told Kenyanstar while referring to the failed Betway deal. “There was lots of room for himself and Betway to take this matter to court, but they opted to support us. I have great respect for him after that gesture,” he said. “He took a soft stand, compared to Dan Mule’s hard line stands, that eventually helped SportPesa’s deal see the light of day.”
“We love this club, and despite the insults we received, we put the club’s interests forward. Betway and Cyrus Jirongo felt betrayed and disappointment. However, since the season was approaching and the club badly needed the money, we let it pass,” Opwora told Kenyanstar.
With AFC Leopards in the second year of its marriage with Sportpesa, opinion is still divided. “I still hold my reservations with Sportpesa. They have done a lot in trying to support the club, but so much still hangs out there. Why isnt the sponsor concerned about the club’s image and branding? Why is Sportpesa not concerned about the club’s kitting?” posed Asava Kadima.
The one time AFC Leopards secretary general further noted that the future is still not really clear for Leopards. “I would wish to urge the current officials to jealously guard the sponsorship, while seeking for other sponsors.”
Opwora on his part, noted that he would be willing to pursue the matter in the courts, on advice from his lawyer. “Yes, I feel we still can do something. We were good men who were mistreated by the club and falsely labelled as traitors. Sportpesa is not sincere in its engagement with the club, and if anything small snaps, they will hurriedly end their engagement with the club,” he opined.
For Dan Mule, the current AFC Leopards chairman, that is water under the bridge. Mule told Kenyanstar that the club wa enjoying a sweet relationship with the bookmaker, and that any contrary claims were meant to stabilize an otherwise, steady ship.