Kenyan Footballers Count Coins, Golfers Make Millions

The difference between Football and golf is like day and night – at least in Kenya.

Do you know how much a Kenyan football club takes home for winning the top tier-Premier League titles? Well, that amount won’t make much sense until you compare what South African Justine Harding took home for lifting the 2021 Magical Kenya Open Golf Championship.

Shall we?

Listen to this; Harding pocketed a cool Ksh20 million after just three weeks of toiling at the Karen Country Club. This might sound like a paltry sum until you compare it to the Sh3 million that Gor Mahia (with an army of players and technical staff) earned last season after hustling for 52 weeks on the bumpy Kenyan pitches.

President Uhuru Kenyatta flanked by Tourism CS Najob Balala acknowledges the 2018 Kenya Open winner Lorenzo-Gagali. Photo/PD

The paltry sum is shared by 23 players, the technical bench and officials of the club. The ‘Hardings of this World’, meanwhile, just need to sort out the baddie and pocket the rest.

This, in a glimpse, is the gashing valley of financial and infrastructural disparity that defines the Kenyan football scene, a sport associated with poverty, and golf-a safe haven for retirees and the heavily loaded in the society. The private member club houses hidden in the secluded posh estates is where top government officials hide when they want to strike deals, at the dead of the night when the masses are snoring lazily in their tour at the slumber land.

Talking of football, it is no doubt that the beautiful game is the most popular sport the world over. To put it succinctly, football beat golf, a sport that rarely hit the headline in the local dailies, hands down when it comes to mass following. The majority are poor.

From infrastructure to the prize money, football has always played second fiddle to golf. This bias in financial support is best denoted by the government that for a long tie has shown this inequality in the way it handles the two disciplines.

The final day of the Kenyan Open, for example, must be graced by a sitting Head of State. This was so eminent when President Uhuru Kenyatta had to go against his own word – when he made a technical appearance at this year’s event which was in contravention of Public Order Number One on Covid-19 protocol he issued on March 12.

Since independence, Kenya has constructed just two stadia that meet international standards – Kasarani and Nyayo. On the contrary, there are 42 golf courses; 10 of which are of international standards!

Again, this will not make much sense until you throw in some figures. While only 156 golfers registered for the Kenya Open and the Savannah Classic Golf Tournaments, a football tournament of that magnitude, like the Africa Cup of Nation (AFCON), for example, brings together approximately 800 players. This number excludes the technical bench, referees who are all key components in football. For a simple football tournament of 24 teams to take place, we are talking of close to 2000 personnel.

The effects are so grave for Kenyan football. Lack of government support denied Kenyan the golden opportunity to watch the 2018 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) after CAF took away the hosting due to poor infrastructure.

Windsor Golf Country Club
Windsor Golf Country Club in Nairobi. Photo/Courtesy.

In hindsight, the country was recently voted the best golfing destination in Africa-beating countries such as South Africa and Morocco. Karen Country Club also won the best golf course in the country for the second year running. Besides Karen, Kenya also has the Vipingo Ridge, which is Africa’s first and only PGA-accredited course.

Other golf courses in Kenya include Muthaiga Golf Club, Nyali Golf & Country Club, Royal Nairobi Golf Club, Sigona Golf Club course, Leisure Lodge Beach & Golf Resort, Mombasa Golf Club, Vipingo Ridge that was designed by European Tour pro turned course architect, David Jones.

All this support, for a sport reserved for an elite class of Kenyans, comes at a time when the country boasts of only a handful of professional golfers even after the government, through the Kenya Tourism Board injected 200M in sponsorship.

“Kenya is widely known for its prowess in sports especially in athletics, golf is now proving to be one of our major selling points as a destination. We therefore see an opportunity for the country’s tourism in this aspect which we shall continue to leverage on,” Kenyan Tourism Board (KTB) CEO Betty Radier said after the board gave 25 million towards activation of the two European Tour events.

It is this continued partnership – the financial support from different government agencies and blue chip companies that sets golf apart from Kenyan football, a discipline that often than not beg for corporate support.

But Golf is not spared by the ghost of sports mismanagement and poor planning that has become second nature on the local scene. The ghost visited Magical Kenya when the first three days of the European Tour failed to light up the Television screens. This was after Skyport, who was the contracted TV broadcast producer failed to clear the equipment in time for the game, leading to a ‘blackout’ and loss of revenue in advertisement, running into millions of shillings.

Gor Mahia fans at a past Kenya Premier League match 2
Gor Mahia fans at a past Kenya Premier League match. Photo/Capital News.

The poor pay and constant suffering in the local football was the main reason why Jacob Okello, Kenya’s most decorated golfer at the Magical Kenya Open records that he once topped twice, in 1992 and 1993, as an amateur – ditched the perceived beautiful game for golf.

Okello now has poor management to thank for his new found love even though he admits that golf also has its skeletons in the closet.

“During our days (early 80s), there was no payment. We would play football but get nothing in return,” said Okello who entertained K’Ogalo fans alongside Abbas ‘Zamalek’ Magongo at the heart of Gor Mahia midfield, until an injury kicked him out of football – his first love.

By the time he was making a career switch, Okello was still chewing books at the Kakamega High School where he also played for the Green Commandos.

“I always don’t want to speak about the sad event of that day, it has never left my mind to date,” Okello told our sister newspaper, Standard Sports.

“The incident was too heavy for my family. I was left on my own by the club. It was my dad Ben, who footed the hospital bill when I picked the injury

“As a family, we agreed I would end my football career when Gor took us in circles over the bill. It was a painful decision to make. Looking back, I can’t regret because I have achieved amazing things with golf,” Okello

“Unless we change the attitude and start taking sports as an investment, there is nothing that we can do about the regrettable situation,” he said.

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