KRU averts a showdown with sevens players

By the punter
Feb 17, 2021
  • Ronald Bukusi, the Kenya Rugby Union CEO met with the players and technical bench. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

The Kenya Rugby Union on Tuesday averted what could have been a showdown between the association and seven-a-side players.

Two separate meetings between the CEO Ronald Bukusi, Richard Omwela (chairman), Sevens technical bench and the players reached an amicable solution.

Every year, at about this time, two related issues come up. These are the renewal of contracts and sponsorship. This year has not been different.

First, there was uncertainty about a sponsorship deal with Kenya Airways which directly affected the preparations of the team and as a result there was a delay in signing the contracts.

Remember the issue came up last year when 18 senior payers downed their tools and the then technical bench had no alternative but select a weakened team for the opening tournaments of the World Rugby Sevens World Series in Australia, Dubai and South Africa.

This time, the simmering row took another dimension and the 'hiccup' barely found its way to the media.

Unknown to the larger rugby fraternity, players began their preparations for the 2015/2016 season on the dry. There was a tightening of belt of all sorts which saw a new technical bench constituted.

Although this was a change which was expected following the resignation of Paul Treu and Kenya's lowly 13th finish in the 2014/2015 season, the bigger picture was to reduce the technical bench's wage bill.

To cut the long story short, the new technical bench took a pay cut and the players too. Benjamin Ayimba, the returning coach explained it was necessary to begin from the scratch because at number 13, the team did not have a bargaining chip to justify what they were earning.

Preparations started with very little in the coffers and the expenses according to Omwela were met by rugby supporters who had faith in the team. "Nobody knew we literally had no money to have meaningful preparations and it was prudent to have the players go for weekend camps outside Nairobi to concentrate on the business at hand."

Narrowly beat Zimbabwe

The immediate task for the new technical bench was the Olympic qualifiers in South Africa where Kenya narrowly beat Zimbabwe to clinch the only spot available for Africa.

Immediately after the qualifiers, the players barely had time before the start of the 2015/16 World Rugby Sevens World Series season in Dubai and South Africa in November and December.

Kenya performed dismally in Dubai but finished fourth in South Africa. The next two legs saw Kenya collect 22 points and after four tournaments, Kenya is eighth.

Kenya Airways confirmed their sponsorship but the total package was less because of the national airline's liquidity problems.

After returning from Australia, the players asked pertinent questions by going through the laid down protocol. The issues were familiar, unpaid salaries and benefits (bonuses).

High on the agenda was the outstanding wages and the contents of the contract which required players to take a huge cut. "We understood the sponsorship had been reduced and appreciated KRU's efforts to look for alternatives. It is tricky because the product could be worth more and it may be logical to let other sponsors bid," they suggested.

Under such circumstances, the players were ready to wait for a new sponsor as they continued playing.

Kenya Airways are the shirt sponsors and KRU are shopping for other sponsors for shorts and socks. There are unlimited sponsorship opportunities even for the jersey where a sponsor may opt for the front, back or sleeves of the playing jersey.

Omwela was quick to reply. "We have all intentions to pay players their allowances and bonuses." The players were also left in the dark whether there were any rewards for clinching the Olympics spot.

Delicate negotiations

Omwela explained there had been negotiations to that effect. "It is delicate because we have a contract which is binding " the KRU boss explained. He added: "Players allowances will be met from other sources too which includes Kenyans of goodwill. We can only pay what we have and not make promises we cannot honor.

So far, we are very pleased with the team and from the results this is what we have been saying. The players need to understand and we have explained that it is better to work with the known than the unknown."

On the outstanding payments, Omwela assured players have been paid up to January 2016. Other sponsorship opportunities the KRU was looking at were shorts, socks, off pitch wear and training kit.

The contentious issue of player bonuses was addressed by KRU who explained Kenya Airways removed bonuses from the sponsorship package and as such payment towards this can only be made from a supplementary income.

To put everything in perspective, Omwela stated: "We have reduced sponsorship from Kenya Airways, hence a need to reduce the package available to players or alternatively reduce the squad significantly which might put too much pressure on them."

According to our sources, KRU opted to reduce the larger squad to 20 so as to meet some of the requests by the players. In the new agreement, KRU will keep two tiers with Tier one players and two receiving different wages which are taxable.

Also under the new agreement the parties agreed on the way forward whenever a player is injured. This details the responsibility by KRU and whether the player will continue to be paid and for what duration.

The technical bench will in the meantime continue appraising the performance of the players and it is unlikely new players would be called up unless there was dire need.

Most of the squads are already trying out players with the summer Olympics in mind. There was a suggestion that Kenya could follow the same script.

Five KRU posts up for grabs

The emergence of the player issues coincides with the campaign for director positions in KRU next month where up to five posts are up for grabs. A division between the KRU Board has made it difficult for a common approach to solving some of the issues and the players who do not want to be drawn in the politics are aware of this.

"It is sad that in the past, some of us have been asked to align to some directors. We feel this is unprofessional," they said.

There is a strong word from the sponsors who have always said unless KRU cleans house, they shall hold on to their hard earned cash. In the past, Safaricom categorically stated they were unwilling to support KRU because of the split in the boardroom and Omwela upped the stakes to say he is ready to step down if the status quo remains next month.

While the players are working towards reaching an amicable solution, there could be a new frontier by the team's management who believe they have done enough in the short time to warrant more wages.

Sports News Arena established an assistant manager to Newton Ong'alo has been appointed. His duty will be to ensure documentation is processed on time because the turn around between tournaments is only 19 days.

He will also be in charge of the team in satellite tournaments. But the big issue is the disparity in wages between Ayimba's assistants which some rugby observers argue should be uniform.