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OPINION: Concerns over match fixing in the FKF Premier League

The Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Premier League has been plagued by poor officiating and possible match-fixing for several years now, and it is killing the league’s reputation and the sport as a whole.

Poor officiating has been a persistent problem in the top-flight league, with referees frequently making questionable calls and failing to maintain control of the game.

This has led to a lack of consistency and fairness in the league, causing frustration among players, coaches, and fans alike. In some cases, it has even led to altercations on the field and accusations of match-fixing.

Three weeks ago, a referee granted a penalty that when reviewed was wrong at one of the top matches played in the city.

This led to fans rioting and nearly stopping the game.

On Wednesday, Shabana hosted Gor Mahia FC in what was dubbed ‘Nyanza Derby’ at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.

The game was a fairly entertaining match until the referee issued a straight red card to Absalom Aduda in the 81st minute. In high-octane games like derbies, referees need to offer restraint in how they manage the match. This led to the Glamour Boys who controlled the game all the time to be hit at the last minute by Kogallo.

Match-fixing concerns in the league have risen in the recent past where even coaches and players have been found to have violated the code and involved in the vice.

Match fixing, or the manipulation of the outcome of a sporting event for financial gain, is a serious issue that can undermine the integrity of the game and damage the sport’s reputation.

It is particularly concerning in the KPL, where the stakes are high and the financial rewards for winning are significant. Imagine fans paying for tickets to “jaza Stadi” as Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba clamors only to watch a pre-determined match.

It’s awful and frustrating.

The consequences of poor officiating and match-fixing in the league are far-reaching and devastating.

Fans are losing faith in the league, and attendance and viewership are suffering as a result.

The league’s reputation is also taking a hit, making it harder for the competition to attract credible sponsors and investors.

This, in turn, has led to a decrease in the quality of the game, as teams may not have the resources to invest in player development and other aspects of the sport.

In my tenure as president of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF), match-fixing and poor officiating were severely punished and discouraged. I made a proactive approach to improving the quality of officiating and rooting out match-fixing.

Today we find ourselves in the mess again.

Improving the officiating of football in the league is a complex task that requires a multi-faceted approach. Several key areas can be addressed to enhance the quality and fairness of officiating in the league. These include training and development of referees, technology implementation, and increased transparency and accountability.

Training and Development of Referees:

One of the most crucial steps in improving officiating in the Kenya Premier League is investing in the training and development of referees. This includes both initial training for new referees and continuous education for existing officials.

The Football Kenya Federation (FKF) should establish a comprehensive referee development program that focuses on enhancing their knowledge of the game, understanding of the rules, and decision-making skills.

Referee training should include both theoretical and practical components. Classroom sessions can cover topics such as rule interpretation, positioning, communication, and match management. Practical training should involve simulated match situations and real-game experience under the guidance of experienced mentors. Regular assessments and feedback sessions should also be conducted to identify areas for improvement and provide guidance for further development.

Furthermore, it is essential to establish a clear pathway for referee progression. This can include opportunities for promotion to higher levels of competition based on performance evaluations. Recognizing and rewarding top-performing referees will incentivize them to continually improve their skills.

Technology Implementation:

The introduction of technology can significantly aid in improving officiating standards in the Kenya Premier League. The use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology has proven successful in other leagues around the world, such as the English Premier League and Bundesliga. VAR allows referees to review critical decisions, such as goals, penalties, red cards, and mistaken identity incidents, with the assistance of video footage.

Implementing VAR would help reduce human errors and provide more accurate decisions during matches. It would also increase transparency by allowing fans, players, coaches, and officials to understand why certain decisions were made. However, it is important to ensure that the technology is implemented effectively and that referees receive proper training on its usage to avoid unnecessary delays and disruptions to the flow of the game.

Increased Transparency and Accountability:

Transparency and accountability are crucial aspects of improving officiating in any league. The Kenya Premier League should establish clear guidelines and protocols for referee appointments, evaluations, and disciplinary actions. These guidelines should be publicly available to ensure transparency and build trust among stakeholders.

Referee performance evaluations should be conducted regularly and objectively. Evaluations can be done by a panel of experts, including former players, coaches, and referees, who can assess the quality of decisions made during matches. The results of these evaluations should be made public, highlighting areas of improvement for individual referees.

Additionally, there should be a robust system in place to address complaints or allegations of bias or misconduct against referees. A dedicated body within the FKF should be responsible for investigating such claims thoroughly and taking appropriate disciplinary action if necessary. This will help maintain integrity within the officiating community and ensure that referees are held accountable for their actions.

Improving the officiating of football in the KPL requires a comprehensive approach that includes training and development of referees, technology implementation, and increased transparency and accountability. By investing in these areas, the league can enhance the quality and fairness of officiating, ultimately benefiting players, clubs, and fans alike.

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The writer is a former Football Kenya Federation president and patron of top-flight side Shabana