KPL must take the blame for persistent hooliganism

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The league's organising body must take a big chunk of the responsibility for the ongoing violence that plagues the top flight

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Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards - the biggest names in the Kenyan Premier League - are known for their fanatic followings, with both boasting indefatigable fans who follow the pair to all corners of the country whenever duty calls.

However, increasingly, the previously friendly rivalry between the two sides has become ugly, and the league organisers must surely begin to take a major portion of the blame for the unhappy undercurrent that's accompanying the two clubs.

It's unsurprising that Gor fans follow their team with a cultic fanaticism when you consider that the club is named after the mythical Luo magician Gor Wuod Ogalo.

It's from this sorcerer, who according to legend had supernatural powers that could make him invisible to his enemies, that the team's K'Ogalo nickname is derived.

K’Ogalo’ spirit must be pleased at all times, and the supporters duly oblige. After all, who wants to mess with a magician?

Gor Mahia fans with stones.

With big numbers behind them, sponsors are trickling in to take advantage of the masses. SportPesa, the gaming giants, are just one of them.

Gor Mahia, for example, are entitled to Sh199 million from their sponsor for the three years starting April 2018, while Ingwe will get Sh156m over the same period.

Apart from SportPesa, K’Ogalo also have a deal with Macron, while AFC Leopards just landed another mega shirt sponsorship contract with sports apparel manufacturer Umbro, the details of which are yet to be made public.

Money matters aside, the two clubs enjoy a deep-rooted rivalry spanning several years back, but off the pitch, they remain the best of friends, again thanks to the intermarriage between the Luo, predominant Gor Mahia supporters, and the Luhya community, who leans towards Leopards.

That's why the clash between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards is commonly referred to as Mashemeji (In-Laws) Derby.

However, the relatively positive image of the rivalry is being soiled by the uncouth behavior of a section of fans.

AFC Leopards players attack referee Mike Mwai at Machakos.

On Sunday, hooliganism visited the Kenyan league again; Gor Mahia fans copied what their in-laws did about three weeks ago when Ingwe’s Organizing Secretary Timothy Lilumbi joined a group of hooligans in roughing up match officials in a draw against Nzoia Sugar in Machakos.

Exactly 22 days down the line, it was the turn of Gor to take the mantle, only that they did it even ‘better’ by destroying property, including the KCB team bus and two ambulances that were on standby.

The violence began when the linesman awarded a simple throw-in to KCB with Gor Mahia trailing 1-0 with just two minutes left on the clock.

Sensing that a third league defeat was in the offing, fans started pelting match officials with stones and other assorted paraphernalia forcing a 25-minute stoppage. The game later resumed, but Gor Mahia lost nonetheless.

As unsavoury episodes like this become more commonplace, they beg the question, who is to blame for these repeated acts of hooliganism?

The KPL must hold their hands up, with the league organisers demonstrating a track record of being overly leniant on matters involving unruly supporters.

AFC Leopards fans ripped up the seats at the Kasarani Stadium during the Mashemeji Derby last season, for example, but the club are yet to be fined.

AFC Leopards fans start fire at Nyayo Stadium

The outcome of the Lilumbi case is yet to be made public even after the hearing was done at a private office belonging to KPL chairman Ambrose Rachier.

The official's conflict of interest may well explain why Gor's fans aren't punished by the KPL as they ought to be.

While Rachier ought to be acting impartially, with the league's own interests at the heart of his decision-making, he's also a key figure in the running of Gor, champions in five of the last six years.

It's unsurprising that, when he has a financial incentive for Gor to thrive, he isn't making the tough decisions against his own club or their 'in-laws' either.

This ought to prompt the Kenyan Football Federation to step in and fill the void, yet while they've vowed to do so, there's yet to be any significant action.

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“Just like AFC Leopards, the Independent Disciplinary and Complaints Committee (IDCC) will move fast on this one too," FKF President Nick Mwendwa told Goal. "We have to remove such fellows from the game.

"We will use all the powers that we have to bring the culprits into the book," he added. "Gor Mahia will also be punished if proved that their fans indeed played a part in the vandalism."

Fighting talk, indeed, but the league's reputation will continue to suffer until someone steps in and takes a strong hand against the hooligan elements.

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