The shame that is rugby union as referees strike over meagre allowance

Trouble is brewing at the Kenya Rugby Union after the referees’ body, the Kenya Rugby Referees Society stuck to its guns insisting that they will not officiate any local rugby game until they are paid their dues running into millions of shillings.

The referees are demanding match bonuses accrued from the 2017 season as well facilitation fee before they can return to the rugby pitch.

Their tough stance has already brought the game into disrepute after they stayed away from the last three rounds of matches.

This prompted KRU to hire unqualified ‘volunteers’ to oversee last weekend’s matches, but this raised a storm. For instance, during the Mwamba versus KCB  match at the Railways Club, the latter furiously contested some of the calls made by referee Collins Injera, claiming he was biased.Injera is a player with Mwamba and it baffles how he was picked for the delicate task.

Kenya's Collins Injera carries the ball during the USA Sevens Rugby tournament at Sam Boyd Stadium on March 5, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Isaac Brekken/Getty Images/AFP Isaac Brekken / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

The match between Kenya Harlequins and Impala Saracens was also mired in controversy after poor calls led to fist fights between the two sets of players. Harlequins’ team manager, Jimmy Munene, officiated the match.

“It’s a corrupt regime(KRU) that is trying to manipulate our hard work through uncouth ways and we are not going to allow that. They are busy wasting two million in Dubai(on holidays) but they are unable to pay us a meagre Sh 1,200  since 2011,” a Kenya Rugby Referees Society(KRRS) official lamented.

Shockingly, according to the KRRS official, they have only been paid bonuses for one weekend since the 2017/2018 season began.

They have vowed to continue downing their tools until their demands are met.

The development comes as a surprise moreso on a sport that has long been held in high regard, and which was thought to be professionally run.

In the Kenyan Premier League for instance, which is semi-professional in nature,  each referee gets Sh 8,000 allowance for officiating a match. This is incomparable to the meagre Sh 3,000 KRU pays its match officials.

“Let them recruit new match officials but before the new ones can take up the jobs, they should learn from us,’ a bitter referee, speaking to Citizen Digital on condition of anonymity said.

Meanwhile, the union has formed a referee’s panel that will be responsible for the registration, training, and allocation of match officials in the remaining fixtures.

Richard Omwela was reelected KRU Chairman after polling 25 votes to beat former deputy chair Sasha Mutai who got 23 votes. (PHOTO/COURTESY)

A statement from KRU said the volunteers will assist during training sessions and run the games in the different leagues the union runs.

“It’s very saddening they are busy releasing statements looking for volunteers whereas we have been working on pro-bono basis and they are yet to communicate to us on matters to do with our facilitation and dues,” he added.

The puzzle comes after a weekend that saw officiating crisis escalate as Kenya Rugby Referee Society continued with their go slow.

In the Ngong Road derby, both Impala Saracens and Kenya Harlequins blamed the match official David Orato for poor officiating that led to players’ hostility.This made several players be binned for indiscipline.

“Don’t expect any of us back to the playing field anytime soon. Those that you see (on the pitch) are officiating contrary to our agreement as referees and are simply not part of our group,” he said.

The KRRS officiates the Kenya Cup, Championship games, Eric Shirley Shield, and the nationwide leagues.