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RINGSIDE VIEW: This match fixing monster will ‘eat’ us all, if not slain

By STEVE OMONDI
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A few weeks ago, I bumped into Maurice Odumbe, a man who needs no introduction here, or anywhere else for that matter.

He was in the company of a colleague of mine and naturally I felt compelled to shake hands with this great man and exchange a few pleasantries.

During that brief encounter, what struck me as odd was Odumbe’s modest and humble mien.

He was quick to offer me a firm hand and even attempted to introduce himself.

Here is the irony. A man, who, I’m sure to this very day, many years after quitting the game of cricket, would find it hard to conceal his identity on the bustling streets of New Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata, was making a sincere effort to introduce himself to a journalist in his home town.

I politely interjected to cut short the unnecessary formalities.

Well, Odumbe’s story is one which has been told and retold over and over again.

At the zenith of his career, the man was practically a cricket demigod whose reputation as a ruthless right-handed batsman preceded him on the crease.

Those privileged enough to have met the Odumbe of yore off the pitch have told stories of a flamboyant sportsman who had a taste for a swanky lifestyle.

He had it all in life – fame, money, status, hordes of admirers and most importantly, tons of runs courtesy of his wicked cricket bat.

And he is said to have had a love for fast cars. But whenever he could afford the luxury of leisurely stroll in downtown Nairobi, many heads would turn in awe and reverence.

He was never the self-effacing, almost unnoticeable, man I met in the midst of an endless human traffic outside Nation Centre.

But that was long before his ill-advised dalliance with bookmakers cost him a career, family and friends.

The heavy blow his social standing inevitably took from a prolonged banishment from the game Odumbe so loved almost broke his body and spirit.

Odumbe remains the most high profile Kenyan sports personality whose career was ruined by allegations of match fixing.

Thankfully, he has since turned a corner. But his path to recovery and back into the game has been one tough tortuous journey.

To this day, the man maintains innocence over the biggest cricket scandal in the country.

That’s just how damaging match fixing can be to sportsmen and women.

Which is why I read with profound shock the biggest sports story that came through this week.

When and how did we get to a point where a football coach, and a league title winning one for that, can collude with a clique of his players to throw away match for a pittance?

It’s more baffling that the coach in question was only busted following a confession from six players who were part of this devious scheme.

An embittered club owner screamed blue murder and promptly fired the said coach. He is now calling for drastic government action to salvage the situation.

Here is the interesting bit. He is blaming it all on the thriving sports betting industry which has entranced an entire nation.

Unsurprisingly, our ever befuddled football authorities’ knee jerk reaction was to issue a feeble threat of a lifetime ban on the offending coach, his assistant and a certain player.

But all that would be akin to treating the symptom and not the cause of this malady

Here is my rationale.

Even with the wily and crafty coach dispensed with, or even banned for life here, if FKF and KPL have their way, in a ‘poor’ league such as ours, how many other players would still be willing to occasionally throw away a match to marginally boost their M-Pesa balances?

And by ‘marginally’ we are talking about figures in the range of between Sh50,000 and Sh200,000 – quite a significant amount for the average Kenyan football player.

My take? This whole match fixing monster is much bigger and scary than the football honchos are imagining. If let loose, it will gobble up an entire industry.