By Odindo Ayieko
When his friend, a former teammate at Strathmore University football club was gunned down by police five years ago in Tanzania on suspicion of engaging in criminal activities, Brian Wesaala decided to take a new path in life.
Wesaala was working as an IT specialist in Geneva Switzerland at the time his friend Allan Onyango Obama died.
So distraught was Wesaala that he would later quit his job and focus on empowering young footballers by setting up a football foundation that was aimed at economic empowerment and social development of footballers.
He decided to take a professional master’s degree course in Football Business from the Football Business Academy (Switzerland) and focused his energy on developing management skills among footballers.
“My friend Obama was a talented footballer and a budding IT professional, moved to Tanzania in search of work after failing to secure gainful employment in Kenya,” says Wesaala.
Obama had played alongside Wesaala under coach Mickey Weche at the Strathmore University football club while both were students pursuing IT.
While Wesaala was lucky to land a plum job at the United Nations, Obama tarmacked for quite some time in Nairobi and crossed the border to look for an employment opportunity in Tanzania.
And in what can only be termed as a case of “banged up abroad” Obama never returned alive. Police in Tanzania claims he joined the wrong company leading to his death, Wesaala and those who know him think otherwise.
“This made me think about the life of sportsmen in a different way. I wondered what I could do to improve the quality of life of sportsmen and especially footballers away from the pitch,” observes Wesaala.
Wesaala and his friends started the Obama Cup which is played annually at the Strathmore University, but he felt there is more he needed to do to reach out to more footballers.
“It is then that in 2018, I quit my job at the UN and set up The Football Foundation for Africa.”
Wesaala says The Football Foundation for Africa is an international social enterprise that seeks to drive investment in grassroots development in Africa, with the ultimate goal of creating job opportunities for footballers.
“I created this platform to address unemployment among youths, especially targeting amateur footballers.
He says that through three pillars: Educations, Infrastructure and Governance, he is focused on improving the quality of opportunities available to youths in football and through football.
But it is not just creating opportunities for footballers to get opportunities to play. He says it goes beyond just playing.
“A footballer’s shelf life is short. In fact, not all talented footballers get opportunities to play at a big stage and earn big from the sport. Others retire early due to injuries and other unforeseen circumstances.”
“So my goal is to geared towards improving the employability of footballers and creating opportunities for them within the sport but outside the pitch when they either retire or opt not to pursue the sport as a carrier,” he states.
He adds: “Through Football Foundation Africa, we aim to educate and empower footballers, active or retired into pursuing courses in marketing, media, health and management.”
Wesaala believes that if Kenya had such opportunities for sportspeople, his friend Obama would still be alive today.
So when Wesaala and his friends organized a tournament in honour of Obama, he saw the need to set up a foundation that would empower footballers.
His one year sojourn in his new career in sports management and development has already earned him global recognition.
In September last year, Wesaala’s Football Foundation Africa (FFA) was feted during the Football Heroes Awards in Moscow Russia by being declared the winner for Social Responsibility Activities.
The award is in connection with the FFA Cup 2018 held in Moroka Village in Botswana.
According to Wesaala, the tournament, now an annual event seeks to address the issue of unemployment by providing a platform for young people seeking job and career opportunities across Africa. The tournament was themed ‘Tackling Unemployment through Sport’.
“It was a great honour not only for me and FFA but also for Kenya,” Wesaala said in an interview.
The Special Awards were instituted by the International Football Development Association (IFDA) and organised by Global Leader in Sport. They showcase the best football practices characterised by superior professionalism, high social responsibility and exhibition of critical moral values.
The star guests list in the award ceremony were some of the best players to have graced world football among them Fernando Hiero, Fernando Morientes and Aldair Nascimento dos Santos. Notable, however, was that the award was presented by for Italy and AS Roma captain, Francesco Totti and Victoria Lopyreva, the FIFA World Cup 2018 ambassador.
“When I first organized the Obama Cup at Strathmore, I just wanted to honour my friend who had passed on, but when I got the invite to organize the tournament in Moroka, my focus shifted, and I saw a big gap that needed to be filled.”
“We know of several very talented footballers languishing in Kamiti and other prisons in Kenya, and the story is replicated across Africa. All this is due to pressures that come with life.”
“We also know of footballers who have starred in the game but ultimately ended up wallowing in poverty because they lacked the proper management skills that would have seen them invest and live a comfortable life.”
“These are the people we want to reach out to,” says Wesaala who also runs a blog brianwesaala.com.
“We want to see footballers engaging in sports science, sports health, and environmental sustainability through sports,” he adds.
“I want to introduce new knowledge in football and move away from the basic football development `and shift towards building careers through football by training footballers to be analysts, marketers, physios and managers.”
Wesaala, who has graced several conferences as the guest speaker, says it is unfortunate in Africa, footballers never get opportunities to manage the game.
“Take a case study of Bayern Munich of Germany which is fully run by former footballers. In Africa, we do not have such a model,” he observes.
A staunch AFC Leopards, fan, Wesaala believes having a big crowd to fill a stadium during matches does not generate income for clubs.
“It is how you use that space in the stadium to attract corporate partners that matter.
The COVID-19 has seen all sporting activities come to a halt globally. Wesaala says the ripple effects will be hard on athletes.
“The economic crunch that is expected in the post-COVID -19 will be hard-hitting, especially on sports. We now need to devise means of cushioning our footballers to come out of this stronger and the best way will be to empower them beyond football. This is the strategy I am currently building,” says Wesaala.
Born on August 3, 1984, Wesaala schooled in Lavington Primary and later Upper Hill Secondary before joining the University of Nairobi to study computer science. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Technology Management from the Open University (UK) and a professional master’s degree in Football Business from the Football Business Academy (Switzerland).