“Football is a game of the gentlemen watched by thugs… Rugby is a game of thugs watched by gentlemen and Golf is a game of the gentlemen watched by gentlemen…” these are the unforgettable words of Prime Minister Raila Odinga as once quoted during a rare day out at the golf course together with his nemesis-turned-partner President Mwai Kibaki.
While the PM’s was a rib tickling off-the-cuff remark made purely in jest and good spirit, as the occasion then demanded, perhaps the self-styled Enigma of Kenyan Politics should have paraphrased a small part of his analogy thus; “Football is the common folks game that is run by a bunch self-seeking plunderers masquerading as sports administrators…”
That Kenyan football is terminally ill on its death bed is a fact that even the most brazen protagonist within the exclusive club of spiteful and quarrelsome ‘gentlemen’ will find hard to counter. Football is meant to be our national sport, but sadly over the recent past, it has progressively made a bad name for itself by persistently courting controversy borne out of the endless power wrangles.
While at times the bone of contention has been mind-boggling, on other occasions the local football fraternity has been treated to petty bickering over non-issues. The latest nuance to the effect that the Shs. 118.5m three year renaming contract of the Nyayo National Stadium entered into by the Sports Stadia Management Board (SSMB) and Coca Cola was un-procedural serves as a good case in point here. My take is that unless there was something really irregular about the re-branding agreement signed between SSMB and the giant soft drink manufacturer, to the average football fan, this is just another storm in a tea cup.
That line by Sports Minister about preserving national cultural facilities sounds a bit too shallow. It could be Nyayo National Stadium, Coca-Cola National Stadium or even Nyayo Coca-Cola National Stadium for all we care! In any case what’s really in a name when we can’t properly manage much less utilize the so-called national facilities even when they bear names that sound good to our ears? Or is it just a case of sour grapes on the part of a seniour government official who feels her authority was usurped on a small matter such as the renaming of a City Municipal Stadium? Perhaps - perhaps not. But then again, why hasn’t the Honourable Minister not made it her business to address matters concerning the stalled artificial turf-laying works at the other ‘state facility’, the derelict City Stadium?
If the circumstances surrounding our football arenas can generate so much heat then it’s only natural that the action on the pitch and the high level maneuvering within the boardrooms can’t be any less controversial. A couple of years after taking over the running of the local league, the fine line separating the operations of the Kenya Premier League Company (KPL) and those of the football governing body, Football Kenya Limited (FKL) is still indistinguishable. Evidently, KPL’s terms of reference appear to be unclear hence the constant conflict of interest between these two entities on matters of policy, particularly so those touching on the running and organization of the local league. Super Sport, the continental cable sports channel, has also lately found itself entangled in this messy yarn.
Last month, in a bizarre incident, a highly incriminating email sent by KPL Chief Executive Officer, Jack Oguda, to KPL Chairman, Bob Munro, found its way into the inbox of AFC Leopards secretary Richard Ekhalie. This at a time when Munro’s team Mathare United was slated to play AFC Leopard. No doubt, the mystery of the ‘stray email’ was a self indictment of the rot that is progressively gnawing away at our number one sport. AFC Leopards may have been fully justified in opposing the last minute arbitrary change of venue but their withdrawal from Super Sport’s live coverage deal in protest and subsequent forfeiture of the Shs. 3m annual grant derived from the pay channel TV was indeed regrettable. It’s such a pity that this endless vicious cycle has only helped in hurting our football.
The national team, Harambee Stars, has not been spared either these constant upheavals. Actually, our national team has more often than not assumed the unenviable role of the much loved yet fallible character in this tragic comedy of errors. For too long now, it has been apparent that the top brass officials at the FKL (previously KFF) rarely act in the best interest of the national team players and the technical bench, yet at the same time setting unrealistic objectives for the team. Former coaches Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee and his successor Francis Kimanzi were both acrimoniously hounded out of office under unclear circumstances. Ironically, on both occasions the national team was perceived to have been posting good results. It’s rather obvious that Kenyan football has no place for the few mavericks audacious enough to stand up to the egoistic administrators.
But in a strange twist of events, in the run up to the Kenya’s opening match in the last group phase of the 2010 World Cup qualifier against Tunisia, the hunter became the hunted when deposed coach Kamanzi forcibly decamped members of his Mathare team from the national team’s residential training a week before the big match, ostensibly to settle old scores. In a swift move that surprised many, Coach Antoine Hey, dropped the four players at the centre of the controversy from his final squad forthwith. But we weren’t done yet. Things almost came to a head when Kenyan hit man, Dennis Oliech, further threw a spanner to the works on arrival from his Auxerre base by attempting to implore the German tactician to reverse the decision. Not allowing himself to be arm-twisted by his dependable point man - having already been done in by his predecessor - the new coach’s rebuff was swift and categorical; in due course, Oliech apologized and withdrew his way out of line request.
And of course the usual sideshows and incidences prior to and during the match crowned FKL’s high level of incompetence. Days before the March 28th encounter, illegal replica shirts of the national team were doing rounds on the streets of Nairobi courtesy of streetwise pedlars taking advantage of FKL’s laxity in registering the apparel as a trademark. As if the flood of fake t-shirts wasn’t bad enough, there was also the other issue of counterfeit match tickets which were also circulating on the streets. On a weekend where scores of fans were crashed to death in a stampede in a corresponding match in Abidjan, things weren’t any different at the ‘sold-out’ Coca Cola National Stadium. It’s such a paradox that purchasing match tickets off the streets around this place is a lot more easier than securing passage through the turnstile come match day: Its always a case of ‘mwenye nguvu mpishe’.
In the final analysis it can only be deduced that these petty altercations, tongue wagging and hand wringing only serve as a manifestation of the deep laying discord within the administrative structures of our football. But then, it’s not that hard to infer the diagnosis of this modern-day pandemic that is ravaging our football. We sold our souls to the devil the moment we bought the lies apportioned to us by these good for nothing busybodies in there quest to occupy those lavish offices at the football secretariat. My prognosis? Kenya football is bound to sink further into the depths of this unfathomable abyss. The Remedy? A radical surgery of the administrative structure is urgently required! Then, and only then, will there be a glimmer of hope; some flickering ray of light at the end of this long dingy tunnel.