Sunday, April 28, 2013

Open letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Art

Greetings Waziri Hassan Wario Arero! Allow me to begin by congratulating you on your nomination for the position of Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Arts.
Precisely seven days ago, I wrote in this very column that the sporting fraternity could not wait any longer for your identity to be revealed. Thankfully, His Excellency the President Uhuru Kenyatta spared us any further apprehension when 72 hours later he announced your name along with those of 12 other nominees for various cabinet dockets.
Honestly, your nomination took me by surprise considering that I had never heard of your name anywhere in the sporting circles before. I am embarrassed to make this confession, but the truth is I am being economical with the truth here. I was hearing your name for the first time last week. But that is beside the point. My main concern is to bring you up to speed with the goings-on in Kenyan sports. I believe this information will come in handy you when you finally assume office.
First and foremost, it would be of utmost importance for you to know that as much as the President categorically stated that your role (and that of your other Cabinet colleagues in-waiting) will be nonpolitical, everything about sports in Kenya is political!
In the course of discharging your duties be prepared to get drawn into the endless political turf wars that are synonymous with all sports federations in the country.

Be particularly wary of Football Kenya Federation (FKF). Controversy is the middle name of this federation whose past and present leaderships are known for their conniving and wily ways, especially when it comes to transparency and accountability.
But FKF will not be the only source of your headache. The equally inept Cricket Kenya (CK) and Kenya Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) are FKF’s chief partners in crime. Ever wondered why Kenya’s performance in cricket and boxing nosedived to a bottomless abyss? Well, wonder no more Bwana Waziri.
Don’t be deceived by the many medals Kenyan runners rack up at very global event; if you scratch beneath Athletics Kenya’s (AK) glossy exterior you will be surprised by the heap of dirt you will unearth.
The good performance of the Kenya 7s rugby team and the women’s national volleyball team somehow paints Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) and the Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) in good light. Yet, Kenya has not achieved its full potential in the two disciplines.
I won’t waste precious space on the ‘other’ such as tennis, badminton, squash, motorsport, handball, netball and basketball. There is nothing to write home about.
But being the optimist that I am, I believe you have what it takes to turn things around. At just 42 years, you are the embodiment of youthfulness in tandem with the Jubilee Coalition’s campaign clarion call for the long overdue generational change. What more! Being an Anthropologist you should be able to immortalize the past, present and future exploits of our athletes in the National Museum of our collective memories.
Finally, it’s my hope that you will take the cue from the appointing authorities (the dynamic UhuRuto duo) and roll up your sleeves for serious work once the parliamentary vetting committee clears you. Good luck Sir!

Hooliganism is here to stay!

Football. Bloody hell! Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quip after Manchester United’s wrenched the big-eared Uefa Champions League trophy by the scruff of its neck with a dramatic stoppage time victory over Bayern Munich during that memorable 1999 Uefa Champions League final comes to mind in view of the recent happenings in Europe’s premier club competition.
Who would have thought Bayern Munich could have steamrolled the all-conquering Barcelona and that the unfancied Borussia Dortmund would have made mincemeat of the star-studded Real Madrid?
Thomas Müller and Robert Lowendowski proved to be the Spanish teams’ worst nightmares with peerless performances that reduced the unfit Lionel Messi and a largely subdued Cristiano Ronaldo to mere mortals.
“Has the power balance in European football shifted from Spain to Germany?” was the TV commentator’s punch line after Dortmund annihilated Real at the Signal Iduna Park.
But I will leave at that and wait for the return fixtures in the Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
On the domestic scene, all I have been hearing the whole week has been a raucous din about some miscreants masquerading as football fans.

While Football Kenya Federation (FKF) was busy paying lip services by imposing a ‘life bans’ on some goon who invaded a match between AFC Leopards and Chemelil Sugar, Gor Mahia fans were on the loose unleashing terror on motorists, pedestrians and traders along Jogoo Road after their team barely managed a draw against Sony Sugar.
FKF’s ban claim would have been laughable if not for the gravity of the matter. For all I know, neither FKF nor Kenyan Premier League (KPL) have the capacity or resources to impose such a penalty.
I have covered many football matches in KPL and from my observation, little or no screening is done on the ticket holders at the turnstiles.
That is why all sorts of contrabands too often find their way into the stands. During last season’s violence-marred meeting between Gor and Leopards at Nyayo, one fan was pictured carrying a gigantic water tank high up on the terraces in the troubled section.
Absence of surveillance cameras in our stadia makes it practically impossible to identify persons entering the venue.
SuperSport cameras can to some degree do the job, but not all matches are televised live. Furthermore, SuperSport is not in the business of picking out trouble spot in the stadium. Their sole interest is to televise matches. That’s why we shall have to contend with many more case of hooliganism in future EPL matches. Unfortunately so!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Can't wait for new Sports Minister

Last week when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the structure of his new cabinet, Sports (no prizes for guessing) was lumped together with Culture and Arts.
It came as no surprise at all. This was purely in keeping with tradition. In the eyes of Uhuru’s predecessors, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki, sports belonged to the backwaters of their cabinet structures.
I was born during Mzee Kenyatta’s sunset days but from what I gather, sports featured nowhere in his lean independence cabinet of 1963.
A look at the list of Kenyatta’s cabinet of 15 ministries, perhaps the only one that was ‘remotely’ related to sports was Eliud Mwendwa’s Ministry of Labour and Social Services.
Exit Kenyatta, enter Moi. His fetish for having all the main sporting facilities across the country named after him notwithstanding, not to mention his knack for gracing all major sporting events, Moi too didn’t consider sports worthy of having a full ministerial docket.
In fact, during the Nyayo days sports was just a department within the expansive Ministry of Culture and Social Services.
Then came Emilio Mwai Kibaki. Apart from his love for golf, the immediate former president was overtly aloof to sports.
Ironically, he was the first Head of State to grant sports a visible docket, albeit under the Ministry of Youth, Gender and Sports.

During their well-oiled campaign in the run up to March 14 General Election, the ruling Jubilee Coalition identified the country’s sporting challenge thus (and I quote their manifesto verbatim):
“Our collective love for sports and the arts is one of the strongest factors that unite us. In the sporting arena we are world leaders in middle and long distance running. At home our culture is vibrant and thriving. However, successive Governments have too often neglected sports and creative industries. As a result, the potential in these sectors have not been accorded a chance to improve our quality of life or boost our economy.”
To this end, the Jubilee manifesto outlined a 16-point blueprint as a viable solution.
As we wait with bated breaths for President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto to reveal the identities of the office bearers of their 18-ministry cabinet later this week, it is my hope that the two principals will appoint in the Sports, Culture and Arts Ministry someone capable of maximizing the great potential of this multi-billion shillings industry.
Key in Jubilee’s ambitious manifesto is the establishment of a National Lottery Scheme, the establishment of state-of-the-art youth development centres in all the 47 Counties and building of five new sports stadia in Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret and Garissa while at the same time upgrading existing sporting facilities at the county level.
Clearly, the yet to be named Sports, Culture and Arts Minister already has his/her work cut towards achieving this ambitious plan. The Kenyan sporting fraternity will be keenly watching to see whether indeed, they ‘should believe, yawezekana, kusema na kutenda’.
Failure to which, the Jubilee Government will be held to account for their lofty promises.

Friday, April 19, 2013

AFC Leopards must be reprimanded

Just what will it take to end this Ingwe ‘madness’? My words have been very carefully chosen here because just twenty four hours to their match against Chemelil Sugar in a KPL Top 8 match, it was their new coach Luc Eymael who exclaimed in total exasperation: “It’s madness here... I am very irritated”.
To put things in context, a missed ride to the team’s training ground on Monday afternoon was the source of the Belgian’s frustration.
But if the gross maladministration of Ingwe is indeed madness, then I can’t find the right words to describe the shameful act of the club’s fans in recent days.
In my last column, I wondered aloud how the Sports Stadia Management Board (SSMB) could grant Leopards a carte blanche in their facilities yet the conduct of the team’s fans has lately left a lot to be desired.
Under the guise of protesting ‘poor officiating’ Ingwe’s fans set the tone of their agenda this season by ripping off seats at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on the very first day of the season after their match against Chemelil Sugar ended in a 1-1 draw.

On Wednesday night the same hoodlums once again went on the rampage at Nyayo National Stadium as their team faced imminent defeat to the sugar millers. Yet again, their scapegoat was ‘poor officiating’.
For too long Gor Mahia fans have been depicted as the vile ‘war merchants’ in Kenyan football. But at this rate, AFC Leopards are will sooner rather than later stage a coup on Sirkal.
If Leopards fans can resort to violence and wanton destruction of property against a team of Chemelil’s ilk, then what will happen when they meet their eternal nemesis in three weeks’ time? So the question is: for how long must Leopards continue in their wayward ways before the authorities take action?
During that first match, against Chemelil on February 24, a top Leopards official had the nerve to shift blame on the home team (Chemelil) for their failure to put up sound security measure never mind practically all the fans inside the stadium were donning Ingwe’s famous blue and white hoops.
It will be interesting to hear what the team’s administration will proffer in defence of the vile fans if and when KPL holds to them to account for their actions.
That said, no amount of lame excuses can justify the violence that was meted out by Ingwe fans on Wednesday night. The authorities must act now!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hell hath no fury like K’Ogalo fans scorned!

A story published on last week’s Wednesday edition of the Daily Nation confirmed that Gor Mahia fans do not take kindly anything that tends to disparage their beloved team.
It takes a very brave journalist to brand the mighty Gor as ‘perennial continental flops’ - as the article insinuated.
So naturally, for his troubles, the writer whose byline the story bore got some serious tongue lashing on social media from a section of miffed Gor fans.
That’s just how passionate K’Ogalo fans are. And who would blame them? The world over, football fans are known to go to unthinkable extent to uphold the honour of their clubs.
My colleague and friend who penned the piece should actually count himself very lucky for getting off the hook with just a mere dressing-down.
A tale is told of a historic meeting between arch rivals Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards in the finals of the 1985 Cecafa Club Championship in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
Pundits have described this encounter as the most fiercely contested final in the regional tournament’s history. With Leopards having beaten Gor 2-1 in the previous year’s edition, the tie was thick with sub plots as the sworn enemies took their battle beyond Kenyan borders.

At the end of a bruising 90 minute, Gor prevailed over Leopards with a sweet 2-0 victory. But there was a strange twist to the tale when Gor Mahia’s two goal hero William Obwaka had his rural home torched by AFC Leopards fans who felt betrayed by a kinsman who chose to go to bed with the enemy.
Finally, I found it a little bit odd that late on Friday evening the Kenyan Premier League hurriedly dispatched information to the effect that Sport Stadia Management Board (SSMB) had declined to host Gor Mahia at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
As carefully as the mail had been drafted, the message was clear. The Green Army are still considered persona non grata at all SSMB facilities.
Strange, given that Gor have not had one single incident of crowd trouble this season. In fact it was AFC Leopards’ fans who on the very first day of the season ripped off seats at the Kasarani facility in a violent fit of rage ostensibly to protest ‘poor officiating’.
How odd then that Ingwe were allowed to prance in feline grace around the same facility on Saturday evening only to have Gor locked out for their Sunday afternoon date with KCB? Is SSMB’s ‘hosting advisory’ on K’Ogalo a case of selective judgment of simply giving the dog a bad name? Just my thoughts.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Kenyan clubs should drop Gunners' defeatist mentality

It’s the most annoying thing that I keep hearing. When will Arsenal fans (the local ones) realize that ‘their’ team has hit rock bottom?
On Sunday I was left completely aghast with a colleague at the office (a self-styled Gunner) who was besides himself as Everton frustrated Tottenham Hotspurs to a 2-2 draw at the White Hart Lane.
His source of excitement was informed by the notion that defeat for Spurs would provide a window of opportunity for his beloved Arsenal to sneak through the backdoor into the Uefa Champions League.
I found that a little pedestrian. It’s no secret that over the last few years, eight to be precise, Arsenal has been reduced to a run off the mill side in the Premiership that finds enough reason to ‘celebrate’ a top four finish.
But on every occasion they have gatecrashed the European banquet, they are ever content in scrambling for crumbs that fall off the high table while the big boys (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United) eat to their fill.
Arsenal fans keep talking about qualification for Uefa Champions League, but what's the point of qualification only to get whacked all over the place?
But I care less about the much hyped English Premier League, let alone spineless teams that forever keep talking about the future and not the present.

That brings me to the crux of the matter, local football. For all the talk about the Tusker Premier League being one of the most competitive this side of the Sahara, there is little evidence to validate this claim.
If indeed the proof is the pudding, then the top two Kenyan Premier League sides, Tusker FC and Gor Mahia, the burden of proof has been way too heavy to shoulder, going by their dismal showing at the continental stage.
Just over two decades ago, Kenya teams had little difficulty in reaching the latter stages of continental tournaments. Indeed, the then ‘Mighty Gor’ class of ‘87 class of wrote history by becoming the first club in East and Central Africa to clinch a continental diadem.
Seven years later, Tusker came very close to repeating Gor’s feat but sensationally capitulated at the hands of Congolese side DC Motema Pemba when losing seemed more difficult than winning.
Since then, it has been a downward spiral for Kenyan teams. Nowadays, we seem more content in just making the numbers as opposed to contesting for honours.
True, Egyptian clubs are established on sound infrastructural and financial foundation, but that should not be an excuse for Tusker’s and Gor’s tame display against Al Ahly and ENPPI respectively.
I would have thought that either team should have, at worst, forced a draw at home. I cringe at the thought of our clubs going the Arsenal way of taking pride in merely qualifying for continental tournaments only to get kicked left, right and centre

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Age is more than just a number

I have always wondered; if indeed age is just a number then why it is such a pain for most people to reveal how old they are? Having been schooled in the old-fashioned way I, for one, takes utmost care on all matters related to age when dealing the womenfolk.
Most ladies have an inborn fetish for youthfulness and from where I come there is an unwritten rule that asking a woman her age is the height of churlishness. It’s simply a no, no!
I must also hasten to add here that one of the missing bit of detail on my Facebook and Twitter accounts is the date of my birth. Not for any reasons other than a deterrent measure for a barrage of unsolicited birthday wishes.
But I digress. My gripe is with the issue of age falsification in sports.
While it’s an accepted fact that ‘age cheating’ is rampant in sports, recent claims that former Nigerian defensive lynchpin Taribo West once ‘slashed’ his age by 12 years in order to join a club in Europe is, for lack of a better word, mind-boggling.
The former president of Serbian club Partizan Belgrade, Zarko Zecevic, last week blew the lid off the can with claims that West lied about his age and that the former Super Eagles centre half was actually 12 years older than the 28 years he claimed to be when he joined the club way back in 2002.

A certain website couldn’t have put it better by saying: ‘If Taribo West is as old as they say he is, then his professional football career is one long achievement in itself.’
Although a rare feat in football, there exist a few players in the mound of Lothar Matthaus, Edwin van der Sar, Jens Lehman, Paulo Maldini, Hossam Hassan and Roger Milla (all legendary in their own rights) who extended their playing careers beyond their 4oth birthdays.
But without a doubt this class of players is a dying breed. Manchester United’s philandering yet ageless winger, Ryan Giggs, is perhaps the last of a lineage of players with an incredible ‘staying power’ (no pun intended).
What makes Zecevic’s claims incredible is that after leaving Partizan in 2004, West played for four more years, turning out for four different clubs, until 2008 when he finally hanged his boot.
That would have made him a 46 years old scoundrel who cheated his way into all age group tournaments that he represented Nigeria in, including the famous 1996 Olympic Games victory in Atlanta, USA.
Of course, and naturally so, West has disproved these claims. This begs the question are all those fabled tales of West African nation’s success in youth development just a sham?
But Kenyan football too is not immune to age cheating and my haunch is that there are many players in the Kenyan Premier League carrying passports with falsified dates of birth.