Will The Sun Rise In The East?

The 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt, has proven to be a successful edition of the tournament so far. From the spectacular opening ceremony in Cairo and the exciting group-stage match ups to the late twists and drama in the knockout stage, the tournament has certainly provided African fanatics and supporters alike with quality entertainment.

The East African contingent in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania made competition history as they all qualified together for the first time since the tournament’s inception. It would be foolish therefore to ignore the fact that football in the East is growing. However, as was witnessed in the group stages, football in the East is still far below the level of the North and West African counterparts.

Kenya and Tanzania were well out of their depth when pitted against tournament favourites Senegal and Algeria. It was no surprise that they were both eliminated in the group stage. Burundi put up an overall spirited performance in their group but they suffered the same fate. Uganda navigated their way out of the group stage but were subsequently knocked out by Senegal in the first knockout round. While the players and coaching staff should rightly be congratulated for their efforts, one cannot help but wonder if East African football will ever dominate the African football scene.

What can East African teams (clubs and countries) do to effectively compete in the upper echelons of African football? What role as fans do we play in the search for change in our game? What of our football federations? Our education systems? Our football academies? Our local coaches? Parents and teachers? Politics? Are any of these conducive for the growth football in our respective localities?

Is it acceptable to point our fingers at honest, hardworking individuals for our failure when our collective philosophy on the game is wrong to begin with? For how long will we continue to ignore that the socio-economic and political conditions we place in our society only sets up our sportspeople for failure? Will we actually push for change or will we forever remain in the footnotes of African football? Will we live long enough to see the sun rise on East African football?

The Kenyan Premiership Crisis

The Kenyan Premier League 2019/2020 season kicked off a few weeks ago despite major betting companies in the country losing their operating licenses courtesy of legal action by the Kenyan government. Sportpesa, who held the lion’s share of the market, the Premiership sponsor just so happened to undergo close scrutiny by the Kenya Revenue Authority who at the time were allegedly seeking the company to pay its taxes in full. After a while, due to an alleged poor business environment, they decided to exit the market and move elsewhere.

What followed in the next few weeks had been feared by many a critic and the symptoms are now evident. A number of clubs are cash-strapped and have even had to forfeit their games as a result. Clubs are struggling to make payments to their players and staff. This sorry state of affairs is a cause to worry particularly if the season will carry on until the end as initially planned. There have been calls to have the league suspended in order for the organizers and the Federation to find an amicable solution on how the crisis will be solved.

Suspension however is deemed only as a short term solution. It is critical that during these discussions, Kenyan clubs crack their heads and create a suitable, sustainable system of running club football in the country on and off the pitch. While the league may need a big name sponsor to push ratings outside the country, it is key that the management of Kenyan football clubs is improved off the pitch if our national game is to improve on it.

The League organizers must also get their act together and develop themselves a strong marketing unit based on the success of the league and be able to put themselves out there together with the Federation. The rambles between the KPL and the FKF need to be put to bed. The KPL and FKF must ensure that government funding is utilized in the best manner while looking for alternative income sources as well.

The government has to be held somewhat accountable considering the harsh taxing and legal requirements they push on corporates that have sponsored the league previously. In 2017, Supersport, the big name sponsor, the marketing wet dream of our League left the Kenyan scene for the reasons stated above. Although they alleged a breach of contract by the league organizers, there was also the issue of taxes which had been raised by the government when they seemed to be raking up profit.

Sportpesa are the most recent victims for what it seems are the same reasons which begs the question,” Does our government really want to push the growth of our football?” Is the government purposefully being an impediment to the progress of sports in the country. Forget about the companies for a moment and realize who the real victims of this mess are. The Kenyans who rely on these sports as a means of living. The high table officials argue on and on making decisions that the said ‘ordinary’ Kenyans have to live with. It is high time we seek officials who do care about the people they are leading and will make an honest effort to improve conditions on the ground.

Having numerous speeches that praise the athletes and their works and availing some cash is not the solution. It is a mockery of the country’s sportspeople. Failure to set in place any laws that could protect those doing their best to sponsor sports and sporting activities while also failing to attend on developing sporting facilities as required by the constitution only rubs salt in their wounds. It’s sad to admit but the government may just be the biggest enemy to any potential progress in sports of this nation.

The build-up

Fifteen-year jinx and we made it back to the continental stage for the 2019 AFCON. 1 win and 2 losses and we came back home. Every fan almost had a thing to say on the team and their performance at the tournament. Were we too hopeful that the team could make it out the group into the round of 16, coming up against more better-prepared sides like Algeria and Senegal who were favourites from the word go?

Or is it that we were ill-prepared with no experience and we should have handled some aspects of our game better? AFCON returns in a little less than two years and by then, will improvements have being made? In other words, I am asking , what is the way forward for our national soccer side? What do we need to do to build on this performance that we had in this tourney here? Where did we do wrongs that we could improve on?

I could go on and on with these questions but let me pause them there for now. I know the epic moment for any football fan is when a team does not only qualify for tourneys but goes a step further to prove why they made it past the cut-off line. That is where we as Kenyans would like to see our national team get to. Is there a chance for us to build on what we already have at the moment? Quite frankly, there is, of course, but the steps to get there will not start being made in 2021, when it is a few weeks left to the tournament, it starts now.

That is not only work to the technical side of the national side or the FKF, or just the Ministry of Sports, Heritage and Culture but each and everyone of us needs to come together. The 12th man on the pitch will always be us, the fans. Not only turning up to support the national side just because we have a game against another national side, but also when it comes to the local leagues, we should turn up in numbers.

Let us not make it a preserve for games we consider to have heavy following like the Mashemeji Derby but for each and every game there is in the Kenyan Premier League as well as the National Super League. Support starts from there, not when team selections are made we do not even know where the named players play their local club soccer. If support begins from the lower levels and is properly followed through, am sure we could grow the sport to some new heights.

Another thing is that the national side should be highly competitive with a pool of players to pick on for each period. Be it friendlies, major or minor tournaments. A team should not really be the same group of people that are always known but an ever-changing one with coaches being able to evaluate team chemistry. This should take into consideration of players at the club levels over a period that should aim to find how players have being consistent in their roles as such.

A reason for the outcry by a group of fans was that the team was not really a reflection of the players who had really done well at club level as such and therefore it should have being more considerate of such issues I have outlined above. A competitive team could help players to really keep on their toes while at club level, not only because they are looking for a national team call up but also it improves their game at club level generally. Hence, this is a win-win situation.

The national side should also have a feeder system. Where they have pool of young talent who can be nurtured into future stars to carry the nation. This would really be helpful especially with a national side. Am quite happy that the stars have an Under-20 side, an U-17 side and an U-15 side, which is quite young system which is picking from the French and if everything goes well, the nation, should have quite a bright future with adequate preparations. That means we might have to wait for three or so years to see that our national side rises to levels that it needs and everyone envisions it to get to be.

Will we see improvements in 2021 hopefully and in the near future with this? Only time will tell.

Unfinished projects and everything in between

A week ago, perusing through a newspaper, a small picture caught my eye. Showing an athletics coach marking a ground for the training of athletes. I would have let it pass but the caption was longer than that. Its a ground within a school, yes, a school and athletes have taken it upon themselves to mark the ground and donate soil for levelling of the ground. All this, contributed by the delays in the renovation of Kamariny Stadium in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County, much more infuriating is that cash has already being allocated for the project. Almost typical, or just a classic one.

I never understand what happens when the money is available and has being availed to the relevant authorities already. Then you hear such cases of cash allocated being wasted by the county government. Officials getting to enjoy the money supposed to build such mega structures as stadia, and they give no explanation and the general public is left in the dark as to what is going on. Contractors who had already pitched camp for months are left idle and they have to be paid compensation for the lack of work. Its occurring much nearer where I am in Ngong Stadium which has stalled for about three years now.

It is in such views that I would like to recommend to the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Sports, Arts and Culture, Rashid Echesa that he and his ministry set up a strategy that would see that all planned construction of stadia around the country, working in tandem with the CECs in charge of the same docket, to makes sure that moneys allocated to such like projects are done well. That would require serious commitment and follow up, which should be as regular as possible. That means the CS, should sit down with all CECs, 47 of them and have a dialogue about what projects are ongoing or are being planned on to go on, as far as sports is concerned.

It’s not a, b,c , it’s not 1, 2,3 but neither is it rocket science. If we have to be at the top in making sure that projects in the country are started and finished successfully, then a structured system must be set in place and adopted. This is one of them. We do know that CECs are under governors, and therefore, governors might instead be called in to discuss on the projects that they are concentrating on and what allocations they have have and might need for their next budgets if what is at hand is not enough. It is a bad show when a project is started, or is to be started and won’t be finished. I am glad we are in the devolution era, which has had its fair share of ups and downs, and will continue but improvement is what should be aimed for at the end of the day.

That said, the notion that needs to seriously be moved from is, that projects in sports such as stadia and other necessary facilities should be worked on when we are to host a tournament that has international teams and clubs in it. Isn’t it ironical that projects being worked on now, are being done in preparation for the IAAF Under-20 tournament next year July? Same thing we occasioned in 2017, tried for the CHAN 2018, which we failed to host due to unpreparedness. Now, it is key to remember that, we do have other tournaments in the nation, KPL, NSL, Kenya Cup for Rugby, you got athletics championships around different counties almost every week. Aren’t this enough to make stadia and facilities necessary for hosting of such be complete and in good time?

Local championships are just as important as international tournaments that occur in the country and that needs emphasis. We have less local grounds that are up to standards worthy of hosting the first tier league in the country, KPL. That should be a cause for concern and action. I already suggested clubs could really benefit in working with county governments to have stadia in the counties be used by them as their home-grounds for a whole season or as they agree in contract with counties. I will also suggest, the Ministry Of Sports, Arts and Culture, work with the private sector in understanding what needs to be done in order to appeal to the private sector some more . That would open a bigger avenue for private-public partnerships which would see many other facilities that are not currently in sports in the country, put in place.

This is just what I feel and think will be necessary going forward for sporting facilities that are being constructed currently.

Professionalism in sports for Kenya

Just this past year, we as country, an athletics powerhouse, launched a new laboratory to try and curb the menace that had dogged us for years. Doping. It does not look to serve only us, but the rest of the region as well. Quite a moment to be happy, a moment to be glad that we do not have to fly out, all the way to South Africa or Europe for samples of blood to be tested.

Its a quite honorary step to bring professionalism into sports. 21st Century it is, but we are worlds apart compared to Europe, America and Asia. Why? The question of professionalism has never being more fundamental than it is now even as we seek to take and see, our sports reach to that next level across the whole continent if not the region and country.

Professionalism is defined as a way of doing a job showing great skills and experience, according to the Oxford dictionary. Translating that to sports would mean that sporting federations, the ministry in charge of sports as well as their counterparts in county governments in the form of CEC’s and corporates should possess this. The know how of how to not only run sports administration but as well, addressing challenges in the best way possible. Athletics Kenya did a good one in partnering with Lancet Group of Laboratories in East Africa to have this project initiated and it passed the test to have it up and running.

With this, we could promote equality in sporting competition and culture really well. We can halt the doping menace not only in athletics but in all sports as well as we have the capability, proven by us being permitted by WADA. That said, the success of such a laboratory in the country would be really a thing that we will have to watch and pray that no scandals, will dog its progress in the near future.

For other federations, the question has always being about the adoption of a more transparent and accountable method of administration in sports. If there has being a thing that has drugged as down for a long time now, it is corruption. Even in doping, it is corruption. All around money or objects changing hands illegally.

That said, we should remember that a lot of money goes into supporting sporting activities in the country, whether be it supporting travelling teams, organizing tournaments within the country or just having to run the federations in day to day activities. Yet, sadly, even what is given is not enough. Even more sad, is that the people entrusted with this mere resources plunder it through wastage and questions are raised about it.

We will remember that the Auditor General raised questions about, the use of the Kes.3.5 Billion given during the IAAF Under 18 World Championship hosted here in Nairobi back in 2017 July. According to the concerns raised, almost more than half of that, Kes. 1.7 billion, could not be accounted for by the Ministry. Maybe, and just maybe, that’s why the government would just be giving less and less towards the Ministry to control on the appetite of wastage and greed that may have being occasioned from them.

Last but not least, it should be extended in the hosting of hosting of sporting events in the country. Yes, we have being able to host a number of tournaments such as CECAFA, IAAF under 18 that we are now entrusted with IAAF Under 20 tournament next year in July. Haven’t heard a thing about the progress of preparations so far but the last minute rush to prove that work is ongoing is a culture that must stop. It cost us the chance to host the CHAN tournament last year, and if not careful, might cost us even more in the future.

Failing to host CHAN, whose hosting rights we were granted back in 2013, is quite a painful reminder of how important it is, to prepare much earlier. We got a lot of learning to do from the past mistakes which could translate to a much better professional approach in sports in the country, region and the continent as a whole. Of course, I have not gone into all aspects of where professionalism is needed in our sports, but the ones above, are a few areas I felt are critical to address.

Light at the end of the tunnel

We are at a time in our country’s politics where youth empowerment is a topic that dominates political propaganda but when it comes to implementation, well, look no further than the President’s recent apppointment to head the Sports, Arts and Social Development fund: 91-year-old Moody Awori. NINETY-ONE-YEAR-OLD. The man is literally older than the sovereignity of our country!

The irony of the appointment is depressing to put it mildly. This appointment spits in the faces of Kenyan youth and quite frankly highlights the blatant disregard in which our sports and arts are held. The appointee himself has no credible record to which he can be backed by in either field and the President’s remarks concerning his appointment seem to raise more questions than answers.

How hard can it truly be for our President, considering all the resources at his disposal, to setup a competent team of professionals to carry out interviews for the said office and determine a suitable candidate who can lead our sports and arts in a NEW direction? Was it really that hard to find a single Kenyan with enough experience in the said fields to warrant the said appointment? Why did he go even further to suggest that our youth are not to be trusted with public funds l? Why is it that we always seem to take two steps back(or in this case ninety one) whenever we seem to be heading in the right direction?

This is really painful to take when we consider what the private sector has done to promote the arts and sports in what are tough economical conditions and the blatant neglect that has become part and parcel of our public service. The same people that our president has accussed of incompetence are the people who go out of their way to provide sufficient platforms for our youth to express themselves in the said fields and receive a stable supply of income.

Privately organised tournaments like Extreme Super 8 soccer tournament have provided such platforms. The competition consists of a three-tier annual grassroots soccer leagues that accomodates about 2,500 footballers under the age of 25 providing an ample environment for them to showcase their skills to potential suitors and scouts.

Green Sports Africa is another private entity that is working towards bridging the gap between talent and opportunity for our youth in soccer. Not only have they successfully held various soccer tournaments but they also have a good soccer academy that aims to nurture well-disciplined, competitive athletes.

Similar endeavours in other sports are desperately needed in the pursuit of growth of our sports and arts but unfortunately for us the government has proved to us once again that it cannot be relied upon for change. The importance of the role that we as the private sector has to play cannot be understated. By all means possible we should support endeavours like the above mentioned by turning out in support of such tournaments because they are all aimed at the betterment of OUR community and that is what should count the most. Only this way shall there be light at the end of the tunnel.