BY JAMES WOKABI
Sports writer Philip Sambu says World Cup-bound Brazil with all its global superstars have played friendlies against football minnows Zimbabwe and Tanzania over the past few days.
Reports indicate that both countries paid a substantial amount of money to the six-time world champions face their national teams as part of their preparations for the greatest event on earth.
Zimbabwe with all its economic problems managed to raise $1.8 million (Sh144 million) through a local firm to bring the world’s most famous international side to their shores to whom they lost to 3-0.
On Monday, Kaka and co. traveled to Dar where they beat the Taifa Stars 5-1 in front of another frenetic crowd delighted at seeing global superstars on their turf.
One, question arises from all this. Why didn’t Kenya jump on the bandwagon and invite an elite team to train and play a warm up game against Harambee Stars?
African heavyweights Cameroon and Ghana have in the past trained and played against Stars and local sides in preparation for the Africa Cup of Nations so why haven’t we built on that to attract more elite teams?
Unlike Zimbabwe and Tanzania, Kenya did not have to pay a cent to attract the likes of Michael Essien and Samuel Eto’o mainly because our physical location sold itself.
South Africa were awarded the rights to host the event on May 15, 2004 which meant that Kenya had six years to position itself as a viable destination for teams to prepare adequately for the biggest tournament on the planet.
Why couldn’t Mexico, Germany, Netherlands and Japan come over to train and play friendlies against local sides in Naivasha, Nairobi and Mombasa whose climate is similar to that of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town?
Our government surely could have persuaded these sides on this premise as well as the fact that our locations are a much cheaper option than the high altitude European Alps favoured by England and France.
Having favourites Brazil, Italy or Spain mingling around would be the perfect tonic for Harambee Stars missing out on the World Cup and also give Kenyans a chance to meet some of their heroes and identify with the World Cup at a whole new level.
Brazil’s visit to Zimbabwe and the presence of President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai at the match painted a new picture of the country bedeviled by political and economic difficulties and showed that the country is actually more united than the rest of the world thinks.
But Sports Editor James Wokabi begs to differ.
Paying in excess of $1.8 million for Brazil to play a friendly in your country is excessive!
Now don’t get me wrong, getting a chance to host the famed yellow and blue of Brazil does wonders to your sense of pride and achievement.
But to spend that much money for 90 minutes in a Sub Saharan country fighting disease, lack of education, extreme poverty among other things smacks of excesses similar to the ones shown by African despots like Mobutu Sese Seko in staging the Rumble in the Jungle in the 70s.
In Zimbabwe it was simply a publicity stunt for Colonel Mugabe and his cronies. Here was a chance for Zimbabwe to show a united front, for Mugabe and Tsvangirai to walk together inside a capacity filled stadium and represent growing unity.
Tanzania paid an even higher price-believed to be $2.5 million (Sh200m) to host the top ranked in the world.
But what did both countries really gain by hosting the five time world champions?
The Selecao barely spent 48 hours in each country, and I doubt they even stepped out of their hotel room for window shopping. Did it help with promoting tourism?
At least when Kenya has hosted Ghana and Cameroon before, they have spent some money, in accommodation and training facilities. Because they spent at least two weeks on each visit with Ghana breathing vibrancy to Naivasha – but the TZ and Zimbabwe encounters were 48 hour visits which you are supposed to pay your guests.
And how did teams from both countries benefit? Other than having their players swap shirts with some of the world’s finest footballers, not much.
I find it hard to believe that Zimbabwe and Tanzania national teams gained anything from being given a run around for 90 minutes. True they tested themselves against the best in the world but a loss will only have done harm to their FIFA rankings.
And shouldn’t such huge amounts have been put into good use?
Sh200million would be put into very good use in developing football in an East country burdened by economic hardship.
SuperSport spends about half of that – $1.3 million a year – on KPL which has had such huge impact on the local game and the $2.5 million paid by Tanzania for one game would run the league for two years.
Or it could easily help set up proper nationwide and Super Two leagues thus not only providing vibrant competition beneath KPL, but also structures that are vital for the growth of the game.
Only weeks ago, Kenya launched a women’s league at a cost of Sh12 million, imagine how much of a boost extra cash would be on our local football.
And what would playing Brazil help Kenyan players?
Brazil is so far up that our players would be overawed willing the clock to get to 90 so that they can start a search for autographs.
So while shelling out that much cash had Zimbabwe and Tanzania in the limelight for a couple of days, it does not make economic sense in the long run. If Kenya had proper structures, then it would have been useful but in this case, it’s just a one off- and an expensive one.
(James Wokabi and Philip Sambu run the Capital FM Sports Desk).