NAIROBI, July 5 – At the end of what was a compelling script torn from the theatre of the absurd; SuperSport International won the harsh pay television broadcast war to air Saturday’s CHAN qualifier between Kenya and Ethiopia in Nairobi.
Football Kenya Federation (FKF) with its president, Sam Keengu Nyamweya, taking the pilot seat, (mis)used their authority as the mandated national governing body to force through their new media partners, StarTimes to acquire the rights to the match.
However, an extraordinary sequence of events that lasted through Friday night into match day saw Confederation of African Football (CAF) swing into action, telling off Nyamweya for blatantly disregarding set broadcast rights rules to end the face-off in favour of SuperSport.
StarTimes, who had already set up their equipment and pitch side advertising hoardings, were forced to park their belongings and hightail from Nyayo red faced as FKF in a desperate face saving statement declared the conflict was just beginning.
Capital Sport managed to piece the chronology of another dark episode in Kenyan football that ultimately, left egg in Nyamweya’s face although he betrayed little remorse when he took his place as the boss of football at Nyayo, even exchanging niceties with SuperSport personnel as he conducted official pre-match duties.
It all started on Wednesday when FKF announced a USD5m (Sh500m approx) deal with StarTimes to air international friendly matches for all national teams and kitting the sides where Nyamweya fired the first salvo by proclaiming their new sponsors would also show the Stars v Ethiopia game to start off their five-year marriage in emphatic fashion.
The Chinese owned pay television firm wasted no time in buying out full-page adverts that started to appear in local dailies from Thursday to publicise the platform they would use to show the eagerly anticipated tie where Stars needed to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit.
As published here the gloves finally came off on Friday when FKF enlisted armed policemen to cordon off all major entries to the stadium with express instructions to lock out SuperSport outside broadcast trucks and their crew from rigging up their cameras, interview the teams and put up their advertising material pitch side.
Soon, a letter from SportFive, CAF’s sole marketing and communication agents hit the newsroom as this link details, declaring in no uncertain terms SuperSport were the authorised broadcast right holders for the game.
In what was a deliberate move to resist what was seen by FKF and StarTimes as a poke in the eye by SuperSport, the national body and their partners held firm as the blockade continued.
Nyamweya, who spent the day in his native Kisii attending a funeral, leaving his CEO Michael Esakwa and media official, Milton Nyakundi to enforce the SuperSport lockdown with the police, returned to Nairobi later in the evening to take control.
Heated angry exchanges with SuperSport country bosses led by General Manager, Auka Gacheo and senior producer, Joey Mugweru and Nyamweya, his deputy Robert Asembo as well as Nyakundi among other FKF bureaucrats that spilled deep into the night, turned acrimonious, with the federation boss at one point almost turning violent.
-Rathbone wades in-
At the ringside seat, StarTimes through their Director of Sport, Gary Rathbone, a former SuperSport Head of Africa, took to social media to reinforce the federation’s position, adamant they would air the match.
“Supersport finally forced their way into the stadium using off duty cops.When the real cops arrived the fakers ran away. SS van back outside,” he had earlier tweeted on his official Twitter handle @thegaryrathbone at 2:23pm local time (+3GMT) on Friday.
The combatants retired for the night to get much needed rest for another bruising battle; with SuperSport managers directing designated crew to report to the stadium at 10am Saturday ready to either show the game or face the wrath of the law.
Before the crack of dawn, precisely 5am, the call came through to the SuperSport bosses that Nyamweya was backing down from his saddle and they would air the game.
“We were informed he had been reprimanded by CAF for refusing to heed their directives on the rights to air games of competitions organised by them, including CHAN, despite the correspondence between them and the federation,” Capital Sport was informed by a highly placed source at SuperSport.
However, they knew this was Nyamweya, a man known to be as slippery as an eel in his dealings and they could not start rolling out final arrangements yet, despite their trucks and part of their crew who held nightlong vigil being at Nyayo since the police hired to keep them out had ensconsed them to a corner.
StarTimes hoardings and equipment were inside the stadium as day broke with the stage set for one last frontline confrontation that had it come to pass, would have provided a grandstand finale as local media stood by to cover the battle royale.
Capital Sport was once again broke the news that CAF had threatened Kenya with expulsion from the next two editions of CHAN, including the 2018 finals set for the country if FKF and StarTimes did not back down and allow SuperSport to air the match as outlined here http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/sports/2015/07/04/caf-to-ban-kenya-if-startimes-show-stars-game/.
Sports Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Hassan Wario who is out of the country then directed this website to Commissioner for Sport, Gordon Olouch, to give the Government’s stand as he expressed his rage at the matter that could have been resolved by following the letter had exposed the nation to a football ban.
When contacted, Oluoch told Capital Sport to give him time to contact FKF and soon after, came back with the end of the broadcast siege saying, “I’ve spoken to Nyamweya and he has told me everything is fine. He is meeting with SuperSport at Nyayo to resolve the issue and CAF wishes will be obeyed.”
Moments later, FKF Media released a statement that fell pitifully short of conceding defeat, instead, branding it as a ‘clarification’ whilst maintaining the war was far from over.
“Football Kenya Federation has clarified that pay-television giant; SuperSport will produce the match between Harambee Stars and Ethiopia on Saturday afternoon.
“The second leg match of the qualification campaign for next year’s African Nations Championships Rwanda 2016 has been the subject of a fierce tussle over the rights between the South Africa-based broadcaster and Harambee Stars media sponsor, StarTimes Media, who recently signed a five-year deal worth Sh500million,” it trumpeted.
“This agreement is for the purposes of the above-mentioned CHAN Qualification match but subsequently, we shall issue further directions on the matter once the process of nominating the Host Broadcaster is concluded,” it added.
Stung, StarTimes boss, Rathbone tweeted, “So Supersport back inside and taking over. CAF have made it clear that Nyamweya has been lying to us about the CHAN rights,” in raising the white flag.
He was not done, firing a number of online broadsides at his former employers writing, “Startimes may have lost out today, but long after Supersport have packed up and gone we’ll still be there for Kenyan national football,” upholding his line SuperSport had used their financial muscle to ward off their newest competitors for domestic football.
As Stars crashed out following a limp 0-0 draw against Walia Ibex, the curtain was brought down to the baseless standoff by cat calls, insults and calls for him to step down ringing in Nyamweya’s ears as he left the VIP dias after the game.