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Stop this Kenyan football madness

Harambee Stars captain, Collins Okoth (foreground) shields the ball during their clash against Ethiopia at Nyayo Stadium. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

Harambee Stars captain, Collins Okoth (foreground) shields the ball during their clash against Ethiopia at Nyayo Stadium. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAIROBI, July 9- For the umpteenth time, Kenyan football is at crossroads; staring at the abyss as escalating wars among stakeholders edge towards a tragic conclusion.

Accusations, counter-accusations, twisting of facts and ugly bare knuckled confrontations have polluted sports pages, bulletins, websites, blogs and other forums where the sport is key fodder in recent weeks.

The crushing early exit of national team Harambee Stars from the 2016 Africa Home Nations Championships, Gor Mahia’s participation at the forthcoming Cecafa Kagame Cup and impending Football Kenya Federation (FKF) elections are the latest battle fronts for the trigger happy adversaries out to gain capital.

Football journalists are caught in the middle of the crossfire, struggling to present to the public an accurate picture of who is fooling who, with some sucked dangerously in the muck by taking hard line positions perpetuated by real or perceived pay-masters.

Social media, the growing tool of mass communication, has also emerged as the centrepiece of the wars, with unchecked, almost minute by minute blows of the dirty exchanges dominating timelines on Facebook, Twitter and other online media.

The chief combatants are FKF and league management body, Kenyan Premier League (KPL) in a battle that has dragged companies that have taken the risk to invest hundreds of millions in a tattered game that still retains soaring popularity.

At the moment, Kenya is ranked 109 in the list of football nations, with domestic clubs struggling to leave their footprint in continental and regional football, a sad state of affairs considering the rich talent the country boasts of.

Harambee Stars last dined among the 16-finalists of Africa Cup of Nations in 2004, a generation ago and soon afterwards, Kenyan football degenerated to a farce as a brutal battle to run the national body saw the nation banned twice by world body FIFA.

Two rival national bodies and parallel top flights allied to Football Kenya Limited and Kenya Football Federation made a toxic mix that shamed a nation and the world.

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In 2007, KPL was formed as top flight clubs, disillusioned by the madness, came together to establish a professionally run league and soon, improvement was there for all to see as much-suffering players got a chance to make a living from the sport.

Before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, journalists serving in the era of typewriters and floppy diskettes recall when covering a top flight game apart from the Kenya derby of Gor Mahia or AFC Leopards used to be punishment.

With hardly no fans or enough players for the teams to field, watching a game for example between Re Union and Nzoia Sugar (both defunct), used to be an eyesore, bore fest or even nauseating.

There were no live games, double headers or local heroes to talk about and credit to companies such as Tusker, Chemelil Sugar, Sony Sugar, Kenya Commercial Bank and military outfit, Ulinzi Stars who managed to stick with the sport when others including and not limited to Nzoia, Mumias Sugar, Eldoret KCC, Rivatex and Bata  abandoned ship.

It was in this dark decade that local community giants, Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards and Shabana FC flirted with or got relegated, unable to survive on handouts from benevolent chairmen or political benefactors.

The Fifa and Government brokered unified elections of 2011 that swept Sam Nyamweya to power as the president of the national body; renamed FKF, offered hope the cycle of ruin would be broken.

 – Victory speech-

NYAMWEYA-RACHIERDuring his victory speech on the night of October 28, 2011 Nyamweya pledged to work with all stakeholders, including SuperSport International who had come in to invest heavily in KPL in 2008 to free Kenyan football from the shackles of under performance and poverty.

However, as he enters the homestretch of his first term, Kenyan football continues to take two steps forward and three steps back, leaving the nation still stuck in a rut.

There is nothing much to show in his stock apart from the controversial 2013 victory at the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup Kenya hosted where it was not lost Stars got a huge helping hand from officials to say the least.

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Frustrated investors have found working with his federation where it is widely acknowledged he rules by the thumb difficult and strenuous.

This year, two major partners with millions of dollars to invest in the game, marketing firm MP&Silva and now pay television firm StarTimes have called for re-negotiation of their agreements with FKF.

This is due to misrepresentation on the part of the federation where they poured money on a product the national body could not deliver as agreed.

MP&Silva wanted to manage a portfolio that included marketing and broadcast contracts of the top flight league only to land with a competition that is second tier in all but name with KPL clubs having already entered agreement with SuperSport International.

The France based firm were pitched documents that showed majority of KPL clubs, including prized giants Gor and Leopards had signed on to agree to move to an FKF branded Premier League but it turned out untrue.

StarTimes were led on they would air Stars v Ethiopia CHAN game against among the properties they acquired in agreeing to sponsor all national teams but despite correspondence from CAF; FKF maintained the ruse until match day when their partners were eventually forced out of Nyayo Stadium.

It is ironic FKF went to such lengths as hiring police to keep out SuperSport from the stadium yet they partner with them for the GOTv Shield.

KPL should not escape scrutiny with the top flight seemingly sitting in the comfort zone of having what the respected UK publication Guardian termed as “a model example of a competition working in Africa in a continent riddled with football madness.”

Ethiopia gave another bitter reminder what they parade as their best cannot match up to regional neighbours, with the laboured display of players turning in awesome performances on home soil week in, week out failing to find a way, even from the spot twice, past a largely Under 23 side.

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Kenyans are yet to see the fruits of costly SuperSport sponsored visits to sturdy the German Bundesliga by top KPL officials whilst coaching and officiating still remain substandard in the 16-teams competition, with players lacking basic football skills.

Incidentally, both parties claim they are working for the interests of Kenyan football yet results don’t lie, the country is fast receding from of the view of established nations.

The Government which played such a crucial role in harmonising the situation pre-2011 has abandoned the game to rot, with sitting Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Sports, Dr. Hassan Wario remaining aloof under the cover of establishing bodies such as Sports Kenya or implementation of the Sports Act as remedies.

With no one to check the excess of feuding administrators, the funeral rites for Kenyan football will soon be read with an entire generation of talented youth left with a useless corpse and shattered dreams.

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