NAIROBI, July 16 – A split within the ranks of celebrated national women’s volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, is imminent with the players agitating to play at the Africa Games as opposed to the FIVB World Cup where the federation prefers to send them.
The divisions manifested themselves on Tuesday night when the team arrived back from their World Grand Prix Group 3 victory to a warm reception that masked bitter backroom bickering between senior players and Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) top officials.
As intense negotiations that roped in the Sports Ministry went on to diffuse the crisis, the players stood to their ground asserting they will only compete at the pan African competition with KVF pushing for them towards World Cup duty in Japan.
The standoff has been caused by the over-lapping of the tournaments with the World Cup set for August 22 to September 6 whilst the Africa Games are scheduled to run between September 4 and 20 in Congo Brazzaville.
KVF announced they will select two separate teams for both events with the under-23 side that has been training at Kasarani Stadium assigned for the continental tournament with their seniors travelling to Japan.
However, this development was not welcomed by the Malkia Strikers who returned as heroines having stunned Peru 3-1in the FIVB World Grand Prix Group 3 final in Australia to become the first African team to win gold at the global circuit event.
Gloomy faces of the nine-time African champions were the order of the day as they strolled out of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Arrivals Lounge in sharp contrast to the glow that illuminated the nation on Sunday following their historic achievement.
Head coach David Lung’aho, perhaps towing the official line, was coy over the tussle.
“We told the players to celebrate the win first then we will discuss other things later. We know there are two major tournaments coming up and I’m assuring Kenyans we are going to participate in both.
“If we go to World Cup, we will go with our heads up knowing we can beat those teams and we make it to the second phase. I’m sure we will be going for it,” the long serving tactician underscored.
His squad, led by skipper, Bracksides Agala, did not shy away from expressing their discontent as the row boiled over to the surface.
“What I know is that we are going to Africa Games because the World Cup is coming before. The players are set to go to Africa Games because we have not won it for a very long time and this is a winning team.
“The team wants to go and break the jinx and bring the trophy back home,” the French based blocker declared.
Veteran setter, Janet Wanja who missed most of the Grand Prix second leg after falling ill, believes the seniors ought to Congo Brazzaville to pave way for the Under-23s to experience international competition at the World Cup.
“We don’t know which players are going for World Cup and Africa Games. At least we have a young team so whichever the federation will chose either way we are hoping for the best but for us we were hoping to go to Africa Games.
“If we go to World Cup, it means we will have no time to rest because it’s in a week’s time. Japan is very far from here and we are supposed to play 11 matches.
“As much as they want us to perform there, I don’t know if it’s going to be what they expect of us that’s why we are opting for Africa Games,” Wanja, the most capped player in the team, explained.
Fellow setter, Jane Wacu, who was in the bronze winning squad for the 2011 Maputo Africa Games (then known as All Africa Games) echoed her sentiments.
“Olympics and Africa Games has always been our dream because it comes every four years. No one knows if she will be playing volleyball then if we skip this. I would like to return to Africa Games because they have a lot of exposure.
“We are just waiting for the federation’s verdict,” the star who plies her trade at French based side Chamaliers, emphasised.
KVF chairman, Waithaka Kioni refuted claims that there was rift between the team and management, adding their aim is to send strong teams to both events.
“We will send two teams that will go and bring the trophies because we have a lot of talented players. I don’t think there is any problem. We shall prepare the two teams adequately and results in both will be outstanding,” Kioni declared.
Sports Commissioner, Gordon Oluoch was hopeful the stand-off will end to enable the teams concentrate on training when they resume from a week-long break
“The management of our Africa Games team and KVF must work together to come up with a formula of sending two strong teams that are capable of winning the Africa Games and one that will produce great show in World Cup.
“But the input of players must be taken into consideration. We have heard their sentiments because their hearts are in the Africa Games.
“Four years ago they lost the title to Algeria so I believe with the team’s good form; it will provide a good platform to avenge the defeat,” Oluoch added.
The last time Kenya won Africa Games gold was in 1999 in South Africa to claim the title for a third time in a row.
Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Dr. Hassan Wario promised the Government will reward the team that was scheduled to meet the Head of State on Wednesday and his deputy, William Ruto on Thursday.