Kenyan football has undergone a tumultuous month and, in truth, an eventful season.
“I maintain that football is at its lowest! It is at its lowest abyss where it ought not to be…,” said Gor Mahia chairman Ambrose Rachier, in his summation of the state of the sport in the country.
The experienced football administrator blamed the state he alluded to on the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) leadership, after carefully giving a disclaimer he held nothing personal against the federation as he is waiting for a “trial” by the same FKF.
When Rachier says so, an opinion held by quite a number of other stakeholders, a keen follower of the game sees FKF president in the picture, a man for the first time in Kenya’s history entrusted with the presidency of the federation for a second term in a row.
AFC Leopards chairman Dan Shikanda on his part feels Mwendwa likes fighting all the time, but is concerned the usual fights are graduating to another untold level.
“Why are we being fined Sh. 6 million? What crime have we committed and who are we paying the fine to? He has picked up an interesting fight with us and we are ready to take on him seriously,” Shikanda fumed responding to the recent slap by FKF for boycotting a league match against Gor Mahia.
Sam Nyamweya, the man Mwendwa took over from, feels it is time the government intervened and forced Mwendwa out.
“He wakes up like a mad man and just announces fining Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards Sh.10 million. He goes on to suspend the chairmen of the two clubs. Is it a private business? I urge his excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Rt. Honourable Raila Odinga to eject this man from office to save our football.”
Siaya Senator James Orengo is also bothered by the recent events, and recently called for urgent action to streamline issues at Kandanda House.
“I can say without fear of contradiction that the current football leadership is not doing a good job. So even as we talk politics, Peter Kenneth (former FKF boss) you may need to tell us what we should do with our football,” said the distinguished city lawyer and lawmaker.
Such are is the mood among Mwendwa’s critics, a man once seen by many as the messiah of the sport in the country. Now, he is scoring zero, if the critics words are anything to go by.
Flashback. When Nick Mwendwa took over the FKF presidency in February 2016, there sprung a fountain of hope that football was in safe hands after a long period of poor management of the beautiful game.
Not only did Mwendwa’s likeable manifesto pushed in the wave of ‘Team Change’ accentuate the hope, but also the overwhelming support he received against then FKF chief Nyamweya and his other rivals for the seat.
In fact, his youthfulness, then being just 36, contrasted with Nyamweya and Rachier who was also in the ballot, was another reflection of the new dawn he was bringing.
It was February 10, at the Kasarani Indoor Arena, where upon the tallying of votes, Mwendwa was declared Kenya’s new football sheriff, having garnered 50 against Rachier’s 27.
Nyamweya had withdrawn just before the voting started, leaving Mwendwa and Rachier to battle it out with another contestant Semi Aina justifiably lost in the dust of the two horses.
Work started, and there were several gains to talk about in the first term. Qualifying of the Harambee Starlets to the first ever African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) in 2016 and Harambee Stars to the African Cup of Nations in 2019 calibrated merits on the pitch.
Relocating the federation headquarters from Nyayo Stadium to the FIFA Goal Project in Kasarani and setting up an organised secretariat, increased training of coaches, referees and the lifting of the embargo for FIFA funds were also markers of improved leadership among others.
But there were reasons for the lovers of the sport to frown, and some who grew impatient quickly, soon lost hope with Mwendwa’s administration.
Over Sh.120 million OB van lost in a failed purchase of the expensive machine, more debts accrued from casual handling of coaches’ contracts, claims of influencing selection of national team players and cold relations with the Ministry of Sports under then PS Peter Kaberia were not reflections of the expected change by Team Change.
Increasing Premier League teams from 16 teams to 18, a couple of changes in the electoral regulations and taking over the running of the league from KPL Limited by the federation under Mwendwa’s leadership also brought commotions among the stakeholders.
There were also a myriad of challenges with a section of the media, who claimed to have been blacklisted for publishing “unwanted truth,” with the peak of it being unending cases at the Sports Disputes Tribunal (SDT) that delayed the elections for close to a year.
Fast forward to Mwendwa’s second half which began in October 2020, when he was overwhelmingly voted in with 77 votes out of the possible 85. Only two of his challengers among the four got votes, Lordvick Aduda (4) and Herbert Mwachiro (3).
Boniface Osano and Daniel Mule had zero, in an election that was boycotted by several other hopefuls whose hope however ended when the SDT allowed the polls to go on without the reforms they wanted.
Taking over the running of the Premier League opened a new frontier for wrangles, especially between the directly disadvantaged and the new managers – the FKF. The wrangles have been exacerbated by the always lurking opposing sides, to knockout each other at any opportune time.
Most recently, the boycotting of the Premier League Mashemeji Derby triggered such a heated contest, and like a volcanic mountain emitting boiling magma, damage was inevitable on the surroundings.
Part of the damage is what Rachier is analysing, and taking him to the assessment above, that football is at its lowest abyss!
“I think one of the reasons is that all over the world where professional football is developed, the running of the Premier League has always been subcontracted to professional bodies. I need not to enumerate them, but I will let you know as everybody knows that the EPL is not the federation, the Bundesliga is not the federation, the La Liga, the Serie A then even in Africa the PSL – all these are run by professional bodies.
“So, the killing of the KPL, the taking away of the mandate to run the league to the FKF is a step in the wrong direction, it’s a backward step that brings football to the current standards where we are,” said Rachier.
In his justification he paused: “What accolade has Kenya won in the last four years or so? If we are beaten by teams like Comoros whose population does not match even of a location here, look at how our league is being run – where we are playing our matches in the first place – in stadiums that look like cowsheds and we don’t care…”
Rachier also says the clubs lost their say as far as running the league is concerned as soon as FKF took over.
“We have no say at all. We used to meet at least once a month under KPL Limited. Nowadays we are just told to move either left or right. For example, it is known I had refused to sign the BetKing sponsorship deal without being given details only to be bulldozed to do so. It was the same with the StarTimes sponsorship. You are given what they want, you take it or leave it,” he elucidated.
BetKing, recently terminated their five-year sponsorship with FKF, as the title sponsors of the FKF-PL in what was described as a mutual agreement decision between the federation and the Nigerian online betting company.
But Mwendwa from the onset has attributed their move to take over running of the league to poor management by the KPL Limited.
“It is the mandate of the federation to run all the leagues. Contracting a company to run the premier league is a decision arrived at basing on the merits of such companies. We felt KPL Limited was not doing a good job so we couldn’t renew their contract” he previously stated, adding the company had failed in basic responsibilities like bringing on board sponsors.
On the simmering debate about the severe sanctions imposed on Gor and AFC for snubbing the derby, Mwendwa says the federation had no option but to demonstrate “all clubs are equal”
“It’s like a person threatening you that they will burn down your car, and going ahead to do it. Would you just watch and keep quiet? In our eyes, Gor, AFC, Nzoia and all clubs are equal. We cannot have a situation where two clubs want to be treated differently even when breaking basic rules,” a gutted Mwendwa said, adding nothing stops such penalties for similar actions in the future.
FKF CEO Barry Otieno underscored the sentiments, noting “there cannot be created special rules to govern only Gor and AFC Leopards.”
Otieno also has maintained that Nyamweya lacks the moral authority to “lecture” FKF on running football, owing to the state in which he handed over the office to his successor.
Although the Cup monies which was the main cause of the clubs to skip the derby were later paid, the scuffle is far from over as Shikanda and Rachier have dates with the FKF disciplinary committee and are still protesting the fines.
Mwendwa’s administration has also been put on spot for strained relationship with the government, which critics say has denied football the warmth it deserves.
“First I need to state that the government needs to show serious interest with our sports, more so football which is the most popular in the country. However, we also need that camaraderie with the authorities in the land. I’m not saying it is not there, but it speaks volumes that rugby is played at Nyayo. Athletics in both Nyayo and Kasarani but when you ask for a chance to play a home football match there, you are told no! Why only football,” Rachier questioned.
Former Nyanza FKF National Executive Council (NEC) member Tom Alila says the only way to bring calm in Kenya’s football is honest talks between the stakeholders.
“Our problem is that everyone feels they are right and the others are wrong. The know it all attitude will not help our game. Mwendwa should embrace dialogue as all should, instead of chest-thumping because nothing good can be realised under the environment we have created,” Alila told local radio station.
Meanwhile, the gradual rise of County Football Associations which rival FKF leagues is another red flag.
According to Eliakim Mbalilwa, Nakuru’s secretary, the associations are well recognised by the government and will not be deterred from continuing activities by the federation.