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Could 2020 spell the death of Kenyan football?

17:48 GMT+3 02/01/2020
Chemelil Sugar (Cover PHOTO).
As we head into the New Year, Goal poses a serious question; will Kenyan football come back stronger in 2020?

The festive season has meant a time to celebrate, but as we enter 2020, Kenyan football finds itself in dire straits, and concerns for the future cannot be ignored.

For the past four months or so, Kenyan football has been sinking to the point of oblivion. First, there was the exit of betting firm SportsPesa as the title sponsors for the Kenyan Premier League, which triggered the downward spiral we're not experiencing in the local scene.

Already, Sony Sugar have been relegated from the top flight owing to financial troubles, while Chemelil Sugar could follow soon after skipping two matches.

Out of the 17 teams in the KPL, only Tusker, Bandari FC, Wazito FC, Ulinzi Stars. Western Stima and Kakamega Homeboyz are keeping their heads above water amidst the financial crisis.

AFC Leopards have already lost five key players, who opted to tender their notice, while at Gor Mahia, three players, led by skipper Kenneth Muguna and Joash Onyango, have also requested to leave.

On top of that, Ingwe coach Andre Casa Mbungo has also threatened to quit the Den in less than two weeks if he does not get his accrued salary paid in full. The Rwandan coach claims he is owed five months’ salary, the same as his foreign players at the club - Tresor Ndikumana and Vincent Habamahoro.

While all this is happening, no one from the big offices in the football circles is uttering a word, and it begs the question, will Kenyan football improve or it will sink further?

Gor Mahia CEO Omondi Aduda insists Kenyan football is currently in a very bad state and will need radical changes to be revived.

“Don’t expect any good news in the New Year, the condition will remain the same or might even get worse,” Aduda told Goal. “What Kenyans need to understand is that the sport is currently in ICU and we should stop lying to ourselves.

“All is not well in Kenyan football, let’s call a spade a spade and state the things the way they are," he added. "Not only Gor Mahia or AFC Leopards are suffering, but the whole fraternity is suffering.

“It is not easy for clubs, AND teams are suffering, look at Chemelil Sugar, a good team from the past seasons but now conceding six goals and above anytime they are playing. is that the Chemelil we used to know?

"I don’t think so, we should stop lying to ourselves and state the issues the way they are.”

Where did the problem begin?

Aduda argues that those tasked with managing football in the country have failed, primarily due to ignorance.

“How on earth did they decide to ask clubs to pay referees?" Aduda questioned. “What kind of a league will you have if you ask the same teams to pay match officials, [it's] not a good sign and such issues will bring down the league.”

Aduda also argues that it was wrong for KPL to give away broadcasting rights for free, saying they are supposed to generate revenue.

“How on earth did they give live broadcasting rights [away] for free, what is [KTN] doing with the rights, [KPL] should sell the rights not give [them] for free,” Aduda continued.

“In Ghana, the new FA is a month old, and already they are giving clubs money, balls and that is the way to go, we don’t have a brand that can be sold in Kenyan football and that is the reality for now.”

How can the situation be arrested?

Kakamega Homeboyz chairman Cleophas Shimanyula argues the only way to sort out the mess in Kenyan football is by kicking out the officials who are currently tasked with the mandate of managing the game.

“We will still have the same problems come next year, so don’t be deceived that things will change for the better,” Shimanyula told Goal. “I was the first person who, months back, had wanted KPL to stop the league until we find a new sponsor, but no one listened to me.

“Now the situation will get even worse, because we don’t have the goodwill to get a sponsor for it as long as those in the office continue to stay.”

“The only people who can save Kenyan football now is the government, they should ask the betting firms in the country to put money in the game, but again this might not work unless we get new officials doing the job.”

Former FKF president Sam Nyamweya has also faulted the federation and the KPL for not engaging the clubs on ways to end the troubles facing the league.

“First, it is the leadership of the federation,” Nyamweya told The Standard. “The president of the FKF is unable to sit down with the clubs and find solutions to the serious issues affecting the league.

“It is the responsibility of the president and KPL board, but if you look at the last four years the KPL and FKF have not been talking sufficiently with each other. They have only had two or three joint executive meetings. If you don’t sit down and discuss then you are likely to end up in the sort of problems, we are having today.”

Nyamweya insists the Kenyan league could die a natural death if nothing tangible is done soon.

“It is a very worrying situation,” Nyamweya said. “Not only to me, but many Kenyans and fans are concerned.

"The [KPL] is dying. Unless a miracle happens, in the next few months we will not be having KPL. It is a very strange turn of events despite us laying very strong foundations for the KPL even without money during my tenure.

“The leadership was very strong, and whenever we had issues, we used to sit down very often to sort out those problems, but what I am seeing now is there is a problem with either club members, the KPL and the Football Kenya Federation.

“I am wondering what my friend Ambrose [Rachier], who is the KPL chairman, is doing about it because the league is going to collapse in his hands. He should stand up and call for an urgent meeting of KPL clubs to chart the way forward.

“One of the saddest moments is that Sony Sugar are gone after failing to honour three matches. It is a matter of time before others like Chemelil Sugar face the same fate.”

Are there hopes for securing a sponsor in the new year?

KPL CEO Jack Oguda says they will continue to knock on the doors of potential sponsors into the New Year, and is optimistic they will secure a deal.

“If I give you the list of sponsors, we have been engaging for the past four months, you will be shocked,” Oguda told Goal. “We have really tried to secure a new deal but in vain, who know maybe things will work out for the good next year.

“Most of the sponsors are promising to get back to us after we engage them but we never hear from them again,” Oguda continued. “We can only hope for the best, and the clubs should also continue to get their financial support so that we can continue the league without stopping.”

Although the Harambee Stars took part in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, held in Egypt, and the Harambee Starlets lifted the Women Cecafa Cup in Tanzania, Kenyans head into the New Year hoping to see a more improved state of affairs in the football scene. Will their hopes ultimately prove to be in vain?