KPL: How should Kenya's Caf qualifiers be decided?

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Gor Mahia striker Nicholas Kipkirui vs DC Motema Pembe.
Goal Kenya.
How should Kenyan football decide their Caf qualifiers if domestic football does not resume due to the coronavirus suspension?

As days go by and with little respite in the containment of the coronavirus, football administrators are finding themselves with some difficult questions to answer.

Should domestic football fail to resume, how would the Kenyan Premier League and Football Kenya Federation go about picking Kenya's participants in Caf events next season?

How will they tackle arguments that will emerge if they are cornered and forced to handpick the Caf Champions League and the Confederation Cup representatives?

They are critical and precarious questions that must be settled, although it's hard to see how they will be resolved without causing friction among the various parties involved.

The coronavirus issue has thrown football governing bodies into the deep sea of confusion, but the authorities must also come up with answers to these unprecedented questions if the competitions will not end in their natural form.

Wellington Ochieng (L) of Gor Mahia FCAimen Mahious of USM Algers Nicholas Kipkirui.

Tom Juma, AFC Leopards Football Operations Manager, believes that the need to have Caf representatives is one of the key subplots of the debate surrounding the immediate future of the KPL, although the Champions League representatives will be harder to decide upon than the Confederation Cup representatives.

“This is what makes the situation even difficult,” Juma told Goal. “The Confederation Cup slot will be earned via the Shield Cup competition which is determined through the knockout process.

“We have eight teams remaining and, in that regard, you cannot just pick a team and award them the Caf slot. Every one of the eight participants has equal chances of winning. It is not like KPL where it can be rather easy to decide the winner based on the standings."

Juma is adamant that the cup competition must be allowed to reach its conclusion.

“There is no way the other seven teams can be denied a chance by a board room decision of picking a competitor," he added. "Which criteria will be used to pick AFC Leopards over Kariobangi Sharks?

“Let us wait and if the situation does not allow resumption, it can be played like a mini-league in a week and we settle this case for once. Eight teams in a week can produce a winner.”

AFC Leopards coach Tom Juma

The former Kenya midfielder, however, is hopeful the coronavirus and the related suspension will be over soon, allowing the league and the pending matches be concluded in the normal manner.

“It is all about patience, because the issue has ravaged almost everyone everywhere in the world, there is no need for us to rush for now," he noted. “Caf should also see a reason to push the dates for continental matches to a later date than they are been because of this unprecedented situation.”

For his part, Posta Rangers coach Sammy Omollo explains the need for Caf to take the centre stage in the whole issue of settling who will compete in their events from member nations.

“This is the biggest question that will need an even bigger answer [deciding on which teams will be given the slots]. This all where Caf will be required to decide and reveal the way forward,” Omollo told Goal.  “The way Caf will manage this situation, which has never been witnessed, will perhaps set the tone even for future reference should God forbid, another occurrence of this nature is witnessed.” 

The former Harambee Stars and Gor Mahia defender has suggested that last year's Caf representatives could be allowed to have another bite of the cherry.

“Alternatively, Caf can decide respective champions for last season will continue in the next one," Omollo continued. "There is almost no other way out on this one really.”

Esperance de Tunis player Khnissi Taha Yassine and Gor Mahia players fight for the ball during the 2018 CAF Champions League

Like Juma, Omollo is also keen for the Shield Cup to be allowed to take place - within the shortest period - in order to decide which side compete in the Confederation Cup.

“The Shield Cup can continue regardless when this pandemic will end," Omollo added. "This is a knockout tournament, unlike the league where the overall winner is automatically decided on."

Offering no objection to a boardroom decision to pick Kenya's next Caf teams, former AFC Leopards Organising Secretary Timothy Lilumbi says FKF must consider the team's financial muscle if they do opt to pick the country's competitors for continental competitions.

“If a team has to be picked, the FKF must look at who has the capacity to travel and honour matches Africa-wide. We have teams maybe from the [National Super League] which, honestly, have no capacity even to fly to Rwanda,” stated Lilumbi, while speaking to Goal. “That is the truth, however, painful it is.”

Bandari FC v US Ben Guerdane.

However, Lilumbi has urged patience and adequate reflection before potentially divisive decisions are taken.

"[They] should hold on a little because even established leagues are yet to establish formalities of ending their competitions if resumption is not possible. England, Italy, Germany and Spain have all made a decision, so there is no need to make such a rush from our side lest we end up making very unpopular judgements.

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“If we can wait for a little, it would be better.”

Clearly, if the local football authorities ultimately opt to choose Kenya's representatives for Caf competitions, it will be a divisive decision which may well generate uproar among domestic football stakeholders. Any selection could also lead to legal repercussions and future challenges in the corridors of justice.

It's clear that everyone associated with the game is desperate for it to return, when safe to do so, in order to avoid such testing decisions. 

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