4 November 2018

Kenya: Missed Deadlines and Broken Promises Leave Nyayo Stadium Lying in Ruins

The stray and unprovoked memory of some sporting moments has the power to transport one years and decades back. One such memory has to be August 1987 when Kenya put up arguably their best ever performance in a continental showpiece - the 4th All Africa Games that were hosted from August 1-12 in Nairobi.

Back then, the quadrennial multi-sport competition featured senior team players, unlike today where football glory at the African Games is contested by Under-23 players.

At the Games, Kenya was pooled in Group "A" alongside Tunisia, Cameroon and Madagascar. The boys beat the Carthage Eagles and the Madagascar before drawing 3-3 with Cameroon's Indomitable Lions. The nostalgia evoked among ardent football lovers whenever names like Austin Oduor, Ambrose "Golden Boy" Ayoyi, Sammy "Jogoo" Onyango, Peter Dawo, Mickey Weche, George "Fundi" Onyango are mentioned in relation to their contribution during this tournament is a story for another day.

A second-place finish in the group on five points saw Kenya set up a date with Group "B" leaders Malawi in the semi-finals a day after the last group games.

Nairobi's Nyayo National Stadium was full to capacity, with floodlights fully lit. Then Kenya's German coach Reinhardt Fabisch sent out his boys.

Cheered on by the home fans, Stars put in their best but fatigue was evident among the home players, with Malawi Flames players, who had had enough rest, outshining Kenya. Hostility towards visitors who are dominating has always been a core component of sports and the same happened that day at Nyayo.

Suddenly, lights went off. A blackout perhaps? Or someone had just switched off the lights to salvage the hosts from imminent defeat? Conspiracy theorists may conclude that a plan had been hatched to force the postponement of the game till the next day.

With a bit of "enough" rest the next day, Kenya was able to match Malawi's threat, battling to a one-all draw in regular time to book a ticket to the final with a 3-2 victory on post-match penalties.

They went down 1-0 after extra time to Egypt in the final and eventually finished fourth in the overall medals table with 22 gold, 25 silver and 63 bronze medals, 10 less than Egypt.

That was one of the major highlights of Nyayo National Stadium, and its story continues to be written. Formerly known as Nairobi West Government Complex, Nyayo Stadium was officially opened in 1983 by President Daniel Arap Moi.

Nyayo Stadium hosted its first international football match on November 23, 1983 during the 11th edition of the Council of East and Central Africa Football Associations (Cecafa) Cup. Kenya beat Malawi 2-0 and three days later, the home team beat Zimbabwe 1-0 at the same venue.

The All Africa Games, currently known as the African Games, gave birth to what went on to be a venue of different international tournaments including the 2010 African Athletics Championships and has been the venue for various national celebrations.

Adored for its proximity to Nairobi city centre, the 35,000-seater stadium is home to Kenyan giants Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards and many other local clubs, as well as our national team who last lost 1-0 to Guinea Bissau in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the stadium in June 2016.

Harambee Stars winning a sixth Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup at the venue in December 2013 following a 2-0 win over Sudan, courtesy of Allan Wanga strikes in either half of the match, are among other fond memories Kenyans have of the multi-purpose facility.

Nyayo, which "gave birth" to Kasarani Stadium in 1987, was closed in May last year along with the 60,000-seater Kasarani Stadium road venue for renovations with intentions of upgrading the facilities to Fifa standards in readiness for the 2018 African Nations Championship (Chan) tournament.

To date, only renovations at Kasarani have been completed, largely through sports betting company SportPesa helping to speed up construction works in order to ensure that the friendly match between Gor Mahia and English championship side Hull City could be played there on May 13.

Nyayo Stadium was reopened in August last year to host 'Mashemeji derby' pitting Gor Mahia against their arch-rivals AFC Leopards which that ended in a 1-1 draw.

Ten months later, Nyayo's official reopening date continues to be shrouded in uncertainty. It is yet another case of unfulfilled promises and a lack of respect for set deadlines when it comes to a sports projects in Kenya. The repair works continue to be delayed by a lack of adequate funds as the project has not being accorded the priority it deserves, and a constant downing of tools by project contractors.

Its unavailability has thrown a number of outdoor sporting activities into disarray. The renovation works have affected football, athletics, basketball, swimming to mention but a few.

The bumpy surfaces at Thika Sub county stadium and Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos have been forced to pick up the backlog of SportPesa Premier League fixtures occasioned by Nyayo's closure. The national team has had to host friendly games in Machakos until recently when the country's football cathedral - Kasarani - was deemed suitable after renovations were complete.

Nyayo was expected to be re-opened in July last year but since Caf stripped Kenya of the 2018 African Nations Championship hosting rights in September last year, the work that was scheduled to be completed in phases over 60 days has stalled.

Deputy President William Ruto is on record saying that Sh700m had been allocated for Nyayo's renovation with a deadline of April this year for its reopening. Speaking when he hosted Harambee Stars at his Karen home on December 19 after they won the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, it seemed Ruto had set things in motion but close to eight months later, the facility is still closed for renovation.

Officials from the Ministry of Sports and Heritage, led by Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa and Principal Secretary Peter Kaberia, have made several inspection tours at Nyayo, each visit yielding empty promises but as the facility remains a construction site with materials strewn all over and sports activities remain largely affected.

"If you go around the stadium, most of the remaining work is on finishing, all changing rooms, public toilets are done, what is remaining is the parking areas, internal channels and the front side of the main building," Lexis International chief contractor Chandresh Babayira told journalists during a January 5 inspection tour at Nyayo Stadium.

A month later, PS Kaberia was categorical that he had set the contractors a non-negotiable deadline of delivering Kenya's second biggest stadium by end of March.

"At this point, at least for Nyayo we can say we are right where we ought to be, and everything will be as promised last time (January 5, 2018). We will be able to deliver this field by the end of March," Kaberia told the press after February 8 inspections.

Both Echesa and Kaberia inspected the stadium on April 27 and 11 days later, the minister announced Kasarani Stadium's readiness to host the international friendly match between Gor Mahia and Hull City while expressing hope that the facility would reopen soon.

"Nyayo Stadium is receiving the last touches of renovation and will be used by Kenya Premier League teams in the second round of KPL matches," Kaberia said in a presser at the ministry's KenCom offices on May 8. It is worth noting that the 2018 football season ended on October 7 with no matches staged at the stadium. But inspection tours continued on June 28, this time by Parliamentary Committee on Sports, Tourism and Culture.

On the day, the contractor promised to complete work on the facility in six weeks, but that was if the ministry kept its end of the bargain by providing the required funds.

Babariya decried slow disbursement of funds saying at the time, they had only received 43 per cent of the entire budgetary allocation. Sh300m had been set aside for the builder's work and Sh26m for constructor's budget.

"We are going to pay the debts and we are not going to have various financial challenges as in the past with the new financial year," Kaberia, who accompanied the legislators on the tour, told journalists on June 28.

That was the last time work continued at the stadium as workers downed tools two days later.

"The challenge has been funding, we just resumed last week since July, if we get the money, this work will be complete by next month," a foreman, who sought anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press, said when Nation Sport made an impromptu visit on October 23.

"When we run out of cash, we relocate to other sites so that we don't accumulate more debts, these people (workers) have to be paid for the job," added the foreman, who also said they had been promised money by October 29 so they complete the job latest November 27.

There is an acceleration of works currently going on at Nyayo. Unfortunately, while it is easy to view this recent resumption of renovations as good for the passionate sporting fraternity, this is not necessarily the case. The reason behind the acceleration has very little to do with sports.

The Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU) team and Nairobi County officials met the renovation team at the stadium on October 17 for an update as they target to host Jamhuri Day celebrations at the venue.

"The contractor is targeting project completion by early December in time for the Jamhuri Day celebrations," PDU Delivery team tweeted on October 17.

With different companies contracted for different renovation projects at the facility, it's hoped that the stadium can be completed in time.

"Our job is to finish up the VVIP dais, dressing rooms, fixing the lifts, drainage system and painting the terraces then it can be ready for the event but at least three months are needed for the whole project to be finished," added the foreman. The dais is being reconstructed to mirror that at Kasarani, with a new office block with VIP hospitality rooms being constructed behind it.

Morocco-based company Gregori International which laid the pitch at Kasarani is said to be preparing to work on the Nyayo playing surface.

The first layer of sand before planting the grass is already done.

The stadium's changing rooms were relocated from below the VIP dais to the left side of the stadium.

The swimming pool is being re-worked as are the handball and basketball courts. The contractor is speeding up the work after being paid funds amounting to about Sh700 million early last week to finish up the job by November 20.

According to Kaberia, football matches will resume at the stadium in the new season starting just four days before Jamhuri Day.

Kaberia said this when he inspected the venue on October 30 accompanied by Lexis International Chief Contractor Babariya and Sports Kenya chairman Fred Muteti.

"It's going to be an international stadium, we promised that we are going to do a good job and very soon it will be complete," said Muteti.

Kaberia opined that the government has so far kept her promises of renovating the stadiums.

"We might not have delivered at the time we had promised but if you look at our revised promise, we said we would finish with Kasarani first then go to Kinoru and here (Nyayo), we are quite on track and all forces have come here," said Kaberia.

"We may not have the canopy around the stadium by March, we are also working with the contractor on how fast they can install the seats but we've not agreed on the date yet, we've paid the price throughout the year over the closure now we can wait a few more weeks to get it done," he added.

Already Gor and Leopards are among clubs that have been punished by its unavailability.

"Its closure has affected us in terms of revenue because the number of fans in the field reduced drastically, considering the distance to Machakos," lamented Gor CEO Lordvick Aduda on the Nyayo closure.

For now, amid all this back and forth, broken promises and missed deadlines, only time will tell when the story of sporting exploits at Nyayo complex will continue to be written.

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