Kenya/Egypt: Cairo Trip That Split Malkia Strikers and Curious Case of Missing Passport

12 August 2019
opinion

Current problems bedevilling Kenya women's volleyball team started in Cairo, where Ramdoo - in his first assignment as head coach in the July 9 to 14 Africa Cup of Nations tournament - allegedly accosted Shota Katagiri, a member of his technical bench, publicly at the team's hotel during lunch.

From then on Ramdoo's relationship with David Lung'aho, who was the team manager for that trip, nosedived and full blown sabotage set in.

According to Ramdoo, Shota - a volunteer seconded to the team by Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) - touched a player during lunch contrary to rules of engagement Ramdoo had set. It is during this fit of rage that Ramdoo 'jokingly' shoved the Japanese, who then retreated to his room crying.

"In any professional set up there has to be rules. One of the rules in my team is that no member of the technical bench should touch a player. Another rule was that no official should be found in a player's room. I had warned him (Shota) repeatedly in training about this (touching players) so when he repeated it, I got mad. I moved towards him and pushed him (as if to demonstrate his actions) and asked him what people would think of us if I did the same to him. They would think we are gay or something," explained the 53-year-old.

In a rejoinder, Shota admits that he made contact with a player but he insists he was handled in a violent manner.

"I just placed my hand on (Violet) Makuto's shoulder and there was nothing really going on between us. I was however shocked by coach's reaction. I didn't expect it. He has done it more than twice so that can't be just pushing. He punched me. It was violent because it really hurt," Shota, who travelled to Cairo as the team's statistician, said.

Lung'aho, who was not present during the incident, then took up the matter in his capacity as head of delegation and called for a meeting in Shota's room where Moim, Murambi, assistant coach Japheth Munala and Shota were in attendance.

"I had to get to the bottom of that issue since I was not around when it happened. I asked Moim and Murambi to come to the meeting since they were the only players I found around. I also asked Munala to join in so that Shota could explain without fear what really transpired. As head of delegation, you are required to write a report once the team returns so I had to know what went wrong," Lung'aho recounted.

While the meeting was going on, Ramdoo stormed into the room and confronted Lung'aho for undermining his authority as coach.

"I had information that he (Lung'aho) was organising some meetings on the side with members of the team to try and destabilise the team. As head coach, it's courteous enough to be informed of any meeting in my team because I'm the one in charge. Why should one hold private meetings if he means well?" posed Ramdoo, a claim that was dismissed by Lungaho.

"As head of delegation, I'm in charge of the entire team, including the coach. So I did not need to seek his permission to hold any meeting and I told him off for that. I couldn't take that kindly," countered Lung'aho.

On the pitch, Kenya continued winning and marched to the final despite the divisions on the bench. So bad were the divisions that the running of the team was reduced to a one-man show.

"Munala was not talking to Ramdoo in Cairo and even Lung'aho was not in talking terms with him. It was total chaos on the bench in Cairo," revealed Kioni. After losing the final match against Cameroon, the team returned home. The playing unit was divided into two camps - pro-Ramdoo and anti-Ramdoo. Jica summoned Kioni on June 17 to explain what had transpired in Cairo with regard to Shota.

"We are very shocked and saddened that Mr Shota Katagiri, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) received physical violence and abusive remarks from the Italian head coach in front of other coaches and players during the championship. Furthermore, we regret to inform that the head coach also gave him instructions to look after the coach's child during the game. We request Kenya Volleyball Federation to improve work environment for Mr Katagiri and accord him support during his assignment period," read a part of the letter from Jica.

And a day later, the team regrouped at Kasarani Indoor Gymnasium for a photo session and for players to apply for travel visas to Italy for FIVB Inter-continental Olympic qualification tournament from August 2-4.

That morning, Kioni met the technical bench to iron out issues that emerged in Cairo.

"We had a very good meeting where we agreed that there was need for the bench to work together. If I really had personal issues with Shota, I would have omitted him for the trip to Italy but he was there with me," said Ramdoo. Conspicuously missing from the contingent to Italy was Lung'aho whose place as team manager and head of delegation was taken by KVF National Executive Committee member Emily Mbotela. The same day, some Kenya Prisons players in the squad skipped a team briefing session called by Ramdoo at the end of the photo session. The players had instead attended Kenya Prisons Athletics Championships.

"In the morning meeting, we agreed that nothing would happen in the team without the coach being notified. I had called for a meeting after the photo session to give a programme for the upcoming week since players were returning to their clubs for league assignments but surprisingly some Prisons players went missing. It's then that I realised all was not well," disclosed Ramdoo.

If that incident could easily be dismissed as a case of miscommunication, what transpired on July 20 shook Ramdoo to the core. That Saturday, Edith Wisa, who had carried her passport to Kasarani on Thursday to fill in the visa application form, realised her travel passport was missing from her bag. The final of Kenya Prisons Championships was played at Kasarani on the same day.

"I checked my bag that evening and I realised that my passport was missing. I have never crossed anyone's path in the team so I wondered why someone would do that to me ahead of a big tournament," Wisa told Nation Sport.

The Prisons middle blocker applied for a new passport the following Monday but the following Friday, (July 26) after the entire team had already secured their travel visas from Italian Embassy in Nairobi, Wisa found her old passport back in her bag.

"I was packing my bag preparing to report to camp and I found my old passport in the bag again. That really shocked me. It was unfortunate since I could not use it to apply for my visa since I had already reported it lost," she added.

Her new passport didn't arrive until July 30 but her last-minute efforts to secure a travel visa on August 1 did not bear fruit. The last batch of the team had already left for Italy the previous night.

Ramdoo was left without enough cover in the middle blockers department. Trizah Atuka and rookies Gladys Ekaru and Lorine Chebet who had replaced Brackcides Agala were the natural middle blockers that made the Italy trip. Violet Makuto, an opposite player, had to play as a middle blocker in Ramdoo's plan B.

"It's so unprofessional for people to collude to lock out the best player in the team. The disappearance of Wisa's passport and its appearance a few days later is not a coincidence. It was something that was well planned by insiders to disorient the team," pointed out Ramdoo.

"Wisa is one of the best players in that team. She is calm, intelligent and has leadership qualities in her. It's just that she is introverted that I didn't make her captain for now. But in everything she does both on and off the court you see a leader in her," he underlined.

Kenya lost all her matches in Catania but there were notable performances from Sharon Chepchumba who impressed at opposite, emerging as Kenya's top scorer with 19 points. Moim was second with 17 and Murambi third with 12. In Italy, Moim questioned Ramdoo's tactics at some point and this did not go down well with the coach. A can of worms that ultimately sealed Ramdoo's fate was opened.

"For a team to perform, it has to be together for three to four years. He took over a team that was at its peak and was winning so why keep on making so many changes? All we want is to win and bring glory to the country." Moim, who faulted substitutions in the team that affected the flow of their game, posed. On the other hand, Ramdoo viewed the tournament as a perfect chance to gauge his young players at a high level competition against opponents superior to Kenya.

"This is a team in transition. We have many young players who have great potential and there is no better place to test them than in a competition where there is no much expectation of winning. That is how you introduce youngsters in the national team. Look at a player like Sharon who did so well in a new position. She was a darling of the crowd in Italy and showed that in a big stage she can rise to the occasion," he said.

"I was also trying out different combinations ahead of the African Games and the tournament gave me a lot of ideas on what do in different game situations. It was not just a matter of blind substitutions. Leaders have to show their worth on court, not by playing politics. I knew what I was doing, that's my job as a coach," added Ramdoo.

The captain versus coach tussle took a new twist upon the team's return on Tuesday when Moim called KVF Technical Director Lung'aho to organise a meeting with Kioni the following day. It's in that meeting that players threatened to boycott the African Games if Ramdoo remained as coach. It has turned out that not all the players supported that stand.

"It's not true that everybody was against the coach. For the short time he was here, he had introduced new systems and we were slowly starting to embrace them. Physically, we were very fit and the team was improving. He just had a weakness with his temper which could have been sorted out had he stayed longer and got to understand his players well. He is one of the best coaches I have worked with," said a player who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation.

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