Kenya: Gor's Tense Escape in Africa Brings Cheer to Troubled Kenyan Club Football Scene

9 December 2020

Gor Mahia's dramatic entry into the first round of the Caf Champions League at the weekend under the most trying of circumstances aptly illustrates how Kenyan clubs continue to gallantly fight for survival in the face of unrelenting adversities.

After Samuel Onyango's strike in the 18th minute at Nyayo National Stadium tied the two-leg series 2-2 on aggregate, Gor appeared to be cruising to victory on the away goal rule only for Keddy Nsanzimfura to level matters with seven minutes left to shift the balance of fortune.

Gor now needed to score twice to advance. Cometh the hour, cometh second half substitutes Nicholas Kipkirui and Sydney Ochieng who struck once each deep into time added on to ensure Kenya remained represented at continental level.

Remember, because of settling scores (pun intended), Kenya does not have a club playing in the Confederation Cup.

The knock-out domestic cup that determines who represents Kenya in the Confederation Cup never concluded this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bandari who were and still are the reigning title holders, thought they would be nominated by FKF by virtue of their status. They were not.

Kakamega Homeboyz, who were lying second in the Kenyan Premier League last season could also have been selected by the federation to represent Kenya.

They, too, were not. Just a Twitter message from the FKF president Nick Mwendwa stating Kenya would not participate. No explanation was given.

But it was not lost to many that the head of the federation was in the midst of an election campaign and perceived that there were some people at Bandari and Homeboyz who were against his candidature.

Back to Gor Mahia, easily Kenya's best and most successful team of the decade, some would say in the history of Kenyan football -- their financial and management woes, coupled with some overzealous fans, notwithstanding.

Gor have had serious squabbles with the FKF boss this year over a league broadcast rights deal signed between Chinese-owned pay TV station StarTimes and the federation.

The federation directed all KPL clubs to endorse the deal but Gor, Mathare United, Zoo Kericho and Ulinzi Stars are yet to do so. The clubs argue that they own the broadcast rights, a direct contradiction to the federation's stand.

Gor chairman Ambrose Rachier further said he needed to look at the details of the contract to understand what K'Ogalo were getting into before boarding even as one of his junior officers put pen to paper "validating" the deal, much to the delight of FKF.

It is clear that the body that runs football in the country has employed dirty tricks to sabotage the dissenting outfits.

There has even been talk of the federation threatening to relegate the pesky clubs, that have over 100 years combined experience playing at the top level, from the Premiership. Under which football rules you would wonder?

To show who was holding the carrot and the stick, when the government allowed the resumption of football in the country last month, the federation deliberately excluded Mathare, Ulinzi and Zoo from the all-expense paid mandatory Covid-19 testing programme it was conducting.

"Wont' sign, won't pay," was the seeming message from the federation, never mind that every club needs all the support it can get to pull through the current trying times for the sake of pro football in the country.

The federation has been accused of manipulating fixtures so that the four clubs that have not endorsed the StarTimes deal play on weekdays and against each other in the early rounds.

Case in point. Zoo were due to play Mathare United at Kericho Green Stadium while Gor faced Ulinzi at Nyayo National Stadium today. But revised fixtures released yesterday have no such matches.

I do not hold brief for the Kenyan Premier League Ltd and SuperSport, but I immensely appreciated how they could release the entire season's fixtures, including times and venues, and proceed to run the programme like a Swiss clock.

My score on how the FKF-PL has been managed so far: D plus.

The federation released the season's fixtures last month, but just two rounds into the campaign, ad hoc changes have been made as frequent as AFC Leopards firing coaches.

It started with the first match of the season pitting AFC Leopards and Tusker. Initially scheduled for Nyayo on November 28 from 3pm, it was moved to Moin International Sports Centre, Kasarani, on the eve of the clash.

The following day, the scheduled matches involving Nairobi City Stars and Nzoia Sugar, and that between Posta Rangers and KCB were shifted from Nyayo to Narok Stadium, and from Kenyatta Stadium to Kasarani respectively.

Last Friday's changes could feature as a comedy in the Churchill Show. The fixture between Wazito and Vihiga United was originally scheduled for Narok Stadium from 3pm, before being moved to Kasarani from 1pm, and then later shifted to Utalii grounds from noon, but ended up kicking off an hour later! What? And in these days of live television broadcast?

I felt sorry for Vihiga United coach. Who could not? He attributed his side's 3-1 loss to the changes, saying the Western Kenya-based club struggled to find the exact venue for the match, eventually arriving at Utalii a few minutes to 1pm. They hardly had time to warm up.

At this rate, I shudder to think what will happen the rest of the season.

At least I can look forward to Kenya's top most team playing in Africa, unless they are relegated by FKF over a broadcast rights contract that needs a negotiated agreement and not intransigent directives.

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