Kenya: 2020 in Review - National Hockey Teams Flatter to Deceive and Clubs Skip Tourneys As Virus Bites

18 December 2020

Change is inevitable, and is the only constant thing in the world.

There was fresh breath of air when Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) early this year overhauled the men and women's national teams technical bench in hope that new faces would bring good tidings.

KHU appointed Wazalendo Hockey club coach Fidelis Kimanzi the national men's team coach, taking over from Meshack Senge, the Strathmore University men and women's coach who had held the job for a decade. Western Jaguars coach Michael Malungu was named his assistant.

An all-female technical bench led by former Kenyan international Jacqueline Mwangi took charge of the national women's team. Mwangi's assistants are Barbara Simiyu and Glennis Namasake. Before taking over, Mwangi had served as Tom Olal's assistant.

The performance of Kenya's national teams has nosedived, and it was evident in the qualifiers of 2020 Olympic Games.

Women's team failed to sparkle at the African qualifiers for the Olympic Games held in South Africa last year. Kenya finished fourth out of five participating nations, while men's team finished fifth in the six-nations event.

Perhaps that performance prompted long-serving Kenya women's team hockey goalkeeper Josephine Ataro to criticise the current crop of national team players for lacking commitment, passion and winning mentality.

Ataro, with two decades of service to the sport, is of the view that the current crop of players is not result-oriented and only value the prestige that comes with wearing the national team jersey.

"I'm not happy that every time we participate in the African Club Championship and my club Blazers (formerly Telkom) performs well, players from other countries question why we don't do well as a country. It really bothers me. But when I attend some of their training sessions at City Park Stadium before major events, I see nothing really special. There is no seriousness at all. It is like they are just there to pass time. They don't know that putting on the national team jersey is an honour and they should accord it the respect it deserves," Ataro observes.

KHU and fans will have to wait a little longer to see the performance of the teams under the new coaches following the postponement of North and East Africa regional qualifiers for 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, which had been pencilled for May. The qualifiers were postponed to January 18 -24 at Simba Union Club in Nairobi next year due to coronavirus pandemic.

Kenyan men will face off with opponents from Burundi, Libya, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Seychelles for two slots up for grabs for 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Their female counterparts will line up against Egypt, Burundi, Libya, Seychelles, Sudan, neighbours Tanzania and Uganda for two tickets to 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

KHU Secretary-General Wycliffe Ongori is on record as saying that the performance of national team coaches will be reviewed every two years to gauge if they were on the right track.

"We have given them a two-year window. We will review and extend their terms for another two years if we are satisfied with their performance. But from the union, we are quite confident that they will meet the agreed goals and expectations. While the performance of the teams is not where we would have loved it to be, all is not lost. We can start afresh and return to the good old days when Kenya regularly participated in the World Cup and Olympic Games," said Ongori.

At the club level, back- to-back KHU women's Premier League champions Blazers (formerly Telkom) and United States International University - Africa (USIU-A) were scheduled to represent Kenya in 2020 Africa Clubs Championship in December in Malawi but the championship was postponed due to coronavirus.

Butali Sugar Warriors, Wazalendo and Kenya Police were programmed to represent the country in the men's competition but that, too, was postponed.

The cancellation of the African Clubs championship however proved a blessing in disguise for local clubs. Cash-strapped Kenyan teams have in the past failed to honour the annual tournament, and this year would not have been any different.

Men's Premier League champions Butali, Kenya Police and Strathmore University all skipped last year's championship held in Egypt due to lack of adequate funds. Prior to the event, USIU-A had already pulled out, leaving only Wazalendo as the only interested team.

USIU-A coach Willis 'Awilo' Okeyo has bemoaned the trend, saying the team had worked hard to qualify for the event and failure to compete is a slap on the faces of the players.

"We were excited about our return to the competition, having competed in it for the first time in 2018 in Abuja. Although we finished fourth, we were ready to go and make amends and at the same time expose the players . But now we will have to wait for another time," Okeyo, a Police Constable, observed in a past interview.

Wazalendo coach Fidelis Kimanzi is of the opinion that although the team was returning to the event for the first time since 2007, he will not set the bar too high.

"We will be out to give our players exposure. We have a formidable but relatively young side. We will not put pressure on them to perform but if they can play while adhering to our system of play and try to match their opponents, then it will be good enough," Kimanzi observed.

"But that does not mean we will be comfortable being the punching bag of the competition. We are, however, glad we will participate in the event. We can't wait to see what is in store for us," he added.

Butali Sugar Warriors also named former Kenyan international Zack Aura as head coach, taking over from Dennis Owoka who resigned last December. The sugar millers also promoted veteran goalkeeper Joseph Osino, Brian Musasia and Maxwell Fuchaka to the posts of assistant coaches.

"I have played for Butali for many years and I'm familiar with the mission, vision, and objectives of the club, which makes it easy for me to work. However, it is a much bigger responsibility," Aura, also known as 'Maestro' by his peers due to his hockey prowess, said.

At the same time, Blazers are yet to secure a sponsor after Telkom pulled out last year. Blazers coach Jos Openda has said the team is still looking for a sponsor.

"We appeal to the corporates to show a good gesture towards this historic club and offer financial support because hockey is expensive and we cannot do it on our own," said Openda.

National women's team captain Gilly Okumu, speedy forward Maureen Okumu, and Lilian Aura's plans to move to Germany for professional stints hit a snag due to coronavirus pandemic.

Plans by Willis Okeyo (Kenya Police) and Moses Ademba (Butali) to play abroad also fell through. The league which had kicked off early in the year, was called off due to Covid-19. A new season will get underway next year.

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