Sports CS Ababu Namwamba. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Without a doubt, poor leadership, constant wrangling, mismanagement, embezzlement of funds within federations, and a lack of infrastructure have stymied the country’s growth of sports.

Football, athletics, rugby, volleyball, hockey, basketball, boxing, swimming, paralympics, and cricket all follow a similar script.

There is currently little to write about Kenyan sports because it is in a dismal state due to the greed and selfishness of most officials who run federations like personal kiosks.

Most of the officials have outstayed their welcome, clinging to power through federation constitutions that suit them—without term limits and using traditional tactics.

Even when new elections are held, the same ‘old’ faces are always at the helm because the elections are not free and fair.

While some of the federations require radical surgery for the country to reclaim its lost glory on the continental and global stages, the government must improve and even modernise the country’s facilities.

Despite the government’s confirmation of its interest in co-hosting the Africa Cup of Nations in 2027 with Uganda and Tanzania, the idea appears to be unrealistic given the country’s inability to host international competitions due to a lack of standardised facilities. 

Largest stadiums banned

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) banned Kenya’s two largest stadiums, Kasarani and Nyayo, from hosting Fifa-accredited matches in October 2021 after they both failed to meet the required standards.

Though some federations’ financial struggles have been well documented, most federations have recently witnessed some unpleasant activities, and mismanagement appears to be literally harming sports.

On several occasions, some officials have thrived in self-inflicted crises within federations and clubs by conducting profitable business with them.

The officials have prioritised their own interests over the interests of the players, who should be the key actors.

Just a few days ago, the world football governing agency, Fifa, lifted the nine-month suspension imposed on Kenya’s FA due to government interference.

Athletics Kenya was given a temporary reprieve by World Athletics after Kenya recorded a rising case of doping that could have triggered a ban from international competitions.

Social media help

Due to a lack of funds, the national basketball men’s team, Morans, resorted to social media fundraising in July to attend the Fiba Basketball World Cup qualifiers in Alexandria, Egypt.

The same thing happened to the national women’s volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, with financial problems nearly delaying the team’s participation in the World Championships, which were co-hosted by the Netherlands and Poland from September 23 to October 15. Despite putting their bodies on the line, the players have not been paid in full.

Prior to that, there was a public outcry over the Kenya Hockey Union’s selection process and criteria for selecting the national women’s hockey squad for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Kenyans questioned why KHU president Nashon Randiek chose to announce the squad rather than the coach.

Sports CS Ababu Namwamba may have read the riot act to federation bosses a few days after his appointment, but he will clearly have to give an arm and a leg to streamline the rogue federations. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

And the Kenya Rugby Sevens team, Shujaa, is the latest to suffer the wrath of poor management, with senior player Willy Ambaka taking to social media to reveal the team’s sad state, talking about how a lack of funds is threatening to kill the game.

The players, who are in Dubai for the second leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series, have been without pay for three months, reducing them to beggars on social media.

The situation had made their lives both on and off the field unbearable until the government intervened, along with their female counterparts, the Kenya Lionesses, who had failed to travel to Dubai for the Invitational Tournament.

“Greetings to the Kenya Sevens family. As some of you may have heard, we are now going on our third month without pay. Our lives have been greatly strained, even in our persistent effort to give you the desired outcomes on the pitch,” Willy Ambaka wrote on Twitter.

“Our desperate situation has now forced us to turn to you, our global community, to help us in raising funds.”

But, if recent events in the last year are any indication, football appears to be the worst hit.

After Sports CS Amina Mohamed disbanded the Nick Mwendwa-led Federation over allegations of misappropriation of funds, the country lost an entire year. The CS appointed a caretaker committee to run football affairs for six months on November 11, 2021.

On June 17, the committee was transformed into a transition committee, and its term was extended for another two months on August 15 before expiring on October 16.

Despite all of the resources at its disposal, the committee appears to have left the game in a worse state than it found it.

Suspension consequences

Fifa’s decision to suspend Kenya on March 31 had far-reaching consequences for key stakeholders and the development of the game, with players, coaches, referees, and club owners suffering the most.

The state of Kenyan football was disheartening, with national teams (Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets), clubs, and referees being locked out of international competitions, delayed payment of referee salaries and disbursement of funds to clubs, match-fixing allegations, and clubs struggling financially.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) banned Kenya’s two largest stadiums, Kasarani and Nyayo, from hosting Fifa-accredited matches in October 2021 after they both failed to meet the required standards. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Apart from Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets being barred from participating in Confederation of African Football/Fifa-organised competitions, Fifa-accredited referees such as Peter Waweru, Mary Njoroge, and Gilbert Cheruiyot were all passed over for both the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the 2022 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) in Morocco by the world governing body. 

However, Kenya’s football woes began several years ago, and the top flight (FKF Premier League) is on its deathbed.

The once vibrant East and Central African league appears to have lost its allure, from the withdrawal of sponsorships to receiving peanuts as prize money, teams skipping matches, and failure to pay players’ salaries.

Cancelled sponsorship

Things have not been looking good for Kenyan football since betting firm SportPesa cancelled all of its sports sponsorships in the country in August 2019 due to a long-running tax dispute with the government.

It’s been difficult to entice sponsors to return to the game.

Sports CS Ababu Namwamba may have read the riot act to federation bosses a few days after his appointment, but he will clearly have to give an arm and a leg to streamline the rogue federations.

The sports industry is rife with corruption.

“Our sporting federations must live up to the tenets of integrity, transparency and accountability. This is the minimum requirement we demand from them,” said Namwamba.

“For non-compliant federations, it will be either the rule of the law or the rule of the jungle”.

“Most of you (federation officials) want to be leaders for life. You don’t want successive conveyor belts to flow within your associations, the truth is you should be holding free, fair and democratic elections.”

Last Monday, after intervening in Shujaa’s case, Namwamba told KRU officials, “To be honest, Kenya Rugby Union has not treated the players well and they must make it up to them, the player is the King, the player is the Queen.”

“The player is the goose that lays the golden egg and minus the players, even these officials have no business being in office.”

But Namwamba knows he has his work cut out for him as he tries to ensure federations comply with the 2013 Sports Act, which he helped pass in 2012, as well as the completion of stalled projects and accountability for white elephant projects such as the Sh915 million Kinoru stadium in Meru county.

“I was in Meru today to inspect the state of Kinoru Stadium. I’m disappointed it falls way below international standards and is not worth the almost Sh1 billion reportedly spent on the project.

“Forensic value-for-money audit of all these new stadia is imperative. Kenya cannot host Fifa/CAF events without quality facilities,” said Namwamba.

Interestingly, Sam Nyamweya, who has been accused of mismanaging the game during his tenure as FKF president, believes Kenyan football now requires clinical surgery.

“The lifting of the suspension does not in any way prejudice the criminal proceedings and investigations on FKF and its officials. Granted that the lifting of the suspension is highly welcome, regrettably, the challenges in FKF are deep-rooted and require clinical surgery,” said Nyamweya.

Athletics woes

Athletics, like football and rugby, has had its share of issues.

Athletics is undeniably profitable in Kenya. Every athlete’s dream is to stand on the podium in major competitions, whether at home or abroad.

However, the sport has recently faced a slew of difficulties. A lot needs to be done to save Kenya’s number one sport, from rising cases of doping to a lack of training grounds and officials who have held firm on certain positions at the federations.

The increasing number of athletes who have been hit by motorists while training on the roads raises concerns about the safety of athletes who run long distances.

Most athletes preferred to train in Kaptagat Forest, which offers a tranquil setting along the forest trails. The situation deteriorated further when a female athlete was gang-raped by illegal loggers.

Two top Kenyan athletes were hit by motorists during separate training sessions last year.

Geoffrey Kamworor, the immediate former world 21km record holder, was hit from behind by a motorcycle during a training run in Kaptagat and suffered a fractured tibia.

In the accident, the 29-year-old, who won the New York Marathon in 2019, suffered leg and head injuries.

Sammary Cherotich, a former World Youth 1500m champion, was struck by a vehicle while running along Iten-Kaptarakwa Road in the morning. She suffered injuries and has since recovered.

So far, a five-kilometer-long sidewalk from Iten town to Chepkinoiyo has been graded for use by local and international athletes in their training. Since then, there have been fewer accidents involving athletes in training.

Celliphine Chespol, a two-time world under-20 3000m steeplechase champion, was hit by a bus in Ngong, Nairobi, last year.

“I was on my routine morning run in Ngong when a school van swerved at me from behind. I sustained a head injury that required a minor operation,” said Chespol.

Elections barred by court

Athletics Kenya (AK) held elections in May 2013. AK has not voted since that time. The date of the federation’s elections is still unknown.

Barnaba Korir, the chairman of Athletics Kenya’s youth development, said they are eagerly awaiting the outcome of a court case.

“We have been waiting for the conclusion of a case that stopped Athletics Kenya elections. We are ready and willing to have elections,” he said.

Doping has harmed the country’s image, with Kenya accounting for 40 per cent of athletes who fail doping tests worldwide.

However, the main players - sports federations, the Ministry of Sports, athletes, and medical practitioners - are all to blame for the shady business of doping, which has tarnished Kenya’s image on the global stage since 1988, when the first Kenyan, Cosmas Ndeti, was banned for doping.

Unfortunately, more than 200 Kenyan athletes have been banned for violating anti-doping regulations thus far. The majority of them were barred for failing to update their whereabouts.

The 2022 athletics season will be remembered as the year when most Kenyan stars failed to update their whereabouts, missed tests, and were suspended or even banned.

The athletics community was facing a difficult time as a doping epidemic swept across Kenya’s number one sport.

This year, 55 athletes were banned. In July, former Boston and Chicago marathons winner Lawrence Cherono was provisionally suspended for testing positive for a banned substance -Trimetazidine, just hours before he could line up at the World Championships marathon showdown in Oregon, USA.

Since 2020, there have been a number of whereabouts failures, with Kenyan athletes topping global doping charts. Most Kenyan athletes rely on third parties to track their whereabouts, which they say is ineffective.