Cry for dialogue as Kenyans start feeling the heat of suspension

Harambe Stars Midfielder Kenneth Muguna reacts after his goal was denied for an offside during their Friendly encounter at Nyayo national stadium on March 15, 2021. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

Fifa’s decision to suspend Kenya from all international football activities has generated mixed reactions from football stakeholders across the country.

The world governing body cracked the whip on Thursday night during their virtual council meeting where they suspended Kenya alongside Zimbabwe due to government interference.

The decision saw Football Kenya Federation (FKF) lose all its membership rights with the Zurich-based body saying that Kenya will only be readmitted after the government revokes the appointment of the Caretaker Committee and reopens the doors for the federation’s secretariat at Goal Project, Kasarani.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed disbanded the federation on November 11 2021 over allegations of misappropriation of funds and installed a Caretaker Committee to manage football matters for a period of six months against Fifa’s wish.

While some Kenyans have warmly welcomed the move saying it is a chance for them to put their house in order, others feel the current impasse involving the Fifa, government and FKF is going to have far reaching implications on the key stakeholders; players, coaches, referees and club owners.

As it stands, no Kenyan team (national and clubs) will compete in any CAF/Fifa organised competitions and neither the FKF nor any of its members or officials may benefit from any development programmes, courses or training from CAF/Fifa.

Harambee Stars Michael Olunga controls ball against Kiiza Mustafa of Uganda Cranes during their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifier Group E match at Nyayo national stadium on September 02, 2021.[Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Fifa-accredited referees like Peter Waweru, Mary Njoroge and Gilbert Cheruiyot are likely to miss out on appointments for big tournaments this year. In addition, no players’ transfers both locally and globally will be approved during the time of suspension as there is no federation to issue International Transfer Certificates (ITC).

But Kenya U17 women’s team is the first casualty of the suspension as they have been disqualified from the 2022 World Cup qualifier.

Kenya was supposed to face South Africa in a two-legged match next month, but following the communication from Fifa, the Bantwana have now automatically progressed to the next round. Also yesterday, Kenya was not represented in the CECAFA Annual General Assembly that was graced by CAF Secretary General Véron Mosengo-Omba.

Harambee Starlets Tereza Engesha dribling ball past Dorka Lam of South Sudan in the Africa Women Cup of Nations Qualifiers return leg match at the Nyayo National Stadium, Oct 23, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

This comes barely a month after Harambee Starlets were locked out of the 2022 African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) qualifiers with CAF awarding Uganda’s Crested Cranes a ticket to the finals to be held in Morocco on July 2-23.

Though former FKF president Sam Nyamweya has called for dialogue and the formation of a Normalisation Committee, he said Fifa should withdraw their conditions and let FKF follow the Kenyan law.

This is not the first time Kenya has found itself into this situation as it was suspended way back in 2004 and 2006.

“Thursday was a bad day for Kenyan football. Instead of suspending us, I think Fifa should have engaged further with the government,” said Nyamweya.

“Of course I support the CS decision to disband the federation, the only thing she failed to do is to engage Fifa on the same and that’s why the Caretaker Committee is not recognised by Fifa.  After sensing Fifa’s resistance, the government should have moved swiftly to form a Normalisation Committee with the blessings, I think that’s the route Fifa wanted. I’m urging both parties to have a serious dialogue, agree to appoint a Normalisation Committee that will normalise the situation.”

Nyamweya continued: We cannot condone non-compliance of the Sports Act. Even Fifa cannot force us to not comply, but the only avenue we have to solve this mess right now is through dialogue. Our players, clubs and referees are going to suffer and even no transfer of our players to foreign clubs will be approved.

“At the moment, the league matches we are playing are just but friendlies. All the same, will not accept people who have drained our game to be reinstated, Fifa should withdraw that condition. Furthermore, they cannot tell Kenya to open Kandanda House when they know very well it’s a scene of crime.”

But while former FKF Secretary General Lordvick Aduda has termed Kenya’s situation as self-inflicted, he feels the government still has a chance to engage Fifa and stakeholders as they try to bring sanity back into the game.

“I have been talking about the sanctions, Harambee Starlets’ debacle should have been an eye opener, we ought to have smelled the coffee,” said Aduda.

“But I feel the Caretaker Committee and the CS are responsible for putting us in this predicament. I have now been vindicated as none of the local and national teams will participate in the upcoming international matches. For our league, those are friendly matches. It’s only under the Normalisation Committee that we can occasion the amendment of the constitution.

“Fifa have now taken a pole position in deciding our fate because they have given us conditions. People have been making a lot of noise, now the suspension has come and is as good as a ban, those who have been ranting on social media are not the ones going to suffer but the players, referees and coaches.”

He added: “Now a lot of things are not going to happen after the suspension came to force; local clubs will not sign foreign players and our players will not join foreign clubs. Unless the issue is solved, our referees like Gilbert Cheruiyot who is destined to officiate at the World Cup will be affected. If the referees’ listing happens during the suspension, it means our referees will not be accredited by Fifa thus it will also affect the quality of officiating locally.

“However, I believe Fifa have still given us a leeway, especially after restarting the fact that they don’t condone corruption and unethical conduct. The onus is now on the CS and her ministry to provide concrete evidence to charge the accused. And since the General Assembly (It’s not interfered with) is still intact, we need to get back to the constitution and solve all these issues.”

Former FKF vice-president Sammy Sholei says the writing was already on the wall and it was just a matter of time before Fifa acted.

“It’s quite unfortunate we have reached here. It’s a total confusion, it’s now for stakeholders to sit down and chat the way forward. The individuals who led us into this situation should be dealt with according to the law. There has been a push and pull involving the government, FKF and Fifa, but let’s now swallow the pride and iron out the issues amicably,” said Sholei.

But for former Kenyan international Bonface Ambani, there is no cause for alarm as the Caretaker Committee is in full control of the game.

“Football is not just for a few individuals. Kenya has its own laws and they must be respected. Of course casualties will be there, the players will pay the price right now but they will enjoy it in the long run. The government through the Caretaker Committee are trying to streamline the game.

“There is no cause for alarm. From Fifa’s statement, I think they want us to put our house in order; they want the secretariat to be reinstated. As you are aware, Fifa deals only with its member association and that’s why they are demanding for the reopening of the secretariat and if the government agrees then there is a chance of a Normalisation Committee coming into place. Remember Barry Otieno and Doris Petra were not charged, so those are the two people they want to communicate with.”

And for former Harambee Stars captain Musa Otieno, the stakeholders should learn from the past and put players’ interests first.

“To be honest, it's those people who depend on football that will suffer the most. Fifa president Gianni Infantino said we all know what needs to be done for us to be readmitted, so, I think we need to learn from the past experiences and change the game for good. We have been there before and we know the real problems; let’s not allow it to be a cycle,” said Otieno.

FKF presidential aspirant Twaha Mbarak has said the suspension could be a blessing in disguise for Kenya.

“Fifa has said what it wants and we as a country have to ensure that everything is okay back home before we engage them,” said Mbarak.

“We all know that our football has been taken for granted and benefited a few individuals in the past, this is something that we have to change moving forward. We have to ensure that we all comply and have everything streamlined ahead of the elections.”