Stadia's prolonged closure hurts football as KPL kick off nears
With the 2019/2020 Kenyan Premier League season set to kick-off in three weeks’ time, most clubs still don’t know where they will host their matches due to delay in renovation of stadiums across the country.
While Kasarani, Kenya largest sporting facility has been overbooked, Nyayo National Stadium is far away from completion since it was closed down for renovation in May 2017. Kasarani will host 2020 IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships.
Kinoru Stadium in Meru, Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Eldoret and Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos together with Nyayo had all been earmarked for refurbishment by the government as venues to host the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN).
But two years down the line, all the four stadiums are yet to be completed or upgraded to the international standards as required by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa) after the country was stripped of the CHAN hosting rights due to unpreparedness.
Nyayo, home ground to majority of Nairobi-based clubs including Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards as well as national football teams (Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets), has been inaccessible for over two years because it is ‘undergoing renovation’.
Nairobi City Stadium, which was closed three years ago by the Nairobi County government to give it a facelift, is still in a deplorable state while Tusker’s Ruaraka Grounds is ‘not’ fit for league matches.
There was a glimmer of hope that Nyayo would reopen after it hosted last year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations and the First Lady’s Beyond Zero half marathon in March, but that never came to pass as contractors pulled out citing lack of funds from the government.
Just before the Beyond Zero half marathon, Sports Ministry Principal Secretary, Ambassador Peter Kirimi Kaberia had said his ministry would deliver the facility to the public by May.
“We might be behind schedule but Kenyans should be ready to see a world-class facility. The contractors are getting out of option and they’ve to deliver that stadium to us hopefully by end of April,” said Kaberia then.
“Initially, we were to open it for public use in March, but then we have had the challenge of mismatch of calendar.
“Once we are done with the closure of drainage system and work outside the main stadium, the seats’ contractor will take over. That’s our biggest concern but we are now installing a completely new drainage system.”
However, a recent spot-check at the stadium by Standard Sports revealed that the sporting fraternity will have to wait longer to start using the facility as it was deserted with no works going on.
Though the VVIP pavilion seemed complete, the playing surface looks ready and dressing rooms almost done, the facility is not yet ready for use. The worn-out tartan track is yet to be replaced, while the installation of the seats is half-way done.
But Athletics Kenya have scheduled trials for IAAF World Athletics Championships at Nyayo Stadium on September 12 and 13.
Kaberia admitted the delay has been occasioned by lack of funds.
“Yes, the stadium is not fully operational. I agree we are late and totally behind schedule, but it’s at an advanced stage. This is because we had to straighten up some things in line with the funding,” Kaberia said.
“It is true we haven’t paid all contractors and that is one of the reasons for this delay.”
And with Machakos having been banned by CAF and Kasarani booked for the East Africa Community (EAC) Military Games, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa said the country is staring at a crisis.
“It means we only have one stadium, Kasarani which can host international matches and currently six clubs have registered the venue for their fixtures,” Mwendwa said.
“This is very dangerous as it will soon wear out due to over-use. We are looking at a situation where we may be forced to play some international matches in neighbouring countries.”
Though Gor Mahia have been given a reprieve to host the Champions League return leg match against Burundi’s Aigle Noir CS on August 25, the club’s Deputy Secretary-General Ronald Ngala has blamed the government for neglecting sports.
“It’s very unfortunate that a big country like Kenya and an economic powerhouse in the region we can’t get internationally approved stadiums to host our matches. Though we’ve been allowed to play our Champions League return leg match at Kasarani, the facility is overbooked because we are sharing with other disciplines,” Ngala said.
“As we speak, Kasarani will be hosting regional military games until August 23 then a police event will start there from 25th until September. This is giving us a headache.
“If you leave alone the international matches, Nyayo Stadium is closed, Kasarani is booked and Machakos has been banned from hosting CAF catches. You can imagine what Nairobi-based clubs will be going through.
“It’s too obvious, but I don’t know why the government is not looking at it that way. This shows the government is not serious about the sporting industry in Kenya, how should something like renovation of a major facility like Nyayo take three years.”
AFC Leopards chairman Dan Shikanda is equally disappointed with the renovation process of the Nyayo National Stadium as it’s ‘killing’ the growth of the game.
“I think the government is not serious. At the moment, we don’t have a place to play our league matches yet the new season is kicking off in the next three weeks. If the capital city doesn’t have facilities to host even a league match then there is a big problem,” Shikanda said.
“We’ve failed as a nation to take care of football yet it’s the biggest sporting industry in the world. So, how can you make this country industrious if we cannot build what we have?
“That renovation period at Nyayo Stadium is not real at all. Everything must have timeline, you cannot have infinity timeline and expect to complete a project.
“Do the people in charge really know they are hurting and killing football in this country? They are killing AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia and the national teams because that’s the facility all of us were using before it was closed down. “
Shikanda’s sentiments were echoed by Kinoru Member of County Assembly Elias Murega, who feels their regional teams in Meru have been let down by the government.
“So many things have not been done and the contractors have left. The plan was to have at least two training grounds, lighting and some special software. None has been accomplished,” he said.
“Even the pitch itself has not been worked on. In my estimation, only 10 per cent of the expected work on the facility has been done.”
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