How disputes, chaos and leadership woes plunged Kenyan football into disarray

FILE: President FKF Nick Mwendwa [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The 2021 sports calendar will go down in history as one of the worst years for football development in Kenya.

From media boycott to Covid-19 pandemic hiccups, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) disbandment, Mashemeji Derby boycott, former FKF President Nick Mwendwa’s arrest and relegation of Zoo Kericho, stakeholders and fans have seen it all.

It was not meant to get to this point, but it did. At the moment, Kenyan football is being ran and managed by a caretaker committee.

Under the stewardship of the FKF Caretaker Committee, the local football leagues are slowly picking up pace despite being faced with financial instability and lack of proper communication about lined-up activities.

Trouble started at the beginning of the 2020-2021 FKF Premier League season when top Kenyan leading media houses boycotted the coverage of all football leagues.

This was after journalists from Standard Group and other media houses were barred by FKF officials from covering a league match between Gor Mahia and Ulinzi Stars at Nyayo Stadium on December 12 last year.

The media blackout lasted for more than 30 days before it was lifted on January 16 after talks between the Sports Journalist Association (SJAK) and the federation.

A month after the league started picking up pace, clubs and fans were hit with another two-month suspension when President Uhuru Kenyatta suspended all sporting activities to contain the spread of Covid-19.

This was the second time sporting activities were being halted after a similar order was issued in March 2020, when the first cases of the disease were recorded in Kenya.

FC Talanta Goalkeeper Isaih Wakasala during FKF Premier League at The Nyayo National stadium on Sunday, December 19, 2021. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Clubs had to grapple with congested fixtures, with teams playing two to three matches in one week when the league finally resumed on May 14.

In the same month, global football regulator Fifa ordered the expulsion of Zoo Kericho FC from the Premier League to the third-tier league FKF Division One after they were accused of “match manipulation”.

The Rift-Valley-based club was found guilty of match fixing. The club appealed the ban and called for its reinstatement to the top tier league but the attempt was futile and the best they could get was to play in the National Super League.

Another saga erupted on May 17 when FKF announced that Kenya’s representatives in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League would be the team that topped the league standings as at June 30.

Previously, league winners earned a direct ticket to the CAF Champions League.

The decision was opposed by half of the clubs, including the then defending champions Gor Mahia, who said the move was aimed at blocking their way to the Champions League.

The federation argued that CAF had set the deadline and Kenya risked missing out from the continental tournament because the March stoppage delayed completion of the league.

AFC Leopards SC coach Patrick Aussems instructs his charges against Bandari FC during their FKF-Premier League match at Thika Municipal stadium in Kiambu County on July 09, 2021. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Tusker held off challenging clubs like KCB and got the slot, thus ending Gor’s four season dominance.

Furthermore, former FKF President Nick Mwendwa raised eyebrows among fans and stakeholders on July 29 when he unveiled a new league trophy which he said cost Sh5 million.

Two day later, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards boycotted the popular “Mashemeji Derby” despite being warned against such a move by the federation.

This was after the two clubs differed with FKF over unpaid dues. They accused FKF of failing to remit grants owed to them as winners and runners-up respectively of the FKF Cup. Gor had beat Leopards 4-1 on post-match penalties after a 0-0 deadlock in regular time during the FKF Cup final on July 4.

It was the first time in the history of the local league that the derby failed to take place as the two clubs demanded their FKF Cup dues.

Gor were entitled to Sh2 million while runner-up Leopards were to receive Sh1 million.

As a result of the boycott, Mwendwa fined Gor Sh4 million and Leopards Sh6 million, which was being deducted from their monthly grants.

The two teams were also docked three points each. However, after the standoff, FKF later paid Gor and Leopards their FKF Cup earnings.

Hopes for better and improved financial stability for clubs after the standoff were shattered again with six matches left to the end of the 2020-2021 season when Nigerian betting firm BetKing ended its five-year Sh1.2 billion sponsorships prematurely on August 6.

Tusker FC team celebrates with their trophie after beating BIDCO United 2-1 to clinch FKF Premier League Champion at Utalii Sports Ground in Nairobi on Sunday August 22,2021[Boniface okendo,Standard]

FKF said they had reached a mutual agreement with the Nigerian-owned firm, under the Entertainment Network Group Kenya Limited, to terminate sponsorship contracts for the BetKing Premier League and BetKing Division One League.

BetKing and FKF had signed a five-season deal that would have seen top-tier clubs get at least Sh8 million every season. In addition, the KPL was required to change its name.

Under the partnership, each of the 32 Division One clubs from Zones A and B were entitled to at least a Sh500,000 annual grant from the federation.

As per the terms of the deal, the betting firm was to make payments in excess of Sh200 million every year to the federation in exchange of naming rights of the competition, among other privileges.

The dark month was, however, brushed aside temporarily by Tusker’s bright shining FKF Premier League trophy.

On August 23, Tusker silenced critics and justified their 2021-2022 CAF Champions League qualification slot they earned by virtue of being top of the standing on June 30 when they won the league for the 12th time.

The brewers dethroned record Kenyan champions Gor Mahia who finished a distant eighth.

Zoo Kericho, Western Stima and Vihiga United (lost to Kenya Police in relegation playoffs) were relegated to NSL.

On the other hand, FC Talanta were promoted to the Premier League after winning the NSL together with runner-up Vihiga Bullets and Kenya Police.

The blockbuster, however, happened when Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed ordered an audit of FKF books on October 27.

After receiving a report from the audit team, the CS disbanded the federation and appointed a Caretaker Committee headed by retired Justice Aaron Ringera on November 15. The committee was to oversee the running of football for six months then pave way for fresh football elections.

Mwendwa was arrested over allegations of misuse of public funds, before being released on a Sh4 million cash bail. 

The woes bedeviling FKF continued as Chinese broadcast firm StarTimes terminated its partnership with the federation, citing wrangles. 

StarTimes opted out of a seven-year deal signed on November 29, 2020 worth Sh110 million per season. Each of the 18 league clubs were to receive Sh8 million per season.

On November 29, Mwendwa was rearrested, and charged with fraudulent use of government funds. He was later released on bail.

The following day, he stepped aside as the FKF boss and handed over his duties to Doris Petra, his deputy in the disbanded federation. 

The Caretaker Committee still runs all the leagues heading to 2022.