Kenyans sports will mark two years this week since the coronavirus pandemic threatened to kill the dreams of footballers, swimmers, runners, rally drivers, and many more.
Last year was meant to be a year of new beginnings but this year, 2022, was supposed to be a year of winnings, victories, and advancements.
However, Kenyan sports registered mixed fortunes in 2022, a calendar that will both go down as a year of lessons to both athletes and administrations.
From football to hockey, athletics to rugby, and basketball to school games, this year provided both heartbreak and hope.
This year will arguably go down as the darkest year for the men’s national team. I mean, we were knocked out of every possible international competition without even kicking the ball, let alone put on the red and white jersey colours.
It was even more painful for Harambee Starlets who were denied a spot in Afcon despite reaching the final round of the qualifiers where they were to play Uganda Lady Cranes to seal their spot to the continental games.
So, what went wrong for Kenya national football teams this year? Well, I believe every Kenyan today will side with me that politics brought into football do not end well.
I always say that football is littered with riches to rags stories – slumbering giants who sleepwalk off cliffs and into the depth of their domestic pyramid and the same can be said of Kenya.
Kenya’s slumber started in November last year when the then Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa was alleged to be involved in a corruption scandal at the federation.
These allegations invited the intervention of former Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed who after reported backchannel conversations and a series of investigations including by Parliament disbanded the FKF and installed a caretaker committee.
The FKF disbandment meant there was no FIFA-affiliated entity in Kenya henceforth, putting football matters in a limbo of sorts.
Typically, this kind of action invites a ban from FIFA because it is considered government interference under Article 19 of the FIFA statutes.
The caretaker committee was installed to oversee football governance in the country and it was also mandated to ensure a smooth transition of power to suitable prospects in different posts in the federation.
In January this year, the committee conducted interviews for the Harambee Starlets coach post and hired Alex Alumirah, a seasoned coach in women’s football. Alumirah has won the women’s premier league title three times with Vihiga Queens.
Alumirah’s task was to take Harambee Starlets to the African Women Cup of Nations and the world cup. He named his squad for the final AWCON qualifier match against Uganda in January 26
The team camped in Kasarani, just days after the squad arrived in camp, communication from the Ugandan federation, and media announced that Uganda had qualified for the AWCON tournament because Kenya had withdrawn from the tournament.
FUFA released a statement saying the Uganda Senior Women’s National Football Team, the Crested Cranes, will grace this year’s Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations finals at Morocco in August that was won by South Africa.
The communication from Uganda was treated as hearsay because only the Confederation of African Football (CAF) is mandated to make such calls.
However, CAF withdrew Kenya from the qualifiers and confirmed Uganda’s qualification to Awcon after former FKF CEO Barry Otieno wrote to the continental body confirming Kenya’s withdrawal.
The 2022 Awcon tournament was used as qualifiers for 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup which Kenya has since missed.
The top four teams qualified for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and two more teams will advance to the inter-confederation play-offs.
In February, matters went from bad to worse after FIFA President Gianni Infantino ratified Kenya’s suspension from any international football activities.
The world governing body said it would only lift the suspension upon “receipt of confirmation from the FKF and its management, led by Vice-President Doris Petra and General Secretary Barry Otieno that the FKF and its premises are once more under their full and unconditional control.”
On April 19, Kenya were pooled in Group C alongside Cameroon, Namibia, and Burundi. At the conclusion of the draw, Caf also asked Kenya to reinstate Mwendwa and his team so they can be involved in the qualifiers.
With the ban, Kenya missed the 2023 Africa Cup of Nation qualifiers.
Furthermore, Harambee Stars failed to appoint a head coach after the exit of Turkish tactician Engin Firat last year on November 16. It’s close to 13 months with no national team management structures which is a worry for Kenya heading into 2023.
Kenyan referees also suffered after being denied the opportunity to go to international games including the World Cup in Doha because of the ban.
Locally, The 2022 FKF men and women’s Premier League proved to bring joy and sadness not only to their players but also to fans who danced and cried in the same year.
Tusker Football Club in June thought they had become the second most successful club in the country after pipping Kakamega Homeboyz to win their 13th Premier League title.
At the same time, Vihiga Queens also thought they had reclaimed their title from Thika Queen who proved unstoppable in 2021.
However, FKF National Executive Committee stripped both Tusker and Vihiga of their titles.
One of the positives for the year was the rise and rise of Ferdinand Omanyala.
On June 9, Omanyala became African men’s 100m champion after beating defending champion Akani Simbine of South African by just three thousandths of a second in Mauritius.
Both men were recorded as finishing the final in a time of 9.93 seconds - a new African Championships record - but Omanyala was awarded a time of 9.927 following a photo finish.
The 26-year-old is just the second Kenyan to become continental champion over the distance, emulating 1990 winner Joseph Gikonyo.
Two months later, Omanyala became the new Commonwealth Games 100m champion.
Omanyala dethroned defending champion and rival Akani Simbine from South Africa after clocking 10.02 second in the finals of the 100m at the ongoing 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Other athletes who shined include two-time Olympic and World 1,500m champion Faith Chepng’etich Kipyegon.
Chepngétich recaptured the world 1,500m tile clocking three minutes and 52.96 seconds on July 18, before going on to win the Monaco leg of the Diamond League in a national record time of 3:50.37, missing the world record by just three tenths of a second. Chepngétich would retain her Diamonds League Trophy, winning in Zurich in 4:00.44 on September 8.
Finally, we cannot forget one of the Greatest Marathoners of All time in Eliud Kipchoge.
On September 25, Kipchoge sliced half a minute from his own world record to win the BMW Berlin Marathon, clocking a sensational 2:01:09 at the World Athletics Elite Platinum Label road race.
Just when it seemed Kipchoge had achieved everything he possibly could over the classic distance, the legendary pushed the world record further out of reach for the rest of the distance-running world.
His victory – and world record – now a formality, Kipchoge went on to cross the line in 2:01:09, taking 30 seconds off the world record he set in the German capital four years ago.
Three years ago, Kipchoge produced the fastest time ever for the 42.2km distance, clocking 1:59:40.2 at the Ineos159 Challenge in Vienna.
Away from athletics, while tennis has not held a stranglehold in the country, the exploits of Angela Okutoyi shone the light on the potential that the country is yet to exploit.
She made history as the first Kenyan to participate in a Grand Slam Wimbledon final when she and her Dutch partner, Rose Marie Nijkamp, won the girls’ doubles crown at the Junior Championship in London in July.
“I’m now able to inspire most players from Kenya and Africa. I’m able to put a belief in them that they can also achieve it. It doesn’t matter the background you come from or where you’ve been, it’s just the belief and the dream that you can achieve it. Now I believe that we’ll have more Kenyans here for sure,” she stated after the historic win.
Okutoyi also won the doubles in the J1 Repentin competition alongside Polish partner Malwina Rowinska in Canada, in addition to reaching the second round at US Open singles.
She concluded a memorable year by taking runners-up prize at the W15 Nairobi Tour after going down 6-3, 6-2 to top seed Emily Seibold of Germany.
Okutoyi, however, won the doubles title alongside her Indian partner Bhasin Smriti.
Truthfully, it would be cruel to compare Kenya’s performance this year and the golden years of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s but also it will not be fair to our men and women if we do not applaud their efforts as the year ends despite the numerous challenges.
Taking you back, Kenya finished fourth at the 1971 International Hockey Federation (IHF) World Cup, her best position to date.
Nine years earlier, at the 1960 Summer Olympics, Kenya took position seven and would later clinch the gold medal at the 1987 All-African Games, staged in Nairobi.
For the years gone by, hockey used to be a big sport in the country. It was so big that a hockey stick was a requirement for any student joining secondary school, especially in Nyanza with the likes of Kisumu Boys and Kisumu Day leading on the front.
The men’s team, for example, used to brush shoulders with jockey elites like India and Bangladesh.
Though Kenya still dines at the same table with other continental hockey powerhouses like South Africa and Egypt, the fortunes have been dwindling until this year.
Kenya started the year on the front foot by winning a maiden bronze medal at the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations held in Ghana in January.
Building up to the tournament, the men’s team finished runners-up in four of the team’s seven appearances in the African Cup of Nations (1974, 1983, 1989 and 1996). They finished outside the medal bracket in their previous appearance in 2017 same as the women.
In Accra, the national women’s hockey team won bronze after defeating Zimbabwe women 3-1 on penalties.
Ranked third in Africa, Blades were handed a ticket to the United Kingdom for the first time in the history of the games.
In May, both the national men and women’s hockey teams qualified for the 2023 Africa Games to be held in Ghana next year.
Kenya booked the slots after the North-East Africa region qualifiers that were scheduled at the Sikh Union Stadium in Nairobi were canceled.
The qualifiers, which were scheduled for May 17-21, were to feature eight nations with the top two nations in each gender qualifying for the event.
The countries were Tanzania, Egypt, Burundi, Libya, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya.
However, only Kenya and Uganda had confirmed participation, a move that saw the Africa Hockey Federation declare the two as qualified nations.
Therefore, Africa Hockey Federation (AHF) gave direct tickets to both Kenya and Uganda.
In August, the fairy tale would be tested in Birmingham where the team registered one of the worst performances in the history of the sport in Kenya.
Kenya were in Group B alongside defending New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, and South Africa.
They conceded a total of 50 goals after losing to South Africa 15-0 and 11-0 to Scotland in addition to their losses against Australia and New Zealand.
At the end, Kenya finished ninth at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Locally, it was a dream come true as Strathmore University won its maiden KHU Premier League title.
The University students were declared the new champions with two matches to spare last month.
Additionally, Strathmore have automatically booked a spot in the 2023 Africa Club Championships.