Kenyan football and athletics disrupted by stadium closures

Youth Affairs, Sports and Arts Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba is joined by his ministry officials and University of Nairobi Researchers inspect the Nyayo National Stadium on June 16th, 2023 ahead of AFCON games.[Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Two of Kenya's 2026 World Cup qualifying matches have been moved to Malawi after the government closed down all major stadiums, a move that is also hitting athletics preparations ahead of the Paris Olympics.

The crucial Group F football fixtures against Burundi and reigning African champions Ivory Coast will now take place at Lilongwe's Bingu national stadium next month.

Kenya's sports ministry had said in April it would be closing Nairobi's two main stadiums and another in the athletics hub of Eldoret for renovations to prepare for the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations which Kenya will host jointly with Tanzania and Uganda.

A Football Kenya Federation (FKF) spokesman said the organisation had reached out to its Malawian counterpart which agreed to host the two World Cup ties due to the lack of FIFA-approved stadiums in Nairobi.

The spokesman told AFP the qualifiers would now be held between June 3 and June 10, without giving more precise dates.

Burundi's national team said on Tuesday in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that its clash against Kenya would take place on June 7 in Lilongwe.

Kenya's national athletics championships, which serve as a trial for next month's African Senior Athletics Championships in Cameroon, will be staged in a small military Nairobi stadium that is not recognised by World Athletics.

The May 21-22 event had originally been due to take place at the Nyayo National Stadium in the capital which was closed down two weeks ago.

The Ulinzi military stadium is also hosting the women's Under-17 World Cup qualifier between Kenya and Ethiopia on Sunday.

Harambee Stars players acknowledge fans support after loss to South Sudan during International Friendly match played at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on September 12, 2023. South Sudan won 0-1. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

 A 'big loss'

Kenyan national athletics head coach Julius Kirwa voiced concern about the timing of the closures given the June 30 deadline for athletes to qualify for the Paris games.

"We're completely in the dark as far the preparations for the Olympics are concerned. The Ulinzi stadium is not a certified competition venue," he told AFP.

"At this rate we'll have to rely on participation in the Diamond League to help our athletes get the qualifying times."

So far 67 Kenyans -- 45 men and 22 women -- have qualified for the Olympics, with final trials due to be held in June at an as yet unspecified venue.

Julius Yego, Kenya's 2015 javelin world champion and 2016 Olympic silver medallist who is yet to qualify for Paris, said the stadium closures were a "big loss".

"Which one comes first... giving the athletes time and space to qualify, or renovations."

Kenya's Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba defended the closures, saying in a statement on Tuesday it was vital to update the country's sports facilities "which have been neglected and handled way too casually".

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