Mon, Oct 02, 2017 - Page 11 News List

CHAN failure exposes flailing Kenyan soccer

AFP, NAIROBI

The decision to strip Kenya of its right to host next year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) has revealed the abject state of soccer in the country.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) governing body earlier this month withdrew the tournament from Kenya after an inspection team found just one out of four venues was ready ahead of the start of the tournament in January next year.

“The withdrawal of CHAN is a sign of the lack of seriousness we have shown in all sports across the board,” sports analyst Arnold Kanyangonda said. “In Kenya there is a lot of talk and no action.”

Raw talent and better support helped Kenya become a world beater in distance running and rugby sevens, but soccer languishes in a dismal state hit by mismanagement, wrangling and corruption.

Stadiums are already largely empty — with fans turning instead to televised foreign matches — and the embarrassing cancelation of CHAN, an international tournament in which players are drawn from domestic leagues, is yet another blow.

Kanyangonda blamed Kenya’s government for ignoring sports.

“Kenya is a very entrepreneurial country, but we have been unable to transfer this into sports,” he said. “The government had promised to construct five big stadiums... but five years down the line, not even one has been constructed.”

The troubles are not new. In 1996, the CAF moved the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to South Africa after Kenya failed to get ready in time, and no new stadium has been built in Kenya in the past 30 years, Kanyangonda said.

This month’s CHAN cancelation comes as the domestic game reels from a damaging power struggle between the governing body, Football Kenya Federation, and the Kenya Premier League, which runs the nation’s top division.

The wrangling has driven away fans and sponsors, including South African broadcaster SuperSport earlier this year after a decade of sponsorship.

Former soccer administrator Gerald Chege said that losing the tournament was a missed opportunity to halt Kenyan soccer’s downward spiral.

Chege blamed a lack of vision and accountability for the withdrawal of premier league sponsors, saying the league had never been packaged properly to attract investment, nor had money pumped in been well-spent.

“The money should have gone into grooming young players and training coaches, but today we have very few qualified coaches and no youth age-group teams to act as feeders to the premiership clubs,” Chege said.

An overhaul is required, he said, proposing the reintroduction of community-based clubs that might restore the excitement and rivalry he says was there in the 1970s.

Where Kenyan soccer is thriving is among the local clubs, such as Gor Mahia and the AFC Leopards, both of which enjoy deep ties to their communities, he said.

“We need a leader, a strong leader, to initiate the conversation and to be willing to take the radical decision,” Chege said.

The full national side have never qualified for the World Cup and the last time they made the cut for the AFCON finals was in 2004.

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