Pain, politics and privilege in Kenyan football

BY DAVID ONJILI

When you seek a collection of books written on Kenyan football, they would not outnumber the fingers in your hand. Seldom do local journalists or any other interested Kenyan find the time and resources to write about either our game or players. Zachary Oguda, thus joins an elite group of Kenyans that include seasoned journalist, Roy Gachuhii as he pens this intriguing firsthand account into the politics, pain and privilege experienced in the local game.

My biggest gripe with the book is the numerous and easily noticeable editorial mistakes. The editing did not pass through scrutiny. The punctuation and spelling mistakes are glaring, something that hopefully can be reviewed in subsequent editions of the book if revised. Other than that, the book is riveting and goes behind the scenes on Kenyan football with regards to national team selections, politics in football and how the media have been compromised in the reporting of football because of bribes.

Chapter 4 of the book titled, Forever Young, Zachary Oguda tackles the vice of age cheating in national team selections. Reminding his readers of the numerous occasions like the Under 20s being disqualified from the 2017 African Nations qualifiers and the 2019 U-17 African Qualifiers when our junior national teams have been banned from continental games due to fielding over-aged players. The vice seems not to be ending soon, and what is sad is that it denies deserving players a chance to represent their country because they are not connected to certain football academies that are ‘friendly’ to current football office holders. The frequent bans keep putting the country’s football and players in bad light globally and this may discourage scouts from admiring our boys despite abundant talent.

Football hooliganism is not new globally. In Europe for instance, such fans are identified by the security officers and either banned from games or monitored closely. In Kenya, it is the hooligans who wield the power. As the writer observes, Kenyan football hooligans are a law unto themselves and they create trouble during games so that the mayhem can allow them to rob innocent fans off their possessions. It is a ‘business’ to them, and lack of legal action like jail terms or heavy fines by our courts motivates them to keep engaging in the vice, which makes many fans give stadiums and soccer events a wide-berth.

What is surprising is that football hooligans are well known and even easily identifiable in the stadiums but no action has ever been taken to stop them. The selling of alcohol and other substance abuse like bhang also contributes to this unruly behavior.

Politics and football remain intertwined not just in Kenya but globally. Yet, Zachary aptly highlights the retrogressive approach that individuals have taken, using football as a launch pad for their political careers. From Martin Shikuku, Job Omino to Alex Ole Magelo. There is also the political patronage that community football clubs like AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia seek from politicians. This has been a major hindrance to the economic development of these clubs as viable businesses. Rather, they have relied on political handouts of their patrons, an unsustainable growth model that has seen the clubs remain poor and visionless.

The book boldly highlights how the media is compromised in the reporting of sports and holding to account sports federation office holders. It depicts how sports administrators have mastered the art of running down sports bodies and buying their way in certain media houses to launder their image. How editorial managers in a number of media houses dictate what stories to run and which not to run, doing bidding to the highest bidder. This in turn denies sports a chance to get objective coverage.

The book It opens up a window into how football in the country is poorly run by federation bosses and there is little to no accountability in the game, a total disservice to a football loving nations like ours.

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