Football polls: Money or the box? It’s the silly season

ROY_PIX

Kenya’s Minister for Culture and Social Services, Mr Kenneth Matiba, takes off in a mock race at the Nyayo National Stadium with Mr William Strothmann, managing director of Achelis (K) Ltd, local agents of a West German company, Everplay, who laid the tartan track. As Kenya Football Federation chairman between 1974-78, Matiba, was very popular with players.

Before their departure for Khartoum for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in 1975, Mr Kenneth Matiba, chairman of the Kenya Football Federation, gathered the players of the national team in a hotel room and told them: “The cost of a ticket to Sudan with East African Airways is Sh4,000. We are ready to buy the tickets.

“However, I have an alternative for you that I want you to consider. I can speak to His Excellency the President and request him to give us a Kenya Air Force Caribou plane. It’s a troop transporter; not exactly the most comfortable, but it will get you there just as well. Each one of you can then pocket the Sh4,000 you would have used to fly in luxury with East African Airways. Which option do you prefer – the Caribou or EAA?”

To a man, the players said they wanted the money. What is comfort compared to the warmth of good Kenya shillings in the pocket, many asked with abundant derision. And shortly afterwards, off to Khartoum they flew in the plane the Air Force used to drop Green Eagles paratroopers among other tasks.

Allan Thigo, a vital member of that team who remembered this story for me, added with mounting excitement: “That Matiba! He spoilt us! He loved the players and was ready to do anything to make us happy. Many times he spent his own money on us, usually just to boost our morale or as a reward for good performance… when he quit in 1978, I followed him out of the national team. I couldn’t imagine playing for Kenya under Dan Owino who had succeeded him.”

In his statement announcing that he would not run again for the chairmanship of the KFF, Matiba said: “I have been the chairman of the Kenya Football Federation and the Kenya Football League for four years. Considering the responsibilities involved and my other commitments, that is a long time. During that period, I have served the game of soccer to the best of my ability and I have spared no energies to ensure its progress. But I must leave it to the Kenya public to judge the degree of my success… I will ensure proper handover of all KFF assets and books of accounts to the incoming executive committee.”

Well, it is that season again when votes are being canvassed for the leadership of Kenya football whose elections are coming in short order. Our game is comatose, surviving on a myriad tubes in the ICU. Were it not for a well-run Kenyan Premier League and the exploits of a resurging Gor Mahia that gives us hope of happiness once again, we would be writing our football’s epitaph. Actually, we have been doing a great deal of that in that last one year or so.

We have about three months to evaluate the candidates and I would urge that we do it differently this time. Millions of us will not be delegates to the convention that will pick the new leadership but we have a powerful stake in what will happen there. It is our game, not anybody’s private property. It is the future of our youth that is at stake. This is too important for us to be ambivalent about.

I would like to appeal to the Sports Editors of the Nation and NTV to sponsor public debates featuring the candidates running for the office of FKF chair and other people in their tickets. All of them must be put on a public coal fire and roasted unhurriedly, so to speak. They must be grilled mercilessly – in print and on television.

It is delegates who pick the leaders, but we must influence this choice. I think the time has come for the media to endorse candidates and give its reasons why. This is the call of our time and we can’t obfuscate any more. For a long time, the determinant of elections has been money and the ability to corrupt the delegates. It is the media’s job to raise the level of discourse and shame corruption. Otherwise we all lose.

OBUA’S SUCCESSES

For my part, I have found myself leaning towards former players. I saw what the former Cranes left winger, Denis Obua, did as chairman of the Federation of Uganda Football Associations.

I have seen what Kalusha Bwalya, by any account a striking superstar, has done for Zambia and I continue to follow the leadership of that great former Taifa Stars stopper, Leodegar Tenga in Tanzania. And there are many others far afield.

I am under no illusion that all former players necessarily make good leaders. But Kenya, like other countries, has a surplus of good ones. It is time the media arranged for them to make their case to the Kenyan people.

Of course, it is one thing to have good ideas and quite another to possess the fox’s cunning that wins elections. But we must all jump in this cesspool and get a bit dirty. Otherwise, wailing about our doomed prospects will become our full time job – as, again, it surely.

In a previous election, I was excited about the candidature of Dr William Obwaka but when his campaign came a cropper, I shifted my allegiance to Sam Sholei and Dan Shikanda. We all know their fate. This week Sholei told the Nation that he was mulling over what to do. Meanwhile, Nashon Oluoch has thrown his hat in the ring.

SHINE A TORCH ON THE CAMPAIGNS

Full disclosure here: I have covered him from when as a 19-year-old Highway Secondary School boy he burst into the national scene and became Lule, so named after Prof Yusuf Lule who was Uganda’s first post-Idi Amin president. They said he had come to save Uganda and Oluoch’s goals for Gor Mahia quite often saved the team, hence the nickname. I covered him through his all too brief run with Harambee Stars and kept in touch when he was a don at Egerton University. He is my friend, and on that account alone, I am wishing him Godspeed.

But, like everybody else, he must do what is necessary and sell his platform. He must convince everybody that he is the best. Nothing else will do. That is why I think the sports media is extremely important and should rise to this call of time. It must shine a torch on the campaigns, more so those areas when the candidates don’t want it to. Elections are generally won behind closed doors where deals are cut. But the media should find a way inside those rooms, in the public interest.

When I look at the issues before us, I am struck by the differences and similarities between now and 1963 when we got our independence. John Kasyoka was the first African president of the then FA of Kenya. He was a medical worker, operating out of a dispensary in Eastleigh. He was also a councillor and served as Nairobi’s Deputy Mayor.

On assuming the presidency in March 1963, Kasyoka gave a vision of his tenure. He said: “I am going to do what I am told by my executives. We are a happy team and I am delighted to work with them. I intend to invite representatives of all the provincial associations to a meeting to work out some mutual understanding.

I will give everyone the freedom to contradict me; I am only too willing to be criticised. And I don’t want to keep a file of any kind. That’s the job of Peter Evans, the new secretary.

“I am fully aware of all the criticism of the FA in the past, especially about the selection of the national team and I ask the provincial associations to submit a list of candidates to a fully representative selection committee. The establishment of the Kenya National League will give us a better chance of seeing the leading players regularly, providing the league accepts only major teams.

“I was pleased to see the Nairobi Open League and the Nairobi Commercial League elected as direct members of the FA. I am sure NOSL would have broken away – and caused trouble – if it had not been admitted. We ought to try to get away from racial football. Apart from anything else, it would help improve the standard of play.”

As we can see from this statement, then as now, wrangles are oxygen to Kenya football administrators. They can’t survive without them. In Matiba’s case, he had had enough of them with Dan Owino. Kasyoka’s independence era team had to deal with racism in football as the country was doing in all other sectors of life. Africans eventually solved that problem by reversing the racism: now you can’t find a Kenyan of European or Asian extraction anywhere in administration with the exception of tough-as-nails people like Bob Munro.

White people in Kenya football have their place in the dug-out from where they ply their technical skills.

Let us seize this moment when we still can. As President Obama told us at Kasarani, we don’t have to do things as we have always done them. Let us innovate. And so, let the debates begin. Over to the people who occupy the corner offices in the sports media.