Nairobi Nights for the World Cup
Sharuko On Saturday
I HAVE always had an attachment with Kenyan football and it’s not because of anything special, which these Wise Men from the East, have done in this game.
After all, everyone knows, with all due respect to my colleagues Collins Okinyo and Francis Gaitho, theirs isn’t a football country.
It’s a beautiful nation of middle and long distance supermen and superwomen – from Kip Keino to Ezekiel Cheboi, from King David Rudisha to Paul Tergat, from Eliud Kipchoge to Samuel Wanjiru, from Vivian Cheruiyot to Brigid Kosgei and from Janeth Businei and Pamela Jelimo.
Kip Keino used to play rugby during his youthful days in his native Nandi County, which probably explains Kenya’s other obsession with the oval ball, especially when it comes to Sevens Rugby, where the country has made quite an impact.
While Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt and Flo-Jo, the woman who could fly on the track, strengthened my bond with athletics, the reality remains that my first love is football.
If I’m not watching football, it’s likely that I’m watching cricket, the ultimate game of gentlemen where both teams can wear the same colour of kit, without any concerns it could confuse the players.
I have met guys who can’t understand how a fellow, who grew up at a small mining town, can convince them that, in one way or another, he considers cricket to be his second favourite sport.
Well, the reality is that cricket, just like golf, was quite a favourite game, for the white farmers whose huge estates surrounded our little town and, at an early age, we got exposed to both games.
I was a caddie when I was just nine, in Grade Three, and over time, I became the regular bag carrier for Charles Niehaus, the filthy rich clan head of the Niehaus family, whose huge farms dominated the heartland of the area we called home.
So, from quite a young age, I learnt about the big dog, the fade and flight, the lie and the lip, the shank and the flight, the chip and the chunk and the birdie and the bogey.
I even became a decent golfer, as shown by my decent scores, largely influenced by a knack of always getting it right with my putts, on the special occasions the caddies were allowed to play on the course in our little personal duels.
The annual Chamber of Mines showcase meant that athletics, even though it always played second fiddle to football in our community, remained a key part of our lives.
We were quite competitive in athletics and part of the star attractions at the Chamber of Mines with our romance, in the sport, being helped, in a big way, by the presence of some fine athletes in the little mining town paradise we will always call home.
It provided us with a lot of boundless pride that for some time, the fastest woman over 100m in this country was one of us.
She was originally from Kwekwe and had come to our mining town looking for employment opportunities and, lured by the possibilities we offered, in terms of the development of her athletic talent.
Her name is Cynthia Phiri and we embraced, and adopted her, as one of our own.
The media dubbed her the “Dalny Express,” a nickname derived from Dalny Mine, which was at the very heart of our town’s existence.
She lives to this day, in her Kwekwe hometown, and she is still serving athletics, as the secretary-general of the body which runs the sport in this country.
Football didn’t provide us with a star, who could be ranked number one in the country, although David “Chikwama” Mwanza, the son of a mine policeman who rose to become a great Warrior, came very close in the ‘80s.
But, even though the game didn’t provide us with a number one-ranked star in the country, it remained the king of sport in our community.
It still does rule, to this day, even though our hometown side finds itself stuck in Division Two while our traditional rivals — Golden Valley, Chegutu Pirates and Come Again — are still battling in Division One and, to rub salt into our wounds, have been using our stadium as their adopted home.
A BOND WITH KENYAN FOOTBALL
My bond Kenyan football can be traced back to one hot summer afternoon, on October 13, 1985.
I was just a mere schoolboy back then but I still remember how events that afternoon, in the spiritual home of our football, shook our little community and provided us with a wave of patriotic joy.
For the record, the Warriors beat the Harambee Stars of Kenya 2-0 in the final of the CECAFA Challenge Cup, with goals from Shacky Tauro and Gift M’pariwa, powering us to our first major international football trophy.
Wilberforce Mulamba, the Kenyan star attacking midfielder, so good they even nicknamed him ‘Maradona’, fired blanks that day, as the Warriors came of age.
Little did we know, as we celebrated our finest hour in football, that just a few years later, we would both share the services, and magic, of a firebrand Germany gaffer, with the Midas Touch, who would provide a profound transformation for our two teams.
His name was Reinhard Fabisch.
His first gospel was preached in Kenya, in charge of the Harambee Stars, before he moved here to create the biggest project of his adventure in African football, the Dream Team, gallant Warriors who would come within 90 minutes of reaching the World Cup finals.
In November last year, as if the authorities in both countries were signing from the same hymn book, they decided to suspend the football leaders in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The charges, in both cases, appear very similar and, in both cases, the dethroned leaders — Nick Mwendwa in Nairobi and Felton Kamambo in Harare — have found themselves spending a considerable amount of time in the courts.
We were together again, as partners-in-crime, when FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, announced in February that we had both been suspended, from international football, for what he termed third-party interference.
A month later, at the FIFA congress in Doha, Qatar, we were together again, painted as the game’s bad boys and rebels without a cause, when the international football family endorsed, with an overwhelming majority, our suspension from their playground.
And, this week, we found ourselves being punished, in similar fashion, by the Confederation of Africa Football when they announced that their olive branch, to try and get us to feature in the 2023 AFCON finals, had been withdrawn.
Because the two of us, Kenya and Zimbabwe, had chosen not to swallow their prescription, as a solution for the challenges we are dealing with because, according to our authorities, it’s tantamount to taking a pain killer to try and cure a cancer.
Of course, there has been a huge outcry, from players and fans, more so here in Zimbabwe than in Kenya, with many voices crying out, loud and clear, for an opportunity which they say has been lost for our boys to try and qualify for another AFCON showcase.
You can understand the disappointment because, as the players have argued, it takes away one of their best opportunities to give their nation something to smile about, given the Nations Cup is a tourney where, in recent years, we have excelled when it comes to the qualifiers.
It also takes away a window of opportunity for the emerging crop of players, like Jordan Zemura and Bill Antonio, to express their talents to a wider audience and, in the case of ‘Billy The Kid”, these qualifiers should have been his breakthrough assignment.
Imagine him running down the left wing, in the qualifier against Morocco, and destroying Paris Saint-Germain wingback Achraf Hakimi?
It would set the entire football world alight and drag the Kid into a world he has never seen before with scores of agents queuing up to try and get him to a better league where he could be developed to fulfil the potential he is showing.
Because, they will believe, if he can destroy a player like Hakimi, who is rated as one of the best five players, in his position in the world, what more will happen if the Kid comes against less gifted wingbacks?
After all, Hakimi is just one of five players who have clocked more than US$107 million, in combined transfers in world football after his movement from Real Madrid to Inter Milan (US$43,9m) and Inter Milan to PSG (US$64,2m).
So, against that background, it’s easy to understand why the players are feeling betrayed by the process because they can’t understand a process, in which they were the victims who were being abused, under the dethroned ZIFA leadership, still keeps them as victims, in the attempts being made to provide sanity to the game.
Like Mario Balotelli, they can’t understand why it always has to be them given they were also the ones who suffered, not so long ago, for the sins of their leaders, when the Warriors were barred from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
THE SHOCKING IRONY BUT WHO CARES?
I have no problem with FIFA protecting their territory since they are the only public organisation allowed to copy and paste Mafia ways of running their affair, without having to fear a crackdown from authorities, it’s usually hopeless to pick a fight with them.
They own football, run it with an iron fist, and crush any signs of rebellion.
And, until the United States Justice Department intervention in 2015, FIFA had become an ocean of rampant corruption “because of the scale of the schemes (and) the brazenness and breadth of the operation required to sustain such corruption.”
This is an organisation whose officials “systematically gave broadcast rights or picked tournament locations on the basis of favouritism, in exchange of kickbacks or other favours, corruption became the rule, not the exception.”
Now, how does one reconcile with this ANOMALY where, just two days after CAF announced the Harambee Stars would not feature in the 2023 AFCON qualifiers, because Kenya remains banned from international football, the World Cup trophy tour rolled into Nairobi?
How does one explain this ANOMALY that a country, which has been suspended from FIFA, is given the honour to host, for two days, the most prized silverware in world football, taking care of the World Cup, ensuring no one will steal it and making sure no one will damage it?
How does a country, which was dubbed a Rebel Without A Cause, just TWO months ago, at the FIFA Congress, be deemed to be suitable to host the World Cup trophy, even for a day, let alone two days, in the final countdown to the tournament?
How does a country, whose footballers cannot play in the international competitions, including the AFCON and CECAFA, because of the FIFA suspension, be deemed to be a suitable candidate to host the organisation’s premier trophy, during the time they are serving a suspension from the same body?
The trophy, which stands about 14.5 inches tall and is made of 13.5 pounds of 18-carat gold, is worth about US$20 million.
And, if FIFA feels such priceless silverware was safe, in the hands of Kenyan authorities, why do they feel that Kenyan football is not safe, in the hands of the same authorities and they can’t be right, when they raise red some red flags about how their game is being dragged into the quagmire?
Why is it right for the Kenyan government, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, to be trusted by FIFA as custodians of the biggest trophy in world football, when their actions to try and clear the mess they find in the running of their game, becomes something punishable by a suspension?
Did FIFA send the message that while they were not happy with the interventions, which the Kenyan authorities had done in their game, leading to the country’s suspension, they could not ignore the commercial spin-offs which come with continued association with the country despite the sanctions?
If so, did FIFA just tell the world that they care more about the commercial dividends that come with continued association with Kenya than the benefits that will come to the players if they had been allowed to feature in the AFCON qualifiers, for the established crew, and CECAFA for the emerging players?
How does a suspended rebel promote the interests, commercial or otherwise, of the biggest tournament, within the very organisation which felt that the actions of that rebel had brought the game into disrepute?
Is it possible for the FIFA bosses to recruit Sepp Blatter and use him in their campaign to spread the values of professionalism, the qualities of a squeaky-clean image, or all the things which the so-called New FIFA are promoting right now?
Is it possible for the Academy, which banned Will Smith from attending the Oscars for 10 years, for slapping host Chris Rock, when he joked about his wife Jada’s shaved head, to turn to the star of “Bad Boys” series, to promote the next Academy Awards?
Of course, I understand that there is a huge difference between a ban and a suspension, but they are both sanctions, imposed for violating certain regulations and, why should a sanctioned party be deemed to be suitable, to represent an organisation which sanctioned it?
Whatever the explanation, from FIFA, what is quite clear is that all this does not make any sense at all.
All that it parades is the undiluted greed, which has always been the DNA of FIFA, where morality barely matters and the good boys, who are fighting the good cause, will always be painted with the bad boy tag and are outlawed from the feast.
It’s what this is all about – it’s about money, it’s about greed, it’s never about the game because, in Zurich, they have an allergy to morality.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and all the Chakariboys still in the struggle.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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