In Kenya, tea is often ‘chai’ and the long history of Indian migration to east Africa has ensured that ‘haati’ and ‘chalo’ remain in currency. Before trying your luck at sighting the ‘Big Five’, you can tuck into dal-roti at resorts abutting Amboseli National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve. And since namaste as a formal greeting is one of the ways the world has learnt to live with Covid-19, it isn’t unusual to see hotel staff putting palms together to welcome guests.
Since last month, Kenya and India have developed a connection in football too. Well, almost. For the same reasons, third-party interference in running the sport, Fifa banned Kenya in February and could do that to India if All India Football Federation (AIFF) can’t elect office-bearers well before the October 11 start of the women’s under-17 World Cup.
“By the time the women’s under-17 World Cup begins, AIFF should have a new president was the message given by the Fifa-AFC delegation that visited India last week. Or else…” said an Indian football official who attended the meetings in New Delhi. The official, who did not want to be named as he is not authorised to talk to the media, said Fifa could defer the World Cup or move it to enforce the ban.
For new office-bearers to take charge, the AIFF constitution needs to be ready by July 31. A seven-member committee has been appointed to study the draft prepared by former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi and ex-India goalie Bhaskar Ganguly. The Committee of Administrators (CoA), which includes Quraishi and Ganguly and is headed by former Supreme Court judge AR Dave, running football in India since May could also have to convince petitioners to drop certain demands so that the constitution is in line with Fifa requirements.
So while India could qualify for the Asian Cup finals, has time to ensure the World Cup isn’t moved and let ATK Mohun Bagan play the inter-zonal semi-final of the AFC Cup in September, Kenya is missing out on international football. The national team couldn’t play the qualifiers of the African Women Cup of Nations beginning on Saturday nor the 2023 men’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers where Kenya are in Group C with Cameroon, Namibia and Burundi. Till the ban is lifted, Kenyan Premier League champions Tusker FC can’t play in the African Champions League.
“It’s a bad situation, yes, not being able to play internationals,” said Sammy Omollo, the former Kenya defender. Now coach of the Kenya Police team, Omollo played two seasons with East Bengal (1996-98), was their assistant-coach in 2015-16 and had three terms with Mohun Bagan (1998-2001).
Omollo said he is hopeful that the ban would be lifted in “a month or two” and Kenya allowed in the Cup of Nations qualifiers. “I am sure a way will be found to accommodate the games Kenya missed.”
“But this (the ban) is a blessing in disguise. The previous set of officials embezzled a lot of money and that is why the government had to step in,” said Omollo, 52. Sounds familiar again, given reports of a forensic audit at AIFF triggered by charges of fiscal indiscipline?
It was because an investigation revealed corruption at Football Kenya Federation (FKF) that a temporary committee was appointed last November. Soon after the committee took over, FKF president Nick Mwenda resigned. Mwenda faces multiple corruption charges which he has denied.
Yet, football is Kenya’s most popular sport. Goalposts in barren, dusty fields in rain-shadow areas are a common sight as is a Sunday morning kickabout, usually after church, in the rolling grassy plains of the Great Rift Valley. Belgium international Divock Origi’s father Mike was a professional in Kenya and in Victor Wanyama, they have a former Celtic, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur defensive midfielder who is now with CF Montreal in the USA’s Major League Soccer. The numbers may not be enough in comparison to other African countries but there are a number of Kenyans in the lower leagues of Europe as well.