Far away from the glitz and glamour of the Europe, the Mbappes and Haalands of the world, and the billions of dollars pumped in the sport, reside the women’s football team of Kenya, fighting to keep their dreams alive. The team, popularly known as the Harambee Starlets, have fallen victim to strife between the Kenyan government and the country’s footballing federation, through no fault of their own.
Here’s all you need to know about the conflict, its repercussions on the lives of innocent players and all the key developments so far.
Travails of Kenya Women’s football team
The women’s football team from Kenya was all set to face Uganda in an AWCON (Africa Women Cup of Nations) qualifier on 17th Feb 2022. This fixture had monumental proportions. Winning this game would have given the team a chance to play in AWCON, along with great prospects to make an appearance at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It would have been the country first appearance at the marquee event had things fallen into place. However, a dispute between the country’s government and the football association led to the latter withdrawing the team from the qualifier.
Players of the Kenya women's national team should be playing an AWCON qualifier against Uganda today.
Instead, a dispute between the government and FA has resulted in the FA withdrawing the team, and ending their 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup dream.
— FIFPRO (@FIFPRO) February 17, 2022
The withdrawal resulted in Kenya abandoning the game, handing a walkover to Uganda. Thus, their dreams of fighting for a place in the AWCON and subsequently, the FIFA Women’s World Cup were over, due to off-field strife they played no part in.
The dispute between the government and FA
In November of 2021, Kenyan police arrested Nick Mwendwa, the head of Kenya’s football association, over corruption allegations. The government of Kenya said that the football federation had failed to disclose the monies it was allocated by the government and that it had full authority to intervene in the affairs of this organization if it fails to adhere to proper processes, including financial management.
FKF (Football Kenya Federation) secretary-general, Barry Otieno was also arrested, as the FKF was disbanded, with a caretaker committee taking its place.
UPDATE: Kenya FA (FKF) Secretary General Barry Otieno has been arrested by police a few minutes ago.
— Francis Gaitho (@FrancisGaitho) November 13, 2021
“On 14th October 2021, I directed the Registrar of Sports to undertake an inspection of the Football Kenya Federation pursuant to Section 52 (1) of the Sports Act (2013) following an extended deterioration of the state of football management in Kenya,” Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Heritage and Culture wrote.
“The Sports Act allows the Ministry to intervene in the management of sports organisations where a sports organisation fails to adhere to proper corporate governance processes that include financial management.
“Over the past few years, the Football Kenya Federation has faced several governance issues that have been of great concern to the Ministry.
“First, the Football Kenya Federation has failed to account for all the monies allocated to it by the Government.
“All beneficiaries of the Fund are as a matter of course trained on how to apply, utilise and account for the funds.
“The beneficiaries are also aware that they are required to fully disclose any financial assistance received from other sponsors.
“Football Kenya Federation has fallen short of this requirement.”
Nick Mwendwa arrives in court. pic.twitter.com/6DVdg6ewOR
— Francis Gaitho (@FrancisGaitho) November 15, 2021
FIFA doesn’t allow caretaker committees/third-parties to handle the footballing affairs of a nation. Jean-Marie, FIFA chief association member, earlier stated that their membership could be suspended should the current state of affairs continue.
All FIFA member associations, including the FKF, are statutorily required to manage their affairs independently and without undue influence of any third parties,” Jean-Marie wrote, according to Kenyan outlet Capital FM.
“Should this be considered as undue Government interference in the internal affairs of the FKF, it could lead to a ban imposed on the FKF by the competent FIFA body.”
This political uncertainty has thrown the careers of women footballers in Kenya’s team in limbo.
FIFPro has taken cognizance of the issue, releasing a statement to bring attention to it. Kenya Footballers Welfare Association (KEFWA) and FIFPRO have sent a letter to CAF (Confederation of African Football), asking them to review their decision.
— FIFPRO (@FIFPRO) February 17, 2022
In addition, the players have written to FIFA, asking president Gianni Infantino to personally intervene so they can have a sporting chance. The AWCON 2022 takes place in July, so there remains ample time to potentially reschedule this fixture at a later date. However, things don’t look good so far. The training camp has already been disbanded after the fixture against Uganda was forfeited. Neither FIFA nor CAF has taken cognizance of this story as of the time of writing.