Out with the Old, in with the Older

The coaching carousel, at the helm of Harambee Stars’ men’s team continues to turn. Francis Kimanzi, who has coached the Harambee Stars on several different occasions, has abruptly stepped down as head coach. His replacement, Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee, another man, who has himself been Harambee Stars head coach on multiple different occasions, has been announced barely 24 hours later.

At this point in time there has been no official communication from either parties about why Francis Kimanzi and his two top assistants stepped down. Mr. Kimanzi’s latest stint at the head coach position begun in the aftermath of Kenya’s recent elimination at the group stages of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. His last match was the recent 2-1 friendly match win against Zambia at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi

Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee returns an old haunt, as Harambee Stars head coach.

Kenya are presently in the middle of the qualifying phase of the next Africa Cup of Nations, with 2 points out of a possible 6, with a home and away double header against Comoros, followed by return matches against Togo and Egypt still to be played.

The new (or returning) head coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee’s high point as national team coach, was in his maiden campaign at the helm, in which he led Kenya to their first AfCON finals appearance in 14 years (2004) and also presided over the team at those finals, in which Kenya won their first ever match at an AfCON finals, a consolation 3-0 win over Burkina Faso.

Subsequent spells in charge of the national team were much less fruitful, partially because of the backdrop of the wrangling between what was then the KFF (Kenya Football Federation) and FKL (Football Kenya Limited). ‘Ghost’ Mulee, a goalkeeper in his playing days, has also spent a considerable amount of time doing TV punditry for Kenya Premier League matches with, SuperSport, KTN News and Radio Jambo. He also had a successful stint as head coach of Tusker FC.

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Betking Premier Leauge Launches partial schedule

The Kenya Betking Premier league has released a partial schedule for the upcoming season

Gor Mahia v. Tusker FC is the big game as the Betking FKF Premier League launched the first five rounds of the new season. The announcement was made through a series of posts via social media and sees nearly all teams (at the time of the publishing of this post) knowing their opponents through to the middle of December.

AFC Leopards opening 5 games (Source: BetKing Premier League Twitter account)

The first match of the season sees AFC Leopards, a long time giant of Kenyan football, facing off against regional rivals Western Stima on the 20th of November at 4:15pm. Other matches slated for the opening round of games are Kakamega Homeboyz v. Mathare United (4:15pm) and Bandari FC v. Zoo (4:00pm) on the 21st of November and Bidco United v. Posta Rangers on the 22nd of November at 3pm.

Interestingly, with their earlier scheduled promotion-relegation playoff matches postponed allowing the FKF to secure proper clearance from the government. The winner from Vihiga united and Kisumu All-stars only are (at the time of publishing this post) expected to host Kariobangi Sharks of the 29th of November, visit Nairobi City Stars on the 4th of December and AFC Leopards on the 14th of December. It has not been stated when this 2 leg playoff will eventually be played.

November Re-Start of Kenyan Premier league

It looks like Kenya’s Top-flight football competition will begin a new season on 20th November 2020. A statement from the Football Kenya Federation says that the success of the Harambee Stars friendly with Zambia, and several clubs already ramping training was the reasoning behind setting a hard kick-off day for setting out of a starting date. The notice further added that the fixture list will be released on the 14th of October (tomorrow).

The last season of the premier league was curtailed in March, with Gor Mahia being declared as champions. Similarly, Nairobi City Stars and Bidco United were declared prompted, as the two teams that were leading the Nationwide league (second division) at the time football was curtailed. The premier league , then, known as the KPL has been rebranded as the Betking FKF-PL, following a restructuring of the management and the sourcing of a new lead sponsor (Nigerian betting company BetKing).

Having won several league titles in a row, it is obvious that defending Champions Gor Mahia go into this season as heavy favourites to win again. They will, however, face competition from the likes of Tusker FC, and perrenial rivals AFC Leopards.

Local Stars Shine as Live Sports comes back to Kenya

After several months of Covid-19 enforced hiatus, live sports returned to Kenya, through the Kip Keino Classic at Nyayo National Stadium at the weekend

The event, which saw wins for Kenyan elite runners such as Ferguson Rotich (800m) and Hellen Obiri (5000m), was part of the IAAF’s inaugural continental Championships. This is a series of one-day events meant to showcase the top talents in athletes around the globe.  Elite Kenyan runners involved included Timothy Cheruiyot (winner of his 1500m event) Hyvin Kiyeng, and Eunice Sum among others.

Hellen Obiri in the lead pack during the 5000m women’s race (Source: The Standard Digital)

Whereas Kenyan runners protected their long-held dominance of middle and long distances, British sprinter Kristal Awuar won the women’s 200m as part of a significant international contingent participating in the event.

Aired by NTV, and featuring high profile corporate partners such as Safaricom, the event marks an important landmark in the process of establishing a new normal for sports in Kenya, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to ravage the globe.

The event itself had initially been scheduled for May but was postponed by Government restrictions, as a result of Covid-19 reaching Kenya in March of this year. That it appears to have gone without any major reported incidences is a boon, not just for Athletics Kenya, but sports in Kenya as a whole. 

With the Harambee Stars, set to host two international fixtures in the coming International football window, The KPL eager to get on with its season, and Athletics Kenya Still aspiring to host the World U20 Athletics Championships, this is in an important first step to establishing a new normal Sports in Kenya. 

The full results, as reported by Standard

Harambee Stars set for return to action

It’s almost time to celebrate the return of international football to Kenya.  CAF has published a condensed schedule of remaining AfCon qualifiers, and preliminary World Cup Qualifiers.

The first of these matches, are the home and away ties against Comoros, in the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the first of which will be on the 11th of November, behind closed doors in Nairobi. The second will be in Comoros a week later

So far FKF has managed to secure one friendly match (also behind closed doors), against Zambia, to be played in October, with various reports indicating that a second match might be in the works.

While the squad features the return of goalie Arnold Origi, after 5 years absence, Harambee Stars might have to do without captain Victor Wanyama, and on fire striker Michael ‘Engineer’ Olunga. Olunga is currently the leading scorer in the Japanese J-league. Both he and Wanyama are ruled out because of the strict COVID protocols involving people travelling in and out of the  nations where they are currently based

Arnold Origi ends a 5 year exile from Harambee Stars
Arnold Origi ends a 5-year exile from Harambee Stars (Source: Citizen Digital)

The squad, as listed on Goal.com

Goalkeepers: Arnold Origi (HIFK, Finland), Ian Otieno (Zesco United, Zambia), Timothy Odhiambo (Ulinzi Stars, Kenya)

Defenders: Brian Mandela (Unattached), Joash Onyango (Simba, Tanzania), Joseph Okumu (Elfsborg, Sweden), Harun Shakava (Nkana, Zambia), Clarke Oduor (Barnsley, England), Hillary Wandera (Tusker, Kenya), Samuel Olwande (Kariobangi Sharks, Kenya), David Owino (Mathare United, Kenya), Johnstone Omurwa (Wazito, Kenya), Collins Shichenje (AFC Leopards, Kenya), Andrew Juma (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Philemon Otieno (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Badi Baraka (KCB, Kenya)

Midfielders: Kenneth Muguna (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Victor Wanyama (Impact Montreal, Canada), Francis Kahata (Simba, Tanzania), Eric Johanna (Jonkoping’s Sodra IF, Sweden), Cliff Nyakeya (Masr FC, Egypt), Antony Akumu (Kaiser Chief, South Africa), Johanna Omolo (Cercle Brugge K.S.V, Belgium), Ayub Timbe (Beijing Renhe, China), Brian Musa (Wazito, Kenya), Lawrence Juma (Gor Mahia, Kenya), Katana Mohamed (Isloch, Belarus), Austin Otieno (AFC Leopards, Kenya)

Forwards: Michael Olunga (Kashiwa Reysol, Japan), Elvis Rupia (AFC Leopards, Kenya), Masud Juma (JS Kabylie, Algeria), Timothy Otieno (NAPSA Stars, Zambia), John Avire (Tanta FC, Egypt), Oscar Wamalwa (Ulinzi Stars, Kenya

Reserve Team: Robert Mboya (Tusker, Kenya), Stephen Otieno (Sofapaka, Kenya), Michael Mutinda (KCB), Ibrahim Shambi (Ulinzi Stars, Kenya) Chrispinus Onyango (Tusker, Kenya), Benson Omala (Gor Mahia, Kenya).

Namcos is Back

The Kenya Rugby Union has formally appointed Innocent ‘Namcos’ Simiyu as head coach of the Kenya Sevens Men’s team. He begins work officially on the 1st October.

I am happy to return to the team and obviously I know there is a lot of work to be done. Hopefully, we can work together to see how we can take the team to the next level.

I know the task is very big and the challenges are there, but for me, I’m very grateful for this opportunity. – Innocent Simiyu

Innocent’Namcos’Simiyu is back as Sevens coach (Source: scrimmage.co.ke)

The appointment was not without controversy, with the Daily Nation reporting that Simiyu’s appointment was only confirmed at the last minute by the board, after lobbying by supporters of Simiyu, and KCB Sevens coach Dennis Mwanja.

Innocent Simiyu, is a name many Kenya Sevens fans will be familiar with. He earned more than 300 caps as a player, during a time when the Kenya Men’s team was establishing itself as a force on the World stage.

He returns to a post which he was relieved from in 2018 in the midst of a row between playing staff and corporate sponsors that became known as the ‘Paris Fiasco’.

He will now be at the helm, as Kenya steps up preparations for what will be a truncated IRB Sevens Circuit, and if that goes well, possibly the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.

What is the Simba Premier League? a short Primer

Interesting developments in Kenyan cricket have been announced in the past few days. A committee, publicly represented by former internationals Thomas Odoyo and Peter Ongondo, announced a new revamped Simba Premier League competition, set to run from September 12-19th 2020 (subject to government approvals).

Thomas Odoyo at the Press Conference detailing the new T20 Cricket tournament

According to Thomas Odoyo (Deputy Director), The Simba Premier League, a T20 cricket tournament, had initially been launched as a youth tournament for various cricket cluns from Kenya, Tanzania and Nepal. It seems that in that time, the organizers of the competition have managed to bring on board several corporate sponsors.

From what was announced in the short presser, the competition will now be a 6 franchise event, inspired by the multi-billion dollar IPL (Indian Premier League), or the defunct East African Premier League.

The tournament will now feature six corporate backed franchise each captained by a current or former Kenya national team player, each featuring a mix of senior and youth players, internationals from several associate cricket nations and even the possibility of a smattering of professional cricketers from test nations. According to the Daily Nation IPL pros, Paul Valathy, Sidggarth Trivedi, and Manpreet Singh Gony will be amng the professionals perticipating. The franchises are: Amboseli Hirani Telkom (captained by Jimmy Kamande), Kilimanjaro Daman Ganga (led by Maurice Ouma), Mara Texas Alarms (led by Rushab Patel), Samburu Prime Tanks (Shem Ngoche), Serengeti Dezo Construction (Elijah Otieno), and Tsavo Glory Hotels (Nelson Mandela Odhiambo).

Though actual fixtures have not been published, the tournament will be a round robin, with the top two teams at the end of the group matches meeting in a final to determine the winner. At this point in time, this is the will be the first significant sporting event to take place in Kenya since Covid-19 restrictions were imposed on the 15th of March this year. In light of these Corona virus restrictions, there will be no spectators at the playing venue(s)and only the two teams playing a match will be allowed to be present at the venue at any given time. Though they did not mention any plans regarding testing of players and match officials prior to, or over the course of the tournament.

Re-opening Kenyan Sports: The situation on the Track

Over the course of the current series of posts, I will be looking at the situation of various Kenyan Sports, as the nation attempts to move forward in the wake of the global covid-19 pandemic. I have looked at the situations in football, cricket and rugby, and in this post will look at Athletics (track and field).

With the long history of medals at Olympics, Athletics Championships, and Commonwealth games, track and field is the sport which Kenya is most widely associated with. Indeed long distance running is something that most of the world almost takes for granted that Kenya will thrive.

World Marathon World Record holder Eliud Kipchoge at an event in Maasai Mara Game reserve earlier this year (Source: Daily Nation)

The Big picture
Whereas no major sporting event have been able to resume since the arrival of Covid-19 in Kenya, and recently the chair of Kenya’s parliamentary committee for sports decried lack of preparation to resume sporting activities locally, track and field activities appear to be much closer to resumption than some other sports. Indeed it is only recently that a group of Kenyan Athletes received clearance to participate in the revived and revised Diamond League circuit. Yet one thing continues to loom over the sport from before the Covid-19 pandemic. And this is doping. Recent changes to the rules mean that Kenya has been put in a place of extra scrutiny by the Athletics Integrity Unit and the World Anti-Doping Authority. This will put an additional demand of the test capabilities of the Anti-Doping Authority of Kenya has, when competition does finally resume in full.

The Domestic situation
The Covid-19 restrictions have already claimed many casualties on the local track events calendar. For Instance, the World Under 20 Athletics Championships, which were originally scheduled for July this year, will now take place from 17th-22nd August 2021. This is a week after the conclusion of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. Nonetheless, all is not lost with positive indications that the inaugural World Intercontinental Tour Nairobi leg might still go ahead in Mid September this year.

However, even with the positive vides coming from the government, at the time of writing of this post, there were no official track or road race events listed on the Athletics Kenya official website, and to be honest, a visit to my local athletics stadium (in Nyahururu) did  track meet there any time soon (See picture below).

The grounds of Nyahururu Municipal Stadium have been turned into a vegetable market, with the indefinite suspension of sports events (source: own picture)

International track and field

The first batch of Kenyan athletes allowed to participate in international competition will be in action tonight in the Wanda Diamond League even in Monaco. This event will be the first of four competitive Diamond league events that have been confirmed by the IAAF. A fifth is still awaiting final venue confirmation (at the time of the writing of this post), while there are also a number of exhibition

Despite the withdrawal of Conselsus Kipruto (due to Covid-19), and Kenya’s exclusion from a list of nationals allowed to travel to Europe, Kenya has been able to send a strong contingent. Among those who are expected at the starting gun tonight are Ferguson Rotich, Beatrice Chepkoech, Winnie Chebet (all 800m), Timothy Cheruiyot (1500m) and Leonard Kipkemoi, Bett (3000m steeplechease).

On a broader scale, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, by a year could represent a significant setback for older athletes, who were looking for one last hurrah at the Olympics, or an blessing for those who were not in the best of form this year.

Off the track
As alluded to earlier in the post, there is still the looming elephant in the room of doping haunting Track and Field in Kenya.

The Athletics integrity Unit listed Kenya in the category of nations that should receive the highest level of scrutiny, as far as testing for performance enhancing drug abuse is concerned. Most recently, the high profile suspension of World class middle distance runner Elijah Manangoi, for whereabouts violations, and several othere for using banned substances casts a negative light on the efficacy of the anti-doping campaign meant to help restore Kenya’s reputation in global track and field events.

Re-opening Kenyan Sports: The Rugby Situation

Over the course of the current series of posts, I will be looking at the situation of various Kenyan Sports, as the nation attempts to move forward in the wake of the global covid-19 pandemic. In the last post I looked at the situation in cricket. In this post I will look at rugby, the most progressively managed sport in recent times.

The overall picture
There is no doubt that, relative to some other sports, there is a considerably more stability and direction in the running and management of the sport of Rugby in Kenya. Whereas there are differences at board level, especially considering how competitive elections to lead such organizations in Kenya can be, by and large the game has continued to go from strength to strength in the years leading up to 2020.

Members of Kenya’s men’s National Rugby team (Source: ragahouse)

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on field activities almost to a complete stand still. It will be imperative that the KRU is able to act decisively to protect the gains it has made in the past two decades from being lost to the pandemic’s ill effects on the game, especially with major revenue sources such as the Safari Sevens facing possible cancellation

The Domestic Game
The Kenya Cup, as well as all rugby competitions for the 2019/20 season, was curtailed by the Kenya Rugby Union almost as soon as the Kenya Government instituted restrictions on public gatherings. Additionally, the Sevens Rugby circuit for this year has also had to be put on ice. Through the Kenya Cup official site, a statement from the Kenya Rugby Union Secretary notes that any resumption of competition will be subject to guidance from the Ministry of Sports and Health. Currently there is a taskforce examining the prospect of re-authorising contact sports that will table its recommendations soon.

The National Teams
World Rugby, the world governing body of the game, may have been more fortunate with the timing of the Covid-19 pandemic being far away enough from its flagship Rugby World Cup for any disruptions to be worked out of the system over a stretched out period of 3 years. The process of filling the 8 pending of 20 slots for the 2023 XVs World Cup should begin in earnest next year.

The World Sevens circuit for 2020 was curtailed, with New Zealand declared winners of both the mens and women series. In light of the uncertainty surrounding the future, Kenya Sevens team lost its technical director and the post is currently being advertised on the KRU website.

According to a statement of the KRU official website, World Rugby has set up a working group to review the schedule for the World Sevens Circuit for a ‘safe, secure and impactful return to action.’ This working group will work out the modalities of the 2021 World Sevens circuit as a build up to the Olympic games in Tokyo later that year.

Off the field
While the Covid-19 pandemic represent a significant challenges in getting rugby players on the field. That has not stopped rugby stakeholders continuing to lay (at least some) groundwork for expanding of the game. For instance the massive marketing deal signed by Homeboyz Rugby, the incorporation of an Administration Police Rugby affiliate in the KRU, and events such as the upcoming Anti-doping event with the Anti-Doping Authority of Kenya.

Re-opening Kenyan Sports: The way forward for cricket

Over the course of the current series of posts, I will be looking at the situation of various Kenyan Sports, as the nation attempts to move forward in the wake of the global covid-pandemic.

In the last post I looked at the situation in football, this post will look at cricket. This is the most historically successful team sport in Kenya, and one I have written a great deal about on this blog.

The Big picture
While as most other sports mostly have only the covid-19 pandemic to worry about, there is no shortage to the number of crises, or rather the scope of the existential crisis, gripping the game of cricket right now.

Lack of legitimate leadership at the top, wrangles between virtually all stakeholders of the game, lack of a development program, and dwindling player numbers means that the sport has a lot to contend with to survive the pandemic, or even grow in the aftermath.

The Domestic game
Ordinarily local cricket clubs participate in regional 50 over, 40 overs and T20 competions at the regional leval from March through to December. This is a bit of a hold-over from the traditional ‘English cricketing summer.’ The most vibrant competitions were based in the Nairobi and Mombasa region, with Rift Valley also at times putting together competitions for teams based around Nakuru.

So far it is not clear how what will become of these competitions, until the Kenyan government’s task force on sports concludes its work and give a way forward.

Thomas Odoyo in action in a Mombasa NIC bank sponsored competition (Source: The Standard)

National teams
At the global level, the men and women’s national teams were in the process of attempting to qualify for the next 2020 World Cup, when all cricket was suspended due to the covid-19 pandemic. The men’s 2020 world Cup has been pushed forward a year, and the global qualifying tournament suspended until further notice. Kenya was also scheduled to participate in the now postponed Africa T20 Cup midway through this year.
Though the International Cricket Council has since published guidelines for playing cricket in a ’socially distanced manner, the Africa Cricket Association has yet to give direction on how, or when the Africa T20 Cup tournament might possibly be re-scheduled.

There has also not been any communication of ne dates for pending qualifying tournaments that Kenya is scheduled to participate in for the foreseeable future

Off the field
Even before government regulations suspended cricket, as part of the suspension of public gatherings, the management structure of the game was on the brink of collapse. Elections for the top management board of Cricket Kenya failed, a draft constitution, meant to break the deadlock at the top management of Cricket Kenya was trashed literally days after it was released. Since then there does not seem to be much of an appetite for reconciliation who knows when or how the deadlock will be broken?