“When I thought I would make it in life with football. See, my mama still lives in the ghetto. I still eat once a day. Football pays, but not in Kenya. They killed my dream. #hangingmygloves.”
This was a Facebook post by Harambee Starlets first choice goalkeeper Pauline Owuor, who also turns out for Kenyan Women’s Premier League (KWPL) side Makolanders FC a fortnight ago.
Coming from one so gifted and experienced in football, the post was shared widely, shining a sad but inescapable spotlight on the excruciating circumstances that local women footballers are currently enduring.
This season alone, a whopping 19 walkovers have been given in the women’s top flight league, while three of the 15 teams (Vihiga Leeds, Nyuki Starlets and Spedag) have been relegated for failing to honour three matches this season. Mathare United women’s team is only one walkover from succumbing to this similar and undesirable fate.
That is not all. Referees officiating the women’s top flight have not been paid for months, and have threatened to down their tools in light of the harsh financial circumstances.
All the 16 players that Nation Sport interacted with during this interview spoke regrettably about the status of the KWPL, and expressed concern about the future of the league.
FKF, however, have maintained that all these problems stem from the bureaucracy at Fifa.
“We have not withheld the financial grants from the teams. There is a process that has to be followed before member football associations (FAs) access the money, and we haven’t received our share from Fifa yet. There was also a delay at a time like this last year, but when the money came we cleared with the teams,” said FKF Communications Officer Barry Otieno, who is currently acting as the federation’s CEO.
The KWPL is entitled to a season-long grant of Sh12 million, with each of the 15 teams receiving Sh750,000 every season.
This money has however turned to be a poisoned chalice, with a section of club administrators complaining of unfair allocation.
“The problem is that there is favouritism. Some teams are getting the Fifa funds, and others are not. Some teams are allowed to postpone their matches, and others are not, hence the high number of walkovers,” said Kisumu All Starlets team manager Beryl Oketch.
Monique, whose mother hosts the team for lunch at her residence whenever they are in Nairobi for away matches, however said that her team is determined to remain strong.
“It is hard but we are not going to give walkovers. We don’t have a sponsor, but we usually raise funds among ourselves and the club’s well wishers. Right now, I have collected some Sh14,000 and I believe we shall travel to Nairobi tomorrow (yesterday) for our away match,” she said.
Two months ago, representatives from 11 of the 15 clubs participating in the KWPL met and accused FKF of among others, of failing to disburse the annual Sh750,000 grants payable to each of the teams on time.
FKF responded tersely a day later, with now disgraced Chief Executive Robert Muthomi drafting a letter to teams in which he demanded the officials make clear where their loyalties lie.
“Be guided that as per the FKF rules governing Kenyan football, only the national executive committee has the powers to suspend/extend a season/league and as such we wish to confirm to your club that the Kenyan Women Premier League matches scheduled for this weekend and the subsequent matches shall proceed as scheduled,” he wrote.
The women league’s only source of funding is from football’s world governing body Fifa’s annual grants to FKF meant for the development of women football to an estimated tune of Sh30 million.
In March last year, FKF released a Sh12 million grant to the KWPL with each of the 16 teams in the top-tier league entitled to receive Sh750,000 for that season.
The players we spoke to feel that the league has lost its value and significance and talks have been mooted over the formation of a breakaway league.
They also feel hard done by the federation’s indifference to their plight, especially with FKF Vice President Doris Petra who seldom speaks on matters surrounding women’s football.
Petra, has however clarified that hers is an administrative position and she is, therefore, not compelled to advocate for the improvement of the standards of women’s football.
“I was elected into office by delegates. So this notion that I came under the platform of women is wrong. It is only after I was elected that I started championing for the women’s place in the game. It was not my mandate.
“I have helped the girls on several occasions, including purchasing personal effects for them when they are in camp. I know the challenges we are facing as a federation, and I know that the president is deeply committed to women’s football. Everything will be okay,” she told Nation Sport exclusively on the sidelines of a press conference at the Goal Project a fortnight ago.
Apart from financial constraints, the players are also accusing the federation of double standards in their mandate.
“We asked that our game be rescheduled last week, but the federation refused our request, yet we did not have the money to travel. That’s why we issued the walkover. But there are certain teams like Gaspo whose games are always rescheduled without much fuss,” said a certain player who did not want to be named.
A saddening instance happened where referees sometimes fail to show up for a match and when they do show up, they demand for “lunch money” without which they deliver unfair officiating.
“During the game between Makolanders and Oserian last week but one, there were no referees at the game, and when it was time for kick-off, FKF had to find referees who were around the match venue, some of whom were not even qualified to officiate in women’s top flight games,” said another player.
Meanwhile, FKF has challenged the club officials to show accountability for the grants and the league, as there are only two of the 15 teams who have accounted for last season’s grants.