Kenyans with a sense of shame should be grateful that the Confederation of Africa Football stripped their country of its hosting rights to the 2018 Chan tournament.
In the unlikely event that they believed our lies and half-baked plans and let us proceed, we would have been subjected to an embarrassment of monumental proportions. At no time was this country ever ready to host the tournament.
Stadiums are the basic requirement in hosting football tournaments. But they are only part of an interlocking network of systems which must work seamlessly to assure success.
Thousands of workers, some permanent, others volunteers, must perform a multiplicity of duties like receiving guests, translating languages in spoken and written form, providing security and medical services, operating efficient information centres, throwing balls back into play, running an interactive website, operating world class media centres, shuttling people by air, road and rail to multiple venues and on and on.
To put all this together, the Local Organising Committee must recruit people. In doing so, the committee has to be clear about the terms of engagement. If you are going to get paid, how much and when? If you are a volunteer, what is in it for you? Three square meals a day? A certificate of appreciation? A letter of recommendation to whom it may concern?
All these thousands of people must undergo training so that they understand their areas of responsibility and know where to refer people when requests made of them are outside their remit.
To determine whether it is mission ready, the LOC stages a test run of the tournament. This helps it to assess how its staff would react to significant medical, meteorological or security situations. Usually this is done about one year but certainly not less than six months before the big kick-off.
Though smaller in number, the composition of the participating teams mirrors that of the actual participants. So if the real tournament will have Arab, Portuguese and/or French speaking people, the LOC invites such countries to the test run. There should be sufficient time between this tournament and the real one to study and implement lessons learnt.
If this doesn’t happen, don’t be surprised to hear stories of teams arriving and finding nobody to receive them at the airport. Or medals for winners not being enough because the person responsible didn’t know that referees also get them. Or guests being detained until their hotel bills are cleared in full and in cash with the minister himself being the one racing to the hotel carrying a bulging size A2 brown envelope.
In the entire history of Caf tournaments stretching back to 1957, the most evocative advertisement of mission readiness I have seen was during Afcon 2008 hosted by Ghana. In the clip, former Black Stars skipper Stephen Appiah is busy showing a boy the ropes of the game.
But the boy’s attention is suddenly distracted. He points to the horizon and shouts to Appiah: “Look! They’re coming!” Appiah turns and looks. He freezes in shock.
A multitude of people carrying the flags of African countries is descending on Ghana. The riot of colour and the sounds of cowbells, horns and drums make for a breathtaking spectacle. Appiah watches them intently. Then he turns to the boy and breaking into a broad smile, tells him with supreme confidence: “Let them come!” He blasts the ball northwards into the Mediterranean Sea as the visitors consume him and the boy in hugs. It was awesome.
“Let them come” is what by this time Kenya should have been telling its people. (After the Confederations Cup in June this year, Fifa declared that if the 2018 World Cup slated for next June were held then, Russia would pass with flying colours. The Confederations Cup is the World Cup’s test run.)
But in our case, where we should be doing final touches, brown earth is baking in the sun and scaffolding is being built. Pray tell, when and where was our LOC going to induct its staff?
In 2013, the slickest spin machine in the history of Kenya politics, Jubilee, told the country they would build five world class stadiums in Garissa, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisumu and Nakuru. Although the image was a composite, in size and design the stadium Kenyans were shown in campaign adverts appears to be photo-shopped from AS Roma’s Stadio Olimpico.
Taking that stadium as a model, the country was going to witness 24 hours’ a day construction work lasting four to five years at roughly the cost of Sh45 billion for each stadium from the moment the new government took office. Instead, nothing.
Five years later and another election looming, the story changed. The government started talking of refurbishing stadiums that were used by troops of the African Carrier Corps (Kariakor) during World War II.
The refurbishment seems to have come as an afterthought. What to do and Caf is here? Ok! Organise a supplementary budget of Sh4.2 bn, hand out contracts and get going!
I want to believe that the people who did that knew from the start that this mission was impossible. There was no way four months was ever going to be enough to become mission ready. Four months is the time needed by a country with the infrastructure and experience of hosting such or a bigger tournament. The alternative is that they didn’t know what they were doing.
If it was not a game of smoke and mirrors, what is to explain getting the hosting rights in February 2014 and releasing money in September 2017?
But even as all this was going on, political cynicism marked all activity. Kenya’s sportsmen and women need to understand that they are not a political constituency like say, miraa farmers in Meru or maize farmers in Uasin Gishu. They provide nice photo ops but they are not a political constituency.
Unlike farmers who can hold politicians hostage with dire threats, sports people can be ignored without any political risks. The worst they can do is become citizens of Bahrain or any other country of their choice.
FANS RUN THE GAME
The stadiums in Mombasa and Kisumu represented a much shorter turnaround time than those in Meru and Eldoret if refurbishment was the issue. The latter were practically derelict.
At the same time, football thrives on crowds. Both Caf and Fifa are very particular about this.
Nothing gets under their skin like empty stadiums during championship matches. Relatively speaking, there is more football passion in Mombasa and Kisumu than there is in Eldoret and Meru.
Unconcerned by the politics of the land, anybody wanting a successful Chan tournament would have chosen to stage it in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru - the forgotten Mecca of Kenya football.
But, as happened in 1996 one year before the 1997 elections, politics ruled. For the Jubilee government, it made more political sense to appease the vote baskets of Meru and Eldoret, the backyards of the Jubilee principals, while giving a cold shoulder to Mombasa and Kisumu because both were vote arid areas. These are opposition strongholds.
It is called consolidating your base; it is safer to keep your people happy than to risk wooing others who will partake of their tax goodies but vote for your rivals anyway.
Still on the subject of politics, the question must be asked about what value Hassan Wario brings to his appointing authority. He seems completely safe in his position. Wario is a powerful magnet for failure but his boss remains unperturbed. What could the reason for such blanket immunity be? Full of arrogance, he keeps quiet in the face of so profound a national scandal.
Chan has gone because of bad politics. And with it all the economic and social benefits that come with interacting with people from diverse cultures. What will it take for us to realize that we are on a wrong course?
My view is that we Kenyans have become too political for our own good. Nobody will pay any price for this debacle because of our political divisions.
These divisions are killing us slowly. For starters, the social cost alone from the unfettered consumption of politics has become a nightmare.
From families under one roof to extended families, friends, colleagues and neighbours, political affiliation matters. And it comes with the venomous passions of religious sect members who speak in doomsday terms.
After Christmas holidays, some people go on a programme of detoxification after over-indulging in food and drink. And these days, people are being detoxified for addiction to their mobile phones.
Maybe the time has come for Kenyans to identify political drunkenness as a problem that needs detoxification. You remember that tale of the two Cheshire cats that fought each other, bite by bite, until only their tails were left? I fear that is the fate awaiting us.
Nick Mwendwa, who addresses his press conferences in a shrill voice and with such sudden body and facial movements that you would think scorpions are stinging him as he speaks, falsely promised Kenyans that he would resign his FKF presidency if we lost Chan.
We are stuck with him. The chairman of one of the KPL clubs once told me: “Mwendwa is a good listener who is wired in such a way that he only hears what he is saying.”
In fairness, this description applies to many Kenyans in our attitude to fellow Africans. Like Mwendwa, we are opinionated, even as we seek job opportunities in the countries we deride.
But we couldn’t hoodwink Caf. We failed in the basics – stadiums. So we tried spin. Caf boldly called our efforts by their name: lies.
If this doesn’t give us pause, nothing will.