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Writer’s views on Awendo Stadium were misplaced

Thursday May 9 2019

AFC Leopards fans dance outside Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega after AFC Leopards opponents Nzoia Sugar failed to turn up for their SportPesa Premier League match on May 1, 2019. Leopards were awarded a walk over. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE |

AFC Leopards fans dance outside Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega after AFC Leopards opponents Nzoia Sugar failed to turn up for their SportPesa Premier League match on May 1, 2019. Leopards were awarded a walk over. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

GMT OTTIENO
By GMT OTTIENO
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My attention has been drawn to John Ashihundu’s comments on ‘Ingwe Den’ column published on April 29 in which he urged the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) to ban Awendo Green Stadium for alleged insecurity, intimidation and harassment, especially in matches involving ‘big’ clubs like AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia.

First, I would like to know from Ashihundu what qualifies a club to be referred to as ‘big club.’ Is it the name, or the fans a club marshals in its home and away matches? Ashihundu appears not to know that every club has a right to home ground advantage matches provided the ground was inspected and approved by the KPL Competitions, Stadia, Safety and Security Committee (CSSSC) prior to release of the season’s fixture.

There is however, an agreed window to move a match to an alternative preferred venue previously named as second home ground or other neutral ground for an explained reason given that of the 18 clubs in the league, only Bandari FC, whose sponsor also owns Mbaraki Sports Club, has a fairly well looked after ground.

Tusker FC’s Ruaraka grounds is a ramshackle of a playground which they themselves recently run away from and shifted their home matches to Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos County after insisting in hosting their home matches at the ground following the initial ban on Ruaraka by CSSSC as unsuitable for league matches which they vigorously contested.

County government grounds our clubs use are rented out on a first-come-first-served basis by their respective owners.

It is not true as Ashihundu alleges that many matches have been abandoned in Awendo. Without statistics, Ashihundu is basing his argument on hearsay. To the best of my knowledge, there have only been two matches where there was trouble, Sony Sugar FC versus Gor Mahia in 2012, and Sony Sugar FC versus AFC Leopards in 2014.

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In 2015, AFC Leopards official Peter Lichungu and I were in Awendo a day earlier to preside over a pre-event meeting to put in place hosting logistics for the match between Sony Sugar and Leopards. Sony Sugar won 2-1, and there was no problem.

'BIG CLUB'

In 2016 at same ground, AFC Leopards won the match 2-1 and again, there was no trouble. Come 2017, AFC Leopards lost the match 1-0, and there was no issue. Last year, Leopards won 2-0 and there was no trouble. These statistics clearly disprove Ashihundu’s assertion that the ground is unsuitable to host his alleged ‘big’ club that goes to Awendo with a mere handful of fans, may be 100 at most.

After 2012 incident and because of the large following Gor Mahia marshals when a match is played on a weekend, we shifted their matches in Awendo to weekdays so as to minimise the large traveling fans from flocking in Awendo, which is like a second home ground given that the name Gor Mahia emanates from the region.

Fans in Awendo normally cheer Gor instead of Sony Sugar, which they consider a minimal representative of the region in the league. The same can’t be said of a handful of fans that will accompany AFC Leopards to Awendo, be it weekend or week day. Here is where I would like Ashihundu to define what ‘big clubs’ syndrome he refers to means between the two clubs.

In big clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich, PSG to mention but a few, you will note the fans following these teams in their away matches are close many.

These are indeed big clubs, not AFC Leopards playing in Awendo. I challenge Ashihundu to prove me wrong in Leopards’ forthcoming re-scheduled match in Awendo on May 12 which I will attend to ensure adequate security and all that they have claimed lacked in the aborted match are in place.

I’m aware of certain challenges in Awendo, such as inability by the local Police Station to marshal a number of heavy security of say up to 50 Police officers and above necessary if a Gor match were to be played on a weekend with a high turnout of traveling fans.

Alleged verbal attacks, intimidation, harassments and minor delays at the gates are psychological frustrations common in the Africa continent. Ashihundu should wait for AFC Leopards to win the league and travel to meet a team in West or North African then he will know what intimidation, hostility and harassment he is talking about is in those regions.

Sony Sugar, like all other clubs in the league, have a right to a home ground advantage and being the hosts, as Ashihundu knows, are responsible for the security not only of the visiting team but also for everyone attending the match.

Any match they have switched away from Awendo, as recently happened against Gor that was played in Kisumu was because the local Police Station at Awendo could not mobilise the number required. KPL respects clubs’ decisions to move their home matches to a second home ground or a neutral ground for whatever reason so long as adequate notice is given so as to also alert opponents in good time to prepare.

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