NAIROBI (Reuters) - Jacob Mulee, coach of Kenya’s national team Harambee Stars and of club side Tusker, was a worried man two years ago when he was caught up in the factional politics that split Kenya’s soccer federation in two.
“We had two factions of the federation, two parallel leagues running, and I was caught between a stone and a hard place. As a coach of one of the top clubs in the country, I did not know (who) to back or which league to enter my team in,” Mulee told Reuters.
Mulee is happy now, with the quarrelling over and news that Kenya is to get its first artificial pitch and a big television sponsorship deal.
“These are signs of a bright future for the game. Our players will be marketed to the world,” said Mulee.
The Kenyan game’s troubles, with the government intervening to disband the Kenyan Football Federation (KFF) and set up a caretaker committee, led world governing body FIFA to suspend the east African nation from all international competitions.
Delegations were sent from FIFA to help sort out matters and the government backed down. The rebel league fizzled out, the suspension was lifted and, for the first time in four years, Kenyan clubs played in a single Premier League. The season ended last month with Mulee’s Tusker winning the title.
November also brought news that FIFA, as part of a $70-million pan-African project, would install Kenya’s first artificial pitch in a Nairobi stadium.
Hard on the heels of that announcement came news that a pay television channel with a global audience had entered into a four-year, $5.5-million sponsorship deal to showcase Kenyan soccer.
The agreement with South African-owned SuperSport International to sponsor the Premier League from next year was signed on November 24 and was hailed as a milestone by club officials.
Kenya Premier League (KPL) vice-chairman Gerald Chege said the specific amounts to be paid to clubs had not yet been agreed but would be known by the time the league started up again in February.
He said each Premier League club might receive between 2.5 million and three million Kenyan shillings ($40,390 to $48,470), a big bonus for clubs used to surviving on shoestring budgets.
The artificial pitch, being laid under a FIFA 2010 World Cup initiative, will cost 42 million Kenyan shillings and will be at the 15,000-seat Nairobi City Stadium, not far from the central business district.
The stadium, built by the colonial government in the early 1920s, was the first in the Kenyan capital before the 35,000-seater Nyayo National Stadium and the Chinese-built, 65,000-seater Moi International Sports Stadium were added in the 1980s.
Under the FIFA initiative, all but one of Africa’s 53 member countries will get artificial pitches, the exception being 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa.
FIFA’s development officer in charge of Africa, Ashford Mamelodi, said the project would ensure that every country on the continent got some benefit from the first World Cup to be staged there.
“Every country in Africa will win something, even those who will not be at the finals. This is why FIFA takes the project seriously,” Mamelodi told reporters.
KFF secretary Sammy Obingo said Kenya wanted to put its troubles behind it and look forward.
“Those wrangles drew us so much behind,” Obingo said. “We want to market Kenya as a destination for European teams who’ll be going to the 2010 World Cup.”
Editing by Clare Fallon