KENYA : Questions over failure of KPA clubs

Just what is ailing sports at the Kenya Ports Authority? That is the million dollar question coast fans have been asking after the giant corporations teams failed to win silverware in the local scene during the just concluded season for the first time in as many years as history can remember.

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After performing poorly at the Kecoso games in Nakuru, a championships the dockers dominated only recently, KPA c soccer team Bandari’ was relegated from the top soccer league.

The women basketball team who had just returned from a disastrous trip to Benin where they won only a game at the 15th Fiba Africa championship, surrendered the national league trophy which they held onto for the last five years to a self sponsored team Eagle Wings.

The men basketball team from whom much was expected after finishing top at the end of the regular season league were lost to the defending champions Kenya Commercial Bank Lions in the best of three final.

Ironically, KPA teams are the best taken care of teams in the country, with all the modern training facilities, hefty allowances whenever playing either locally or outside the country and ample training time, with players getting months of full release from work to concentrate on practice during a busy season.

Weekend trip

For a trip outside Mombasa , a KPA player pockets a minimum of Sh6000 while the teams management gets as much as Sh30,000 for a single weekend trip to Nairobi in allowances. The figure is even bigger when a team goes out of the country on assignment where players get a minimum of sh50,000 while the management team’s allowances runs as high as sh250,000.

Bandari soccer players for example cannot remember when they last reported to their work stations because the players have been on full release the entire season. The women basketball team members, all of whom have jobs except for leading scorer and Kenya’s best defensive player Helen Oketch, get a months full release before any important championships and towards the end of the league season.

The basket-ballers who are all jobless save for Dan Okwiri, Musa Odari and Mike Opel. They all also have enough training time. With some of the best coaches in the country in Anthony Ojukwu and Sammy Kiki for the basketball teams and Yusuf Chipo and Salim Mwandawiro fo r the soccer team, one wonders why KPA teams could not win a single trophy the entire season.

That the women basketball team, the most exposed team in the country having featured in all the past ten Africa club championships, lost to a self sponsored team Eagle Wings whose players have to scratch for such basics as transport to and from the training ground and league matches, needs an explanation.

KPA’s personnel manager Jane Kamau whose docket includes sports cannot be blamed for the team’s poor performance after the cooperation gave the teams all manner of support they needed to perform.

“For the over 20 years I have been associated with sports at KPA, we have always made sure that our players and technical officials are well taken care off be it in allowances, salaries or whatever it might be”, Kamau said in an earlier interview, adding that the teams at times even travel weeks in advance for training camps whenever they had a crucial away league matches.

Kamau, however feels poor recruitment methods have cost KPA teams dearly. “The last time KPA recruited the best basketball players was in the year 2000 when we had five players from the then national schools champions Mombasa High School. Since then, the technical officials have not done a good job in recruitment always ending up with their friends or experienced but old players who cannot compete for a year or two,” Kamau said.

The players who were recruited from Mombasa High School then and who have helped KPA to win back to back league titles include Ethel Wakesho, Miriam Wandanda (now in Seattle Washington USA), Jackline Wasuda (now in Texas USA), Gladys Wanyama (now in Tennessee USA), Fadya Mohammed in KPA but retired, Susan Joan still in KPA and Josephine Achieng Owino,the first Kenyan to be drafted into WNBA with the Washington Mystics but now playing professional basketball in Turkey.

Bandari coach Yusuf Chipo blamed the team’s poor showing in the season and relegation to age saying most of his players are over the hill and could not therefore match the speed and agility of their more youthful opponents.Yet it should be remembered that Twahir Muhidin and his team manager Edward Oduor were removed from the sports department just when they had announced a recruitment drive for young players after identifying eight senior players for retirement. This idea did not go down well with the management and partly contributed to the team’s problems.

KFF senior vice chairman Twaha Mbarak views things differently.Mbarak believes KPA has entrusted their team to people with little knowledge of how to run a football team. “I have been trying to discuss with the team management ways of improving the performance of the team but they are completely blank in ideas,” Mbarak says of the KPA sports officials.

He says internal politics which saw the total overhaul of the sports department early this year did not do KPA any good. Former international Mahmoud Abbas says Bandari has never had good players since last year when the players started engaging in divisive politics and had advised new coach Chippo to overhaul the team and bring in new players with new ideas and energy to take the team to greater heights when he accepted the appointment.

“I warned Chippo well in advance that he should only accept to coach Bandari with conditions that he must overhaul the entire team, especially the players Twahir Muhidin had identified for retirement but he did not take me seriously and believed me only when the team was relegated.

While basketball coaches Ojukwu and Kiki are all in agreement that there is need to pump new blood into the women basketball team whose average age of players is 30, Kiki believes the idea will not work if some players are not removed from the team altogether.

“There are some senior players who are against change and have been frustrating any new recruits at KPA for fear of losing their positions and allowances associated with playing for the team. I think these players should first be shown the door before new players are brought in otherwise it will be an effort in futility”, Kiki said at a recent interview with the nation.

Ojukwu who is the men’s nationaln team head coach agrees with Kiki on the same and says he has identified ten youthful players whom he believes will change the team’s fortunes.

“I have this time gone for young players and has identified ten players with the help of international basketball instructor Ronnie Owino who I think should take KPA to greater heights come next year”, Ojukwu who also admits there is a cartel of players who have been frustrating recruits said. But there is a general feeling that KPA the sports department needs to to more to improve the performances of corporation’s teams.