Life & Work

How Nick's mission to boost football hit the wall

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Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

When he took over the reins at Kandanda House in 2016, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president Nick Mwendwa vowed to bring on board more community clubs in the league besides the two famous ones — Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

Although well-intentioned, Mwendwa's approach was poor. He was jinxed from the word go. His downfall has been rapid.

For any Gor supporter, Gor en Hono (Gor is a spirit) and you can't point a spirit (Gor ok siem).

The moment he singled out the country's most famous club, Gor's spirit was angered and Mwendwa's troubles started.

The 42-year-old FKF President is now battling allegations of misappropriation of funds and his planned removal from office is threatening to take Kenyan football down under with a threat from football governing body — Fifa — lingering. Fifa has threatened to ban Kenya from international meets.

Mwendwa took over from strongman Sam Nyamweya in 2016. His election was welcomed by many Kenyans who thought football in the country had been mismanaged for far too long.

An added advantage was that he was a 'local' boy having grown up in Kariobangi and could relate with the youth whose love for football was being diminished by years of misrule.

Mwendwa also owns a football club, Kariobangi Sharks and it was doing well and catering for many local boys.

Young, energetic and riding on 'Team Change', Mwendwa beat old guard Nyamweya to clinch the coveted seat.

Before the elections on February 10, 2016, Mwendwa was not much known in the football world. The person who was tipped to take over the reins of Kenyan football was Gor Mahia's Ambrose Rachier. But delegates went for the younger Mwendwa.

Mr Nyamweya withdrew from the race at the 11th hour and the K-Sharks owner garnered 50 votes against Rachier’s 27.

Those who know Mwendwa said the new kid on the block “knew his way around with the delegates”.

But his dalliance with Kariobangi Sharks, also known as K-Sharks and his bid to prop it up was also another blunder because it engendered conflict of interest.

The newly elected FKF President immediately vowed to take Harambee Stars to next year's World Cup finals in Qatar.

That was never to happen and his promise to resign if the national team didn't go to Qatar became hollow. Instead, he was hounded out of office over allegations of misappropriation of funds.

Credit, however, goes to Mwendwa for professionalising football. It was during his tenure that many sponsors came on board to finance football in the country.

There were the likes of SportPesa, SuperSport, GoTV, Odibets and others. Some were, however, forced to leave because they felt slighted by Mwendwa's executive decisions.

Mwendwa did have his moment though — he was in charge when Kenya eventually and against all odds qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 15 years. He also ensured regular assignments for the different national teams.

Several sponsors, many of them betting companies, spent their money on football during his tenure. He sustained the Women’s Premier League and the National Super League despite extreme challenges.

Then the fallout with the sponsors started. His differences, for example, with SuperSport started when he unilaterally increased the number of teams in the Kenya Premier League from 16 to 18.

To the sponsor, the two extra teams meant additional costs of about Sh200 million in terms of logistics and funding.

Mr Mwendwa stuck to his guns, with the ultimate goal of having K-Sharks in the league — the conflict again rearing its head. The sponsor pulled out. K-Sharks was, nonetheless, promoted and even played English Premier League side, Everton, winning on penalties.

Last week, Sports Cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed disbanded FKF and constituted a caretaker committee to oversee the affairs of the federation for six months.

The caretaker committee will be chaired by retired judge Aaron Ringera and in the team are eminent sports personalities like Joseph Masiga, John 'Bobby' Ogolla, Titus Kasuve, and Richard Omwela.

The world governing body Fifa has, however, threatened to ban Kenya from all football activities if the decision is not reversed. But Kenyans are bullish, telling Fifa —bring it on! For them, the ban is a blessing in disguise as it will enable the country to clean its house and bring back football on the right track.

“In case we consider the aforementioned decision by the Cabinet secretary to appoint an FKF Caretaker Committee in lieu of the elected FKF Executive Committee is undoubtedly contrary to the above principles,” Fifa said in a letter to FKF.

Mwendwa has been accused of embezzling millions advanced to FKF by the government. The officials of the football body have also been accused of fraudulent withdrawals amounting to Sh29.5 million. The withdrawals were allegedly made by unauthorised persons.

Mr Mwendwa was arrested and spent three nights in police custody. He has protested his innocence, saying the accusations are based on an investigation that is the subject of an active case at the High Court.

"I verily believe at the outset that it is most unfair and malicious for the police to continue holding me on the basis of an impugned report that is likely to be quashed and set aside by the court for want of compliance with the statutory process set out in the law," he said in a sworn statement.

On granting him bail, a Nairobi court directed the police to charge him within seven days or drop the plans.

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