Government is a player in sport

But in today’s language, in modern-speak, we do not refer to problems but challenges. This grammar lesson is one that motivation speakers and other orators, moreso purveyors of these new religious sects- these spiritual or evangelical or ministry or crusade or miracle churches- do not forgo to remind us each and every little opportunity they get: “Brothers and sisters, those who dwell in the arms of the Lord do not fear problems. They confront challenges happy in the knowledge that, with the support of the Lord, they always overcome!”

Now, now, Mr Banda, we know this is a Sunday and, to the extent that the region is not secular, you are perfectly free to wax religious. But kindly note that we do not turn to this page of this newspaper to read religion. Please be advised and proceed thus.

Alright, alright, mon ami. I am proceeding under or is it against- although the latter gives the impression that I will be opposing you- alright, on the advice.

They are having problems in their football in Kenya. I know there are generally problems with the game in most other places on the continent. After all it is the continent’s leading sport, is it not? And so understandably the limelight is brighter on it than elsewhere. But they do have some challenges out in Nairobi.

Matters came to a head a fortnight ago when the Emergency Committee of the world soccer-governing body Fifa suspended the Kenya Football Federation (KFF), for failing to go the whole hog on agreements they had signed to resolve the situation in their country’s football. Fifa also pointed out that what irked it was that principles it holds fundamental such as the respect of sporting rules, the integrity of competitions and Fifa’s Statutes, regulations and decisions have been regularly violated or ignored by members of the Kenyan football family.

Fifa said the suspension will stand until the agreements reached during the period of the KFF Normalisation Committee in 2004 as well as the 28 points agreed upon in a meeting in the Egyptian capital Cairo in January this year are fully implemented.

The Cairo meeting was as high-level as it can go. Putting their hands to the agreement was the Fifa president himself, his counterpart in the African body, the Kenyan Minister of Sport, representatives of KFF, the Kenyan Professional League (KPL) and club representatives. As one, the Kenyan football family committed to several measures to improve the situation.

Alas, Nairobi, you are where you are today: with two rival organisations running parallel Premier Leagues. The solution is a merger. Simple. But you cannot single out Kenyan soccer for being a unique African sporting organisation. How many times have we wanted to tear out our hair as our administrators looked everywhere but at the simple solutions staring them in the face?

But that is another story for another day.

I was impressed by the fact that the football authorities found it fit to invite the Minister of Sport to the indaba. Remember that in the past- and likely it will happen again in future- Fifa has suspended national soccer associations on the basis of interference by the government. And yet here was the same Fifa sitting at the same table with a cabinet minister. And by cabinet here we are not making any reference to an item of office furniture but cabinet as in a group of the most important government ministers or advisers to Numero Uno, the leader of the country.

Just how far should governments stay out of sport? Far enough. But not too far.

Mr Banda, you have this habit of starting off as if you mean well and just when we are giving you the benefit of the doubt and beginning to accept that you do, after all, mean well, you call our bluff. Is that fair? And for how long will it go on?

I apologise, my friends. But allow me to make the point again: a government should stay far enough, but not too far. What? What cheek! Is that not what you said above and what we took issue with? And you repeat that? Are you real?

Yes. And this time I offer no apology. Yes, there should be the separation of sport and politics. That should be inviolable. That is not negotiable. When a member of the Zimbabwe senior men’s soccer team, the Warriors, scores at the African Cup of Nations tournament, noone is interested which political party’s card he may have left in his locker’if he is such a devoted cadre he moves around with his card. No one cares. Not even the leaders of the political parties themselves! Everyone rejoices. The whole nation is united, at peace with itself, strong in its diversities and serious with its play.

As with marriages, I say to you: let no man put that asunder. And so government stay far enough. It is just the nation at play!

But note that the tournament is played in stadia. There is transportation to and from the match venues. There is security around the tournament ‘ very important these days when some among us choose even those moments when we have the least to do with their circumstances to make bloody statements about their circumstances.

Millions, nay billions, are invested in such tournaments. South Africa is putting up 15,1 billion rand in preparations for 2010. How much is that in your currency? And what rate did you just use?

That figure includes 8,4 billion rands on new stadiums. To cope with an extra 400 thousand football fans, 3,7 billion rands will be spent on rail links, airports and roads.

Not all of that 15,1 billion rands will come back. And so big business tends to be wary to underwrite such undertakings, moreso on the continent. What then happens is that it is the government that comes in as chief financier. Even when there are sponsors, event owners such as the continental soccer body Caf often want assurances that should anything go wrong there will be someone to carry the can. And, invariably, that someone is government.

And so, government, do not stay too far. Play today is serious business, so serious it invariably demands government support!

November 2006
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