The plight of our Starlets
In the face of gross mismanagement that has rocked Football Federation of Kenya (FKF) for years, Harambee Starlets held on to skip past Algeria for a historical CAF African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) qualification that has given a nation craving success in the game a huge lift.
Even Sam Nyamweya, the former FKF President who was the bull’s eye aim of every barrage of online attacks from Kenyans was quick to claim a stake in the glory saying the seeds to the current side’s success were planted during his much maligned tenure.
“It is humbling and a moment of great pride that this team was assembled during my term in office and we assembled the team, including the players and technical bench that have made history in Kenyan football,” Nyamweya wrote on his Facebook account.
In a country without a formal women’s football league structure, scarce training facilities and modest pay, Starlets qualification is a commendable feat.
The prowess of national volleyball team, Malkia Strikers, who have elevated the country’s name in continental and global map had until Tuesday been the yardstick which women’s team sport in the country was measured until Starlets captured the imagination after making the Cameroon AWCON finals in November.
Malkia have given rise to household names such as Jane Wacu, Blackcides Adagala, Janet Wanja among others with Kenya Volleyball Federation’s better governing structures for the sport paying off despite a crippling cash that has hampered their 2016 Rio Olympics qualification push.
“I used to play street football tournaments in Kaloleni where I was the only lady,” Cheris Avilia, the starlet that struck late to send Kenya to the 2016 AWCON in Cameroon said during Citizen TV’s Monday Football Show.
“For a lady it’s so playing this game in Kenya; you get very few others willing to play so you’re forced to play with the men. As you know, not all men will give you an easy time mingling with them.”
“It’s true that there is little support for ladies both in sport and in the corporate world,” SportPesa’s Sponsorship and Program Manager, Yvonne Wamai would later concur.
Bland as the situation might sound, it’s only a highlight of the things that have always dwindled the visibility of women in football.
In 2015, before travelling to Gaborone Botswana for their Olympic qualifier, reports were that Starlets spent in the cold at the Safaricom Stadium Kasarani for two days – sleeping on improvised bedding in the men’s changing rooms.
As the officials would put it, this was only a convenient move to ensure less time is wasted on change-overs during the team’s double training sessions; an obvious cover up of the FKF’s shortcomings in the provision of better accommodation.
Poor travel arrangements that have always resulted in airport delays (most notably the agonizing hours of delay Harambee Stars were put through in the build-up to their world cup qualifier against Cape Verde which they inevitably lost) and characteristic delays in player wages are some of the things the new FKF office has swiftly moved to address; positive changes that have already brought noticeable improvements in the standards of our beautiful game.
“There has been immense goodwill from all sectors. The new federation has been kind to us and so has the government. Sometimes when you receive that kind of support you just have to return the favour. I told the girls to think of each other as 24 sisters when they play,” Coach David Ouma who burst into tears after the historic qualification told Citizen Digital.
Speaking on how they managed to have the steel to muster a comeback against the continent’s football giants, Algeria, skipper Anne Aluoch put it simply – Kenya was watching.
“We’d struck a deal of our own behind the coach’s back that whatever the case, we had to win that day. There had been a lot of motivation in the camp and over the 90 minutes of play there was a lot of talking especially after going down,” she recalled.
Well run women’s leagues, well laid youth structures, more cup competitions and better exposure are some of the things Starlets deserve now more than ever.
The commitment we saw must not be allowed to wane.
-Additional reporting by Geoffrey Mwamburi-
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