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A kickabout for Women's Day?

Nairobi, 8 March 2005 | Fixtures will be released Friday for the second international girls' tournament organized by the Mathare Youth Sports Association—an appropriate news item to commemorate International Women's Day. The
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The Mathare United U16 girls side competes against Hidden Talent in the 2004 event. (Chris Omollo)
17-year-old MYSA runs youth-development projects in the Mathare Valley, the largest slum in the Kenyan capital. At the beginning, the group admits, it did not know how to conduct meetings and was embarrassed by its tiny offices. In 2003, it was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Its girls' soccer program formed in 1992 (see the UN Population Council report, Letting Girls Play: The Mathare Youth Sports Association's Football Program for Girls, 2002), and an MYSA side has since competed strongly at a major tournament in Norway. The coming event, which takes place from 25–27 March, tries to elevate AIDS awareness. The theme is "Have You Heard Me Today?"

Bleak Prospects in Kenya: Long Meetings, Not Much Football
We are not sure that we can sort out the situation in Kenya, where the football federation (KFF) has been suspended since 2 June and several of its officials arrested (Gilbert Wandera, "Court Case Angers FIFA," East African Standard).

The machinations among Kenya's football authorities, one columnist writes, make it harder for Kenyans to see in football "the potential to change their lives." (www.kenya.de)
The immediate effect is that Kenya stands ineligible for World Cup qualifying, having already missed a scheduled 5 June fixture against Guinea. Alleged corruption in the KFF had caused the Kenyan government, led by sports minister Najib Balala, to appoint a committee of stakeholders to look into the KFF's dealings. This is the tampering that FIFA claimed violated its statutes. Although it is difficult to evaluate the independence of Kenyan media, reaction has been tempered, with some even welcoming FIFA's action:

I choose to believe that Fifa have, through this suspension, granted Kenya a clean slate to reposition the pillars of the game for posterity. The message the suspension delivers appears to be that the sooner the government minister and his KFF Stakeholders Transitional Committee can get the electioneering process in motion and get an independent KFF office elected, and in place, the quicker we can be re-admitted to the world[,] but we need to take a break and re-think things. . . . Football is the most popular sport in Kenya but it has been abused by those who have found their way to administering it. In the process, this has discouraged many people from seeing in it the potential to change their lives. (Sulubu Tuva, "FIFA Ban Gives Us Chance to Redeem Kenyan Soccer," Daily Nation, 5 June)

As for FIFA's role, the incident demonstrates—as with the absurd docking and then restoration of six World Cup qualifying points from Cameroon, all over their donning of a one-piece uniform at the African Cup of Nations in January—the organization's amazing reach and its own unchecked authority. As centenary festivities died down in Paris, Marcelo Balvé wrote eloquently of FIFA's unique role among world sporting organizations, referring to Diego Maradona's characterization of FIFA as a "mafia, a sect." Balvé writes, "Some compare FIFA . . . to the United Nations because of its lack of transparency, its bureaucratic character and because it is the supreme authority overseeing the unruly mass of national soccer organizations that together constitute the corruption-prone world of international soccer. No matter where you are, be it in France, Brazil or Iran, soccer fans regard the acronym with a mixture of dread and respect" ("On 100th Birthday, World Soccer's Governing Body Wields Vast Power," New California Media, 2 June). As for Cameroon, if they dare to wear the singlet, we salute them.

Update: On 9 July 2004 FIFA announced formation of a Normalisation Committee, chaired by International Olympic Committee executive member and legendary middle-distance runner Kipchoge Keino. One month later, on 6 August, FIFA provisionally restored Kenya's international status, meaning that its World Cup qualifiers could be rescheduled. With two games in hand on Group 5 leaders Guinea, Kenya trails by just two points with six points from its three matches thus far. The five group winners in Africa advance to the World Cup finals.

For more background on the Kenyan situation, read Adili 55 (PDF file; 26 April 2004). The newsletter of Transparency International Kenya, an NGO advocating accountability in government, this issue addresses a long history of corruption in the Kenya Football Federation and in Kenyan sports in general. "[C]orrupt sports administrators enjoy massive benefits from sports at the expense of sportsmen and women, many of whom live and die in crushing poverty," begins the lead article.

  • Nairobi | 9 October 2003 . . . Click for MYSA websiteA Kenya-based program that allows youth to organize football and to perform community service has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) was nominated by Inger Lise Gjoerv of Norway. The organization, started in 1987, now has some 17,000 members and 1,200 football teams, in addition to girls' teams. The MYSA website states:
  • The girls football started in the year 1992. It was started by Samuel Karanja who is the current chief executive. He had seen that there was a need to indulge the girls in sports since most of them were doing a lot of domestic work but had nothing interesting to do during their free time. . . . MYSA was determined to expose girls to football and they believed that the girls could do it.

    For more background on MYSA, see Hans Hognestad and Arvid Tollisen, "Playing against Deprivation: Football and Development in Nairobi, Kenya," in Football in Africa: Conflict, Conciliation, and Community (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 210–26. | back to top