Disrespected, rejected: Saddening tale of Kenya’s amputee football squad

Monday, July 27th, 2020 00:00 |
National amputee team players sleep on the floor of Ministry of Sports offices at Kencom House, Nairobi. Photo/PD/ RODGERS NDEGWA

From going without allowances to being assaulted by security officers, these are just some of the tribulations the team has faced as the government continues to ignore plight of players.

For a long time, the national amputee men football team has held the infamous tag of being an underprivileged entity in the country.

Some of the players who have represented Kenya in major events such as the World Cup are living in squalor, thanks to apathy by the government towards the sport.

Although it is one of the newest sports in the country, the government has not treated  with equal attention  compared to other sports, especially taking into account the talent that thrives in the country.

The team has undergone debasing experiences but perhaps the worst was during the Africa Cup of Nations which Kenya hosted in 2014 at the City Stadium during which time the Ministry of Sports elected  a hear no evil, see no evil attitude.

Begged for food

Team Kenya’s tribulations on home soil were unimaginable, as narrated by key player Maina Karanja.

“I remember we went to the residential camp at Fair View Hotel which also accommodated Ghana which was one of the six visiting teams.

No single cent had been paid by the ministry for our accommodation and meals unlike Ghana and we ended up as the laughing stock in our own country,” says Karanja.

All this time, Ghana was facilitated by their Embassy while Team Kenya begged the hotel management to feed them hoping that the ministry shall act. That never came to be.

One thing led to another and Team Kenya was detained at the hotel due to non-payment of services and out of desperation, some of the players sneaked out of the hotel.

‘We had to flee from the hotel and you can imagine the trauma we underwent and especially when we were preparing for a high profile event. 

Maina Karanja, a member of the team, eking out a living in Nairobi streets. PD/ RODGERS NDEGWA

The government flatly said it had no money to spend on amputees,’ said Karanja who ekes out a living shining shoes and selling cigarettes at Nairobi Bus Station.

The same story was replicated in 2016 when Kenya featured in the World Cup in Mexico when the ministry said it would only cater for air tickets but not allowances, forcing team Kenya to skip meals in a foreign land.

“We honoured the championships despite all these problems and gave a good account of ourselves against big-timers in amputee football. We had no hopes in subsequent tournaments,” said Karanja.

It can be recalled that it was the same year when the team members pitched camp at the Sports ministry offices at Kencom House in search of help in vain before they were chased away by security personnel apparently acting from orders above.

Frustrations among the team members had earlier boiled over as they slept on the floors of Kencom House where the Ministry of Sports in headquartered,  then headed by Rashid Echesa.

Cold shoulder

And as if that was not enough the ministry would turn a cold shoulder on the team yet again during the second World Cup in Mexico in 2018,

Kenya beat USA 2-1 with Mohammed Munga and Nicholas Kihiu scoring, lost 3-0 to Turkey and succumbed 0-2 to Russia.

“The team was lucky enough to be facilitated by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko who donated air tickets and provided allowances to players,” offers Karanja

“We played in Sonko-branded T-shirts and received allowances from the governor which was a huge relief. 

We profusely thanked him for the gesture, but we wondered if it had to reach this point yet we had a ministry which ought to have shouldered the burden,” said Karanja.

Sonko’s philanthropy towards the so called fringe sports came into the fore again when he single handedly catered for the team’s transport and allowances during the 2019 East Africa Championships held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in which Kenya reached the final, losing 3-1 to Rwanda.

According to team officials speaking then, the government, through the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts, had earlier promised to give Sh14m only to renege on the promise.

Kenya Amputee Football Federation Chairman Polycarp Mboya made an impassioned appeal to the ministry to consider putting the sport on equal footing with other disciplines and especially during crucial international assignments.

"I can say with certainty that we are blessed with immense talent but the bottleneck remains lack of funds. 

Pivotal role

This is a sport that can take Kenya far if taken seriously,” said Mboya.

And for amputees like Karanja who played a pivotal role for Kenya in the regional championships in Tanzania, they have been playing the sport for the mere passion of it while crafting ways to make ends meet.

Karanja is a single father of two and has to burn the midnight oil to ensure that they do not lack the basics.

“My wife died several years ago and I am the sole breadwinner which means I have to work hard to meet the demands of the family. I normally tell the kids that I play amputee football for the love of it. 

I cannot say it’s the one that enables me to put food on the table,” says Karanja.

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