ICIA: Why my heart bleeds for Starlets despite their successes

Jacob Icia
Women football in Kenya, against all odds, has undergone major metamorphosis in the last four years.
Between 2016 and today, national women team Harambee Starlets have qualified and played in the African Women Cup of Nations (Awcon), reached the penultimate round of 2020 Olympics qualifiers, and had a bite at the cherry – winning the 2019  Cecafa Senior Women Championship. That Starlets scored 24 goals and conceded none enroute to clinching the 2019 Cecafa women title. This is a loud statement; it tells of the superiority of Kenyan girls in the region on matters football, their daily struggles emanating from lack of funds notwithstanding. Gladly though, telling apathy towards women football from nearly every stakeholder has not deterred the determined Starlets from shining. Even when entries to their matches are made free, only a handful of fans show up, but with sheer grace and elegance, they kept going. It’s like they never saw the wrongdoings, and the injustices committed against them. In fact their tale is akin to the Biblical advise of turning a blind eye to evil but seeing the goodness in all circumstances.
Kenya National women football team coach David Ouma instruct his charges against Algeria during the final round of the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations qualifier at Safaricom Stadium Kasarani in Nairobi, Kenya on April 11, 2016.[Photo/SPORTPICHA]
Even when their quest of qualifying for the Japan 2020 Olympics was promising; quite on the brink, literally,  getting funds just for residential camp was a problem so much so that the federation chief Nick Mwendwa had to make some noise  for action to be taken by the powers that be at the Ministry of Sports headquarters at Kencom House. Such is our pitiable shame. The local league, that has produced the Cecafa winning team, has struggled much to the chagrin of the players who have to play two matches in a weekend to reduce the operational costs. Such is the lowliness with which the league, which should be the conveyor belt for the national team is run. Unfortunately, the  number one sponsor of sports, the Government, has seemingly turned a blind eye, opting to look the other way. Yet, with all the setbacks, the women have shown they can match not only the African powerhouses like Ghana’s Black Queens whom they dispatched in their 2020 Olympics journey, but even world’s finest! Poignantly, the men’s team, Harambee Stars, although have not enjoyed what most of the African teams have, are always prioritised ahead of the women team. And with the Cecafa feat, attained in style by silencing all in sundry,  the girls are probably saying silently, that they can fly high Kenya’s flag higher than their brothers. On 7th December, Stars will be launching their Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Uganda. They won the gong by beating Zanzibar Heroes in post-match shootout at the Kenyatta Stadium, on home soil, two years ago. Without taking anything away from the boys, our gallant girls didn’t have to take us through the agony of penalty shootouts or the adrenaline rush in our vessels; they simply completed the job in 90 minutes to cart the trophy home after silencing Tanzania 2-0 in their own backyard, Dar es Salaam. I doubt my beloved Harambee Stars will hit five past Burundi as their sisters did in Tanzania, if they are paired in Kampala that is. I’m not a pessimist, but I doubt if Stars can hammer Uganda Cranes 3-0 as their sisters did in the Cecafa Women Championship.
Francis Kimanzi, Stars head coach, therefore has a point to prove next month when he leads his troupes to Kampala. He must take it from where former coach Paul Put left, and follow Starlets example by bringing the trophy home.
Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi instructs his charges against Togo during their Total Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers 2021 first leg match at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on November 18, 2019. The match ended 1-1. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Citizen Digital
Recent draw against Uganda in a friendly tie at home and a loss to Tanzania in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifiers does not inspire much. The Cecafa tournament is thus a platform  to turn a new page and write a rosy chapter. Also, Stars loss to Mozambique at home in a friendly contest does not show the same command Harambee Starlets are displaying in Africa. Of course other countries could be worse in their approach to women football hence the dominance by our girls, but the gap between our male and female teams cannot go unnoticed, and it shouldn’t be this wide either! If anything, it is the men’s team that should be doing better if returns were directly proportional to investments made. Meanwhile, when you suppress your regional competitors ruthlessly as David Oum coached Starlets did, it simply means more is expected from you in the subsequent competitions. For now let it sink in. The girls deserve every piece of it. They could choose to have a well deserved break along the sandy and sunny beaches at the coast with their boyfriends or choose to merry-make, the choice is theirs.
Harambee Strarlets vs Twiga Stars of Tanzania during the final of their CECAFA Championship in Dar es Salaam. (PHOTO/Courtesy)
Thereafter, they need to ask themselves: what went wrong against an average Zambia? This is the team that halted their march to Tokyo 2020. It requires no magic though and I, for once, won’t scratch my head to find an answer to it. We know where the blame lies. Haphazard arrangements coupled with lack has never birthed success. No, it can’t! Be as it may, how will Starlets ensure they compete in every Awcon and World Cup going forward? How comes no corporate has come on board to support the ladies in their so far enviable milestones ? How can the devolved Football Kenya Federation (FKF) structure be used to better the state of women football in the country? The answers lies elsewhere but it remains a topic for another day. Congratulations are in order for Harambee Starlets, over to you dear Harambee Stars as you gear for the Senior Challenge title defence.
The author is a Sports Reporter at Royal Media Services and a football commentator on Radio Citizen. 

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