Year in Review: AWCON pain for Starlets

Harambee Starlets will remember 2018 as the year in which they were robbed of the chance to participate at the Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) for the second successive time.

Following their historic qualification for the continental showpiece in 2016, Starlets were stopped in their bid for a second straight appearance in controversial circumstances.

Equatorial Guinea delivered the blow that shattered Kenya’s dreams, winning 3-2 on aggregate in the qualification round but the eligibility of that victory quickly came into question.

Kenya lodged a protest, seeking to have Equatorial Guinea disqualified for fielding an alien player.

Continental governing body CAF determined that Kenya had presented a solid case and as a result struck Equatorial Guinea off the tournament with Kenya taking their place.

“I am very happy by the decision from the CAF. It will be good to participate in the AWCON again because it can only be a good sign for our football. We can now proceed and hand our preparation schedule over to the federation,” head coach David Ouma, who led Starlets to their first ever AWCON, said.

Ouma had only resumed his role with the national women’s team having been replaced by Richard Kanyi in July 2017 as the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) entrusted the former Sofapaka FC boss with leading mission AWCON again.

Ouma proceeded to name his provisional squad for the biennial event and later played out to a 1-1 draw with Ghana in Nairobi as part of their build-up before things took a painful turn.

Two weeks before the opening of the AWCON staged in Ghana, as CAF’s Appeal Board declared Equatorial Guinea had won an appeal against its disqualification and that the player, Annette Jacky Messomo, was indeed eligible to play for Equatorial Guinea.

The decision threw Kenya’s participation in the AWCON in doubt with an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) being the only back although the time constraints suggested there was no way back at all.

FKF nonetheless filed the appeal at CAS as the national team remained in camp with the hope that it would be successful.

‘profoundly astonished’

Harambee Starlets players Vivian Corazone (L) celebrate with teammate Anne Aluoch after scoring against Egypt during their International friendly women football match at the Safaricom stadium Kasarani on October 28, 2016. Kenya won 1-0. Photo/Maina Wambugu/

“We are profoundly astonished by the Appeal Board of Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) decision to reinstate the Equatorial Guinea women football team to the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations, 10 days to the commencement of the tournament.

“As Football Kenya Federation, it is our position that the decision by the CAF Appeals Board is a great injustice not only to the Kenya national women football team Harambee Starlets but also to the millions of Kenyan fans spread across the world, the Kenyan government and the federation, which has since dedicated enormous resources in preparations for the 2018 AWCON.

“Moreover, the timing of the decision, which comes on the back of a FIFA ban on Equatorial Guinea for fielding ineligible players during the qualification competition for the Rio 2016 Olympic women’s tournament and CAF’s decision to include Kenya, for both the Draw of the 2019 Women World Cup and the recently released 2019 AWCON fixtures, is not only retrogressive but also goes against the spirit of fair play.

“…we have been left with no option but to seek redress as per the statutes of CAF and FIFA, with the sole aim of promoting fairness and integrity of the sport.

“Consequently, we have written to CAF expressing our displeasure with November 7, 2018, ruling and initiated an appeal process at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with a view to having Kenya included in the tournament and/or stopping the same from commencing until the matter is heard and resolved.

“It is our belief that both CAF and CAS will treat the matter with the seriousness that it deserves, this even as Harambee Starlets remain in camp in preparation for our AWCON opening fixture against Zambia scheduled for November 18, 2018, at the Cape Coast Stadium, beginning 1830hrs local time.” FKF said in a lengthy statement following CAF’s bombshell announcement.

CAS rejected Kenya’s appeal to have Starlets readmitted to the AWCON, signalling all but a dead end for Kenya’s legal channels back into the tournament.

“The final decision by the President of the Appeals Division was to unfortunately reject our application for provisional measures, and we fully understand and respect the decision of the CAS.

“This, however, does not end the case. Our appeal against CAF is still open, and we will continue to fight for justice to be done in some way, to repair the harm that has been caused to our Starlets, and the people of our nation,” FKF said.

Starlets broke camp yet up to date, Citizen Digital sources reveal that players have yet to receive their allowances.

“It’s a very tough moment for us; we have families and responsibilities to take care of, we are in the festive season when we should be enjoying ourselves. What the federation has done is shameful,” decried the source.

Nigeria’s Super Falcons went on to win a record-stretching 11th AWCON title after defeating South Africa 4-3 in a post-match shootout.