“We’re very strict in the requirements we’re placing on Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in terms of infrastructure,” were the words of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Dr. Patrice Motsepe after announcing EA Pamoja as the winning bid for the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2027 hosting rights on Wednesday in Cairo, Egypt.
Motsepe, a South African business mogul and owner of 2016 African Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns, further underscored the importance of “freedom of movement of people in and out, support and cooperation…because the key point is that we’re absolutely determined to maintain the highest standards for African football.”
His clear stand, especially on infrastructure, was quite targeted, and listening to his speech, as a Kenyan, I felt that we’re under the radar, and for a good reason for that matter.
Kenya boasts a dubious past record of embarrassing CAF and Africa each time the country has been trusted to host a major tournament.
The story of how the country, due to parochial and petty politics, relinquished the AFCON 1996 hosting rights to South Africa, then emerging from the dark epoch of apartheid, which they gladly used for sports washing, has been retold many times.
“Then President Daniel Moi wrote to me saying Kenya was not ready. Morocco and South Africa were ready for the challenge and eventually we settled on South Africa. It was an amazing tournament inspired by the late president Nelson Mandela,” former CAF president Isaa Hayatou revealed years later.
It was a delicate time in the history of Kenya when the country was headed for her first multiparty elections.
With an opposition Member of Parliament Joab Omino at the helm of the football federation at that point in time, there was no way the government was going to allow their bitter rivals to score points with the public by allowing the country to host the AFCON.
It was the same lack of government commitment that saw Morocco grab the hosting rights for the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) from the jaws of Kenya as the country was declared unprepared by CAF inspectors.
On both occasions, the country failed to build the requisite sporting infrastructure, and for CAF to yet again trust Kenya with its flagship tournament through EA Pamoja, a lot beyond mere words will have to be demonstrated on the ground to appease doubting stakeholders.
It’s a moment for the East Africa’s biggest economy to save face and prove that they can put their money where their mouth is.
For President William Ruto, who’s already battling accusations of being high on rhetoric and zero on delivery a year into office, all eyes will be on him to succeed where his predecessors miserably failed.
Those tasked with revamping Kasarani, Nyayo and Kipchoge Keino stadiums; the three facilities earmarked to host the games, must thus hit the ground running as soon as now.
Above all, they must purpose to do a quality work. The number of times Kasarani and Nyayo stadiums have been renovated before only to be certified unfit to host international matches is humiliating.
The specifications for a standard stadium as required by FIFA, the global football body and CAF to host level 1 matches are readily available if needed.
With other supporting infrastructure like airports, roads, hotels… already in place, Kenya’s readiness to be part of the EA Pamoja will boil down to how quick the three stadiums plus training grounds can be delivered.