The beautiful game, ugly twists and sober truths
These are days of shock and awe. But Kenyans are sitting it out. The action is in Qatar, the city-state famed for its wealth situated in the heart of sand dunes. This Arab land with its people donning thawbs has never been known for football or even passion for it. But that is changing now.
The Asian subcontinent’s changing fortunes in football are not the only shock and awe. That Argentina, the world’s football superpower featuring the game’s best-known icon, Lionel Messi, could bow to Saudi Arabia, has left all in shock. But it did not stop there yet the competition is just beginning.
Japan, another team from the sub-continent humbled mighty Germany forcing the European football powerhouse to once again stare at the possibility of exiting the competition in the group stages.
Action has not been only in the field, but off it as well. FIFA, the world’s football organisation whose word on the game has always been law, has for the first time come under searing scrutiny. How did it hand over the hosting rights for this year’s competition to the tiny Arab State? Further, how is football, the best-known sport in the world run?
Football is not just a sport. It is also the global platform on which political speeches are made. The loudest, for now, has been the statement by the Iranian team against the regime in Tehran. The team took to the pitch for their first game, but when their nation’s anthem was being played, the players kept their lips shut, in solidarity with the protests taking place in their country.
For months now Iranians have been protesting their country’s morality law that requires women to cover their heads. The protest may be for more than what women are doing with their hair.
The conservative Qatari regime has succeeded at imposing its morals on the rowdy football fans often a law unto themselves. The free flow of beer has been reduced to a bare minimum in this year’s games. Chants of “we want beer” can often be heard during matches.
Beer aside, Qatar, home to one of the world’s leading 24-hour news channels, the first in the Arab world, has effectively prohibited the display of speech supporting the LGBTQ+ community. Money truly speaks in this life. FIFA, headquartered in Zurich, in the heart of Europe considered the centre of the free world and home to some UN agencies, has gone along with Qatar on this.
But Kenya is sitting out all this drama. First, our team has no say in the world football scene. It always seems as if the role of Kenya at the beginning of the competition is to donate points to other teams. Corruption in Kenyan football, poor development of talent, lack of national football sponsorship, shabby treatment of players, and all, conspire to keep Harambee Stars perennially at the bottom of the pyramid in the qualifying stages.
But the conspiracy has gone a notch higher. Not only are we missing from the stage where the big names stand out to be counted, but we are also hardly watching it too. Seeking to follow the games from the countryside is an acrobatic act. Looking to watch the opening ceremony on KBC, the public broadcaster, turned out to be a Houdini game.
How the public broadcaster and by extension, the government let things slide to this level is hard to tell. Sports, and more so, football, is more than just a game. It is a movement, it is a spiritual sojourn, it is a journey out of the body to outer space which for a moment consumes the soul, a 90-minute magical moment before the world returns to normal.
At a moment, when the country has so much to deal with, the gods provided an opportunity during which the country could collectively have escaped the worries of matatu fare, the GMO food scare, the fear of exams, school fees and all, to join the rest of the world in this moment of fellowship.
But no, we have to struggle to find a channel broadcasting the games. What a lost moment!
—The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University