Should Kenya follow European football’s lead on coronavirus return?

Should the local authorities follow the precedent set by Europe’s major leagues on how to decide the fate of suspended competitions?

Amidst the ongoing suspension of the Kenyan Premier League amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the question of what will happen to the current campaign is becoming increasingly pressing.

Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa has stated that there are regulations which dictate his options, and in an interview with Radio Jambo, he explained the various possible outcomes for the KPL and the National Super League.

“We have seven leagues in the country and they are all suspended and together with team training,” Mwendwa began. “The laws we have are not for KPL and NSL only, they apply across the board and to everyone who is engaged in football.

“We have regulations governing our football and we do not have to talk to anyone from another league or wherever. 

“If the league has not run past the half-way mark due to any kind of interruptions, the league will be cancelled. Secondly, if the league has been played past the half-way mark but 75% of season matches have not been played, then the mid-season table will stand.

“For now, we have not played 75% of the matches so it means, if we have to make a decision, we will rely on the mid-season table to arrive at a conclusion.”

When the season was hitting the half-way mark, Gor Mahia had 38 points and Tusker, the 2016 treble winners, were second on 34 points. Kakamega Homeboyz were third with a point fewer than the Brewers.

And so, as per Mwendwa’s explanation, the league is settled and the champions are already known if the coronavirus situation does not permit resumption and natural conclusion of the pending matches.

However, despite the guidelines, such a situation would prompt some discontent and protest from some of the league’s stakeholders.

Over in Belgium, Club Brugge have already been declared champions, whereas Europe’s other major leagues are yet to reach a conclusion on how they would decide their title winners or their continental qualifiers.

The KPL may want to follow the lead set by Europe’s competitions before deciding what to do in a local context.

Just a few days ago, the KPL, while affirming the league remained suspended and that there was no urgency in deciding its fate, hinted that they would perhaps be keen to see how Europe reacts to the situation before making their own decision.

The KPL Board hinted they would opt for a different solution to that suggested by Mwendwa.

“Once the pandemic has been contained, and the Kenyan government confirms lifting of the curfew and other control measures put in place to curb the virus, KPL will convince a shareholders/Governing Council meeting to decide the best way forward that will be good for the integrity of the competition,” a KPL statement began, “and the clubs and after thoroughly looking at all available options and the pros and cons for every option.

“As of now, there is no urgency to determine the fate of the current season as the world of football is dealing with an unprecedented time as a result of the coronavirus.”

Led by Gor Mahia’s Chairman Ambrose Rachier, the league’s body were categorical they will opt for a decision that will neither compromise the integrity of the game in the end.

“The top leagues worldwide, including La Liga, EPL, Serie A and Bundesliga as well as Fifa, Caf, and Uefa have all suspended their activities until the Covid-19 pandemic is contained,” the statement added. “KPL will be guided by the best practices in the world of football on how to go about the remaining part of the season.” 

Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards.

With the sibling rivalry which has always characterised the symbiotic KPL-FKF relationship, one cannot trust them to handle the pending question – whether to cancel the league and how to determine the champions and relegation/promotion issue – in an amicable and fair manner.

They have always fought and this situation is already seeing them flexing their muscles to assert who has the mandate of handling football matters, particularly the top tier of competition.

Former Kenya international James Situma explained the need for a local a bespoke solution to Kenya’s specific challenges.

“No, we should come up with our own decisions that everyone will feel is best for us,” Situma told Goal. “This pandemic has affected every nation differently because we have different capacity in dealing with its effects.

“So, at the moment we should be so patient and wait after 21 days of government directives and see how the situation will be like around then we can come up with any decision going forward.

“At the moment we only pray and hope that everything goes back to normal very soon.”

James Situma of Mathare United v Shaban Kenga of Bandari.

On the anticipated KPL/FKF feud, Situma has urged both elements to work in unity to provide solutions to the big questions facing the sport.

“They have no other option but to find a solution because, at the end of the day, it’s football as a sport that is involved here,” concluded the two-time KPL winning skipper.

On the failure to complete the league, FKF regulations stipulate, in article 2.6, and as outlined by Mwendwa, what must be done, but whether the various elements of Kenyan football will agree on implementation is another matter.

Will the KPL defer to FKF deference and name Gor Mahia as champions, or will they wait and see what Europe’s established leads opt to do?