Africans love football, in fact, football is a religion in Africa. 50% of the population watched some part of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The final game of the UEFA Champions League in May 2015 attracted over 20 million African viewers. Across the continent, everywhere you go, you’ll run into young boys, girls, men and women all in football jerseys. Unfortunately, most of these Jerseys and football enthusiasm is for foreign leagues and teams.
You are certain to see more Jerseys of English teams such as Arsenal and Manchester United and those of Spanish giants such as Barcelona and Real Madrid than those of African giants – the likes of Gor Mahia, Yanga, Rayon Sports or Kaizer Chiefs. So what happened? Why are teams in London and Manchester worshipped in Kigali and Kisumu while local giants are struggling for survival! With so much interest and demand for the sport, why aren’t national leagues in African countries thriving? As other sectors such as telecommunications grow in Africa, why can’t football, which is a multi-billion industry, grow?
With all this in mind, we were pleased to have a conversation with a son of Africa that is just as passionate about the game of football on the continent as anyone you’ll ever meet. Hussein Mohammed has been working on Kenyan local football for the better part of a decade and he dreams of building lucrative football leagues in Africa that Africans will be proud off. He wants African players to dream of playing in Nairobi and not in London, Manchester or Madrid. Read below Hussein’s journey and how he intends to bring the best football leagues to Africa…
For over 10 years, Hussein Mohammed has been involved in grassroots football, mainly running the Super 8 Tournament in Nairobi Kenya. Last year he managed to secure a multi-million-sponsorship deal with fast rising betting firm SportPesa, a first for Kenyan football.
But why is he so passionate about the local game? Hussein says he was driven by the management gap in Kenyan football.
“Around 10 years ago I realized there was a big problem in the management of football in this country. I decided to organise a grassroots activity that would engage the youth, keep them off vices such as drug abuse and crime by doing what they love most and that is playing football but at the same time make a living out of it,” Hussein says,
“A lot of people also focused on the National team, Harambee Stars and the top-tier league but my approach has always been bottom-up. You cannot build a house without taking care of the foundation first. Kenyans expected success at the top without really thinking where that success was going to start from. We need to build it from ground up. Nowhere in the world has football been developed from top – down. Where do you get that talent? How do you nurture it? And that is what I have been investing in over the years,” he adds.
The National team, Harambee Stars has failed to qualify for the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations and just recently failed to defend the CECAFA Kagame Cup held in Ethiopia but Hussein places the blame on the Football Kenya Federation and the Government.
“It is really unfair to expect Harambee Stars to perform without properly investing in the team and in grassroots football. The federation claims to have the mandate to run football in the country but does the exact opposite. The Government also, through the Ministry of Sports needs to show commitment to the game. Cases of our players threatening not to honour games due to unpaid allowances are really becoming the order of the day and its sad,”
“In the same breadth the federation doesn’t have the monopoly to run football. That’s why I decided to start the Super 8 Tournament, to give the youth the chance to do what they love most, playing football, and get their daily bread out of it. Teams that won in the past have invested in sustainable projects and that gives me hope that it can be done,”
From Tournament to Leagues
Technical University of Kenya (TuK), formerly known as Kenya Polytechnic, won the ninth edition of the tournament in October and Hussein says that marked a new beginning. Since then, Hussein has rolled out two leagues in Nairobi starting mid January 2016.
“We will have two professional leagues next year; the SPS8 Nairobi County Premier League as the top-tier and the SPS8 Division One. Each league will have 16 teams and the registration is ongoing. I want to thank our main sponsors SportPesa for their continued support. This is a game changer. We have very talented players at the grassroots and not all of them can make it to Europe or even the Kenyan Premier League. We want to give them an alternative, competitive grassroots leagues with lucrative packages,” Hussein says last we spoke.
“The leagues will run from January to October, culminating into the Super 8 Tournament. Four top teams from the Division One will be promoted to the County League while the bottom four from the top-tier will be relegated to the second-tier. We have professionalized everything and this is what Kenyan football needs in order to grow,” he adds.
The Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Nairobi Branch has in the past interfered with the Super 8 Tournament by banning clubs that take part in it but Hussein says he’s not deterred with that.
“Like I always say no one has a monopoly to run football in Kenya. The clubs have to make their own choices. What do they get by participating in the FKF Nairobi Branch Leagues? The winner in the top-tier league will get Ksh 1 Million to start with but our target is to make it the most lucrative and competitive league in Africa such that local talent will also wish to play in Kenya and not abroad as it is at the moment. In addition to the prize money, participating teams will also get monthly perks, balls and uniforms,” he points out.
Hussein also notes out that mismanagement and lack of commitment from the Government as the cancer in Kenyan football.
“Mismanagement and lack of vision and commitment from the Government – that is what is ailing our game. We must build the infrastructure and support organizers. We must also get the right people in the leadership positions in the federation. For instance, officials who are known by everyone have embezzled funds but to date nothing has been done, they have never been held accountable. The Nairobi branch for instance just this season has gotten a lot of resources from various constituencies through CDF, can they account for it?” No. And what is the Government doing about it?
Hussein ran for the FKF Presidency last time but has no intention of doing so this time.
“I’m not interested this time but I will still play my role in developing the game through Extreme Sports Ltd.”
His parting shot: “My final word will be to Sports Administrators. We need to be serious this time especially the Government. Empty rhetoric can only last for a short while. Let’s get things done, build infrastructure, marketing campaigns to change the image of the game and offer the necessary support. As other sectors such as telecommunications grow in Africa, why can’t football, which is a multi-billion industry, grow? That will only happen if we get the right people in the right positions and invest in the game,” he concludes.
Follow Hussein on Twitter @husseinmoha
By Jeff Kinyanjui for TAP MAG ISSUE 6
Jeff is TAP football correspondence in East Africa and the Co-founder of Soka.co.ke