What you need to know:
- The Lakers were on the cusp of a fairytale ending to their story when they beat all odds to qualify for the continental tournament’s final, and were set to play against Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) for the title after emerging second at the end of the preliminary stage of the round robin tournament.
- But as they warmed up ahead of what would have been an epic final, word came from the organisers that the Lakers had flouted tournament rules and would be barred for playing the gold medal match.
When Kisumu’s Lakers Hockey Club declared two weeks ago that they would settle for an arduous, 2,306-kilometre road trip to Blantyre to play in a continental competition, they instantly drew sympathy and admiration in equal measure.
The self-supporting team also attracted financial support from RentCo Africa, an asset-finance, logistics and insurance solutions provider who handed them a Sh2.2 million lifeline for their trip.
RentCo Africa CEO Robert Nyasimi is a former Kenya international basketball player and felt their pain, having experienced similar turmoil in his playing days.
But last Sunday, Lakers were unceremoniously ejected from the Africa Cup for Club Champions for fielding ineligible players.
They were forced to embark on what would certainly be a less glamorous, 2,306-kilometre journey back home, as villains, with nothing to show for the miles clocked.
The Lakers were on the cusp of a fairytale ending to their story when they beat all odds to qualify for the continental tournament’s final, and were set to play against Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) for the title after emerging second at the end of the preliminary stage of the round robin tournament.
But as they warmed up ahead of what would have been an epic final, word came from the organisers that the Lakers had flouted tournament rules and would be barred for playing the gold medal match.
This was after their other opponents Delta Queens of Nigeria, GRA and compatriots Blazers (formerly Telkom Kenya) successfully lodged appeals.
The dramatic turn of events saw Blazers, who had settled for third position, drafted in to play against GRA in the final by organisers.
The final, however, didn't take off as Lakers players stormed the pitch just as Blazers and GRA were warming ahead of the match, a development that forced Africa Hockey Federation (AfHF) President Serif Ahmed to toss the coin to declared the winner, with fortunes favouring GRA who retained their title without a minute of the final being played.
Lakers were making their second appearance at the annual tournament and had endured a remarkable journey – on and off the road - to qualify for the final.
This after recovering from the long bus trip to sting Scorpions of Malawi 12-0 in their opening match before playing to a barren draw against compatriots and local rivals Blazers.
They then forced a 2-2 draw against the reigning champions GRA before humiliating Genetrix of Malawi 15-0 and then notched up another high-scoring 10-1 win against Capital Braves.
The Lakers subsequently wrapped up their final match last Saturday with 2-0 win over Delta at the National Hockey Stadium in Blantyre.
Lakers had finished fourth in their maiden continental appearance last year in Nairobi with 14 points and unbeaten, behind winners GRA who had 16 points from six matches.
Investigations by Nation Sport into the Blantyre fiasco reveal that the Lakers failed to update the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) on last minute player changes they made prior to departure to Malawi.
The club also failed to appraise organisers, the Malawi Hockey Association, on the changes.
“It leaves alot to be desired. If indeed Lakers made changes to the initial list that they had given to the KHU, why would they not have reached the same union to make the necessary arrangements,?” wondered a top KHU official who preferred anonymity.
“I'm sure the union could have written to the organisers informing them of the last-minute changes and I'm sure the process would have been smooth and, perhaps, all these could not have happened,” the official added.
“Again, there are alot of things that are not adding up…” the official was quick to add.
“If the organisers were using the initial list that was sent to them by the KHU, how then did they clear Lakers in the technical meeting before the event started using other list that had changes?
“How did they leave them to play the preliminary matches only for GRA, Blazers and Delta to rise the alarm?” questioned the official.
In the earlier interview with Nation Sport, Lakers’ team manager John Paul had revealed that indeed they sought the services of three external players - namely Kenyan international and Amira Sailors forward Gilly Okumu, Dutch Flower Group Wolverines star Pauline Ochieng and University of Nairobi’s Clementine Nyongesa.
But it is now emerging that the Lakers beefed up their squad with more than 10 players drawn from various clubs that compete in the Kenyan league, and who all made the long road trip to Malawi.
The list that was submitted to organisers, and which was seen by Nation Sport, had 16 names.
These included Millicent Adhiambo, Elizabeth Awour, Alice Owiti, Mourine Ochieng, Debra Otieno, Pauline Atieno, Aurellia Opondo, Stacy Achieng and Mercy Chelangat.
Others were Ashley Akinyi, Maureen Owiti, Gilly Okumu, Marion Kageha, Clementine Sims, Harriet Night and Grace Makokha.
Again, Nation Sport cannot verify if the Lakers intentionally gave wrong names of some of the players or mixed some of the names. Or was it a clerical error on the side of the organisers?
In the list seen when Lakers played their opponents, including Blazers and Capital Braves and Genetrix, the name Gilly Okumu was captured as Gilly Okuma, while Clementine Sims was captured as Clementine Nyongesa and Grace Makokha as Grace Akumu, a scenario that threw in further confusion.
Agneta Okuma and Yvette Kayandong, who were both not on the initial list, were on the team sheet.
Gilly and Koyandong were drawn from Amira club, while Ochieng and Chelagat and Kageha were hired from Wolverines.
United States International University-Africa had Mumbi, Akumu and Night drafted into the Lakers squad while the University of Nairobi’s Nyongesa was also contracted.
Africa Hockey Federation rules (Section C) on the qualification and eligibility of players and participating teams, states that “a National Association (NA) which enters a club will be responsible for approving the club’s list and for ensuring compliance with the AfHF requirement for qualification and eligibility of players.”
“Entry will be limited to the players who are officially registered with a participating club that is affiliated to the National Association and whose entry is approved by NA,” the rules say.
“However, each team may enter no more than three non-nationals, who must be registered with the club and resident in that country,” the rules add.
Asked if the KHU was privy to the list that Lakers submitted to the Malawi Hockey Association, the union source said the initial list didn't reflect the final list Lakers submitted to the organisers.
"We are only privy to the first list that the club sent to the organisers.
“Going forward, it's the jurisdiction of the club to ensure that any changes they make on the list are shared with the organiser.
“It is, therefore, unfortunate that the Lakers might not have done due diligence after making last minute changes and this burst their bubble,” the KHU source said.
At press time yesterday, we were unable to reach Lakers for further comment as they made their way into Dodoma by road.
They are expected back Wednesday, having made a 4,306-kilometre, 70-hour road trip to nowhere, and with nothing to show for their otherwise brave plunge.
Last night, word was awaited from the AfHF on Lakers’ fate with the Kenyans staring at sanctions that range from suspension to a hefty fine.