Speak and be damned: All is not well with our gallant Junior Starlets

Junior Starlets

Kenya's Marion Serenge evades a tackle by Burundi's Ornella Nibizi during Fifa U-17 Women World Cup qualifier on June 16, 2024 at Ulinzi Sports Complex in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • It is the players who face the impact of such disappointing decisions.
  • It would be reassuring to see current stars speaking honestly off the pitch.

After a turbulent buildup and qualification process, the never-say-die attitude and resilience of Kenya Under-17 women's team has seen them etch their name in the history books as the first Kenyan team to qualify for a Fifa World Cup tournament.

Although we wish them well, it would be a stretch to expect them to return home with the trophy from their maiden appearance, or even to get out of the preliminary phase of the tournament.

A win or two will be good enough. The team’s next challenge, therefore, should be to learn how to speak up.

Before these gallant teenagers achieved the feat early this month, there was the Harambee Starlets class of 2016 that took Kenya to its maiden Africa Women’s Cup of Nations (Awcon).

They qualified for the continental showpiece for the very first time at a time when Kenya did not have women's league to talk of, and had endured harsh conditions in the Awcon qualifiers.

Anger and disappointment

But they booked a spot against all these odds. Regrettably, even after writing history they had their allowances delayed while injured members of the team were forced to pay for their medical fees. To add salt to injury, many of the financial pledges made to them were not fulfilled. 

Believe it or not, this was not the worst part. When they tried to speak up on these injustices, the federation moved to silence them by dropping the vocal players from the team. Those who remained were threatened with similar sanctions, and before we knew it, complaints dried out completely. 

Now the disgruntled players only voice their anger and disappointment in hushed tones. This is not doing the sport any service. It appears like history is repeating itself.

Currently the air is thick with reports that Junior Starlets players who got injured while in camp, or during the various qualification matches have been abandoned without being afforded proper medical care.

It has fallen on the parents, and the schools where these children go to find treatment for the injured players now that the team has already broken camp.

Speaking out honestly

More heart breaking is the fact that there are plans to block the injured players from receiving a share of the allowances, as well as the appreciation fees from the Sports Ministry.

This should not happen in this day. The growth of the women’s team should reflect both on the pitch, and outside of it. It is the players who face the impact of such disappointing decisions, so it would be a breath of fresh air to see them set the record straight and call out those who need to be called out.

It would also be reassuring to future generations of female players to see current stars speaking out as honestly off the pitch as they play on it.

From the recent youth protests, we have learned that our voices are all we have, and that, collectively, these voices are mighty and can indeed move mountains.