Toxic politics keeps former players out of sports leadership

Ivory Coast's football star Didier Drogba plays with a ball on the football ground of the Primary School Didier Drogba during its inauguration on January 18, 2018 in Pokou-Kouamekro, near Gagnoa, central-western Ivory Coast.

Photo credit: File | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Active or retired athletes better understand where the shoe pinches, literally and metaphorically, for many reasons.
  • They are people whose careers flourished in spite of the leadership by heads of national federations, not because of it.

A common thread running in arguments by those making the case for former athletes to take up leadership roles is that sportsmen and women, active or retired, have walked miles in the shoes of those they intend to serve and, therefore, stand to make better leaders.

They are of the opinion that if an alligator comes out of the water and tells you that the crocodile is sick, you are compelled to believe the alligator because he lives in the same environment as the crocodile.

And rightly so. Active or retired athletes better understand where the shoe pinches, literally and metaphorically, for many reasons.

They are people whose careers flourished in spite of the leadership by heads of national federations, not because of it.

If they were not sacrificed in the team to make room for mistresses of officials to travel to tournaments abroad, they must have perfected the art of keeping a stiff upper lip to survive poor leadership which threatened to kill their careers early.

And they have probably had to stifle their indignation when detained at the lobby of their team hotel during international assignments abroad because a politically-connected team official did not pay for their accommodation in time.   

If we draw leaders from within sports, we are unlikely to end up with a turncoats with egos the size of your wily governor’s bank account and the temper of a Tasmanian devil.

Those of this view don’t mind if the individual is still active in sports, but their ideal candidate is a venerable former Kenyan international who will not manufacture scandals at a rate that is too fast to keep up with.

But such candidates may not survive the toxic internal politics at the national federation.

In football, think about Cote d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba, winner of 2012 Uefa Champions League with English Premier League giants Chelsea. Other than captaining Cote d’Ivoire from 2006 till his retirement in 2014 and emerging the all-time leading goal scorer for his country, the Chelsea legend’s bid to become head of the Ivorian federation suffered a big blow after he secured zero votes from members of the Association of Former Ivorian Footballers.

I’m not sure whether George Weah would have lost, had he sought to become president of Liberia’s football federation, but what is clear is that the former AS Monaco, Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea and Arsenal player who became the first and only African to win the Fifa World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or titles unsuccessfully vied for his country’s presidency in 2005. He clinched the seat in 2017.

We know how former Harambee Stars, Parma and Inter Milan midfielder McDonald Mariga fared when he sought to be Kibra MP last year. On election day, Mariga, the first Kenyan to win the Uefa Champions League title, was sent to the cleaners. Drogba, Mariga and Weah (initially) were playing on an unfamiliar terrain.

The counter-argument is that good sports managers need not necessarily have excelled in sports.  To a great extent this view is valid as far as academic papers are concerned.

While academic training teaches one how to transform sports into a commercially-viable venture, playing in a team imparts team work, patience, fairness and perseverance on the player. Both sets of skill are key.
 
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Gor Mahia-bound Benson Omala has again proven that with proper investment in grassroots football, players can be guaranteed of a future.

The Kenya U--20 player came through the ranks courtesy of grassroots football tournament “Chapa Dimba na Safaricom.”

He was part of the Chapa Dimba na Safaricom All Star team that toured Spain last year after emerging top scorer in the Nyanza tournament.

Safaricom has shown that firms can play a huge role in bettering the lives of people among whom they conduct business.

Mwamba is a Senior Sub-Editor at Nation Media Group. jmwamba@ke.nationmedia.com