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Oct 3, 2006

Kenyan fans want national team banned by FIFA

NAIROBI, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Fed up with years of squabbling and shambles in Kenyan soccer, frustrated fans are urging world governing body FIFA to make good on a threat to ban the east African nation from international competition.

Such a move, they hope, would force a fresh start to soccer in Kenya which has been in decline since its heyday in the late 1980s and keenly feels its inferiority compared to the successful west African nations.

'We've held big guns like Cameroon and Nigeria here a few years ago and we have the potential to be a great footballing nation but our officials are only interested in their individual ambitions,' said one diehard fan, George Zambia.

'I have given up watching local soccer. I don't even go to the stadium any longer because of the mediocrity of our soccer and wrangling,' added a former fan, Isaiah Olale.

Infighting is tearing apart the Kenya Football Federation (KFF), and the national side, Harambee Stars, which used to be a symbol of unity, is a shadow of the team that reached the 1987 African Games final.

'FIFA should just kick Kenya out of the international competitions for one or two years to make officials learn the importance of good management,' said Zambia.

The chaos in Kenyan soccer has led to matches being played in near-empty stadiums, as disenchanted fans instead pay between 20 ($0.28) and 100 Kenyan shillings to watch English premier league games on television in the slums or in trendy pubs in downtown Nairobi.

Few Kenyan players have moved abroad, apart from one or two such as Dennis Oliech of French Ligue 1 side Nantes and Musa Otieno who plays for South Africa's top-division side Sanlam Santos.

Those who have stayed behind sometimes struggle to pay bus fares to and from their daily training sessions. National team players went on strike last year, demanding settlement of outstanding allowances.

Lowly Eritrea beat Kenya 2-1 in a humiliating African Cup of Nations qualifier on Sept. 2. Then came the acrimonious exit of former French international Bernard Lama, who had been the coach of the national team for a month before quitting in disgust.

'Can fans take it any more when we see poorer nations like Togo and Angola at the World Cup?' asked former international defender Austin Oduor.

The fiasco reached its lowest point last year when two KFF officials were beaten up by hired thugs and left for dead at the height of the rivalry in the national governing body.

That was shortly after FIFA had lifted a threat to ban Kenya from international soccer because of government interference in running the sport.

The problems have persisted and infighting is still rife.

In the latest chaos, Kenyan clubs defied a government order to stop parallel Premier League competitions - run by competing organisations - and went ahead with matches when the new season got underway in mid-September.

Despite a warning from FIFA President Sepp Blatter for Kenya to sort out the mess by Oct. 18 or face sanctions, both the KFF and the Kenya Premier League Limited (KPL) are ploughing their own courses.

In theory, KPL, which was set up last year by Premier League clubs to run their fixtures after the FIFA ban was lifted, and KFF should work together, but in practice they are bitter rivals, fighting for control of the league.

Nine clubs have joined KPL while 11 are with the KFF's league.

Sports minister Maina Kamanda said last week that unless one of the two leagues closed down by Tuesday he would intervene.

'The government should disband KFF and set up a transitional committee. They should explain to FIFA that KFF is unable to run the sport and we will escape sanctions,' said Oduor.

KPL wants an agreement reached in Cairo last January after a meeting between KFF, the African Football Confederation (CAF), FIFA and the Kenyan Government to be implemented.

The agreement gave the KPL the mandate to run the Premier League, only for the KFF to set up its league, arguing that the KPL's mandate had ended last season.

'We have implemented nearly all the demands of the Cairo agreement,' said KFF chairman Alfred Sambu in a letter to Blatter last week.