Chinese Sports Ensembles and Their Legacy

China is Super Super

If you are keen football fan, in 2017 you must have seen the kerfuffle the rumored move of one Diego Costa from 2016-17 English Premier League champions, Chelsea to some nondescript Chinese team and an even more nondescript football league.

Having lured Brazilian youngster Oscar with a multi-million deal from the same team it almost seemed a no-brainer that the Spanish striker (Costa) would follow suit without much ado. This was during the transfer window open within Dec-Jan mid-season break of the European leagues. However, the deal fell through but indeed the Chinese Super League – the top-tier football league had finally shone its spotlight to the rest of the world. This is a league which included some of the budding and former stars as Argentine Carlos Tevez, Brazilian Ramires,to name but a few. 

Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league - (Image courtesy of
Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league – (Image courtesy of


Interestingly this allure seemed to have attracted Kenya’s own striking talent, former Gor Mahia Michael Olunga who had plied his trade in Europe and seemed destined for the stars – who ended up with the Chinese club – Guizhou Zhicheng {he’s currently plying his trade in Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol}

Back to the Chinese Super League in football, thanks to the buzz created around it, it did get much coverage in mainstream media. This also forced the Chinese Football Federation (or should we say after a slight nudge of the ruling Communist Party…?) to introduce a quota, which forced the teams to limit the number of foreign players. A sampling of say 11 players, seven ought to be Chinese, two from the Asian continent in addition, two from other parts of the world or something close to that…

This was in a bid to curtail foreign players’ dominance (thanks to the allure of the monies involved). This also hastened introduction of a salary cap to ensure players will not run the clubs aground with extravagant pay packages. 

However, like some things Chinese, the Football League came with a bang – slowing down to a whimper. Early July 2017, 13 clubs in the top tier were in the red with claims of breach of financial regulations about pay, bonuses and players transfer fees. The Asian Football Confederation is in pursuit of these claims and hoping to iron the Chinese football scene; on sports infrastructure, Chinese cities have sought to bid for major sporting events with the highlight of this being the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games. This sports renaissance was an important milestone to announce the Chinese ‘dragon’ of the 21st century. 

Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of
Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of

Beyond their local space, the Chinese made deliberate moves into Africa and other developing economies to form the core of infrastructural projects. With what critics call stadium diplomacy, the Chinese authorities undertake to finance the construction or maintenance of stadia, in exchange the government of the day signs off with Chinese contractors offering support and exposure to their own. There are over 40 stadia constructed or refurbished by Chinese contractors in the last 10-15 years in Africa alone!  

In contemporary times, the Chinese aid focuses on themes of “equality, mutual benefit and no-strings attached”, according to China’s Information Office of the State Council. This form of committing foreign aid and subsidized loans makes the Chinese attractive to Government functionaries’ especially in Africa. 

 This model revamped the Kasarani stadium right here in Kenya. There was an urgency to the process as Kenya had bid and won to host the last World Under-18 Athletics championships early in July 2017. A successful event depending on how you view, though not without heavy Government subsidies – like the ‘free entry which saw the stadium fill to capacity in the last 2 days of the event.

Old is gold?
We pat ourselves in the back for hosting, an event of such magnitude even as the country prepares for a momentous election in August. It is important to note what the legacy of such huge infrastructure projects is and how the Government of China would support African governments.
The only other major sporting event (of such magnitude) besides this that Kenya held was the Africa Athletics championships in 2010 and the All-Africa Games in 1987. Both events necessitated the construction and refurbishment of two of the largest sports edifices in Kenya. Besides the occasional tournaments such as the Safari Sevens, Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and athletics meets, the venues usually go for long periods unused and in disrepair.

Estadio 11 De Novembro - Angola
Estadio 11 De Novembro – Angola

The current administration had promised five state-of-the-art stadia by 2017 while getting into government. In 2014-5, a baseline study was done on which venues were likely to be constructed or repaired; the process was both tedious and mired in both national and county diplomacy. Choosing whom to believe, we would think this was an overkill. As much as Kenya is a sporting powerhouse in the region and indeed in Africa, it would be prudent to look at what are the priorities – new investments in sports infrastructure or refurbishment and appraisal of existing stadia and sports facilities.
This needs to follow with a deliberate effort to engage the youth and citizenry in sporting activities both as a recreational and career activity. Unfortunately, the disjointed efforts from the national government, county administrators’ as well as sports bodies has seen the country without a coherent sports and recreation policy guideline.

Legacy and not the Subaru…
Perhaps one thing we ought to learn better from the Chinese or other ‘benevolent countries’ while developing our sports infrastructure is the legacy of these venues.
Examples such as the London Olympics venues in 2012 which have either been converted into national sporting venues or sold out to clubs, there is need to have a commercial viability to our sporting venues and sports investments.  Committing investments such as was done for the World Under-18 Youth Athletics champions then leaving these to lay waste is unacceptable. IAAF, which provided some of the funds to the event, was satisfied with the Government support. Collaborating with higher learning institutions, which would host sports infrastructure like the High Performance centre proposed at Kenyatta University, is a step in the right direction. Again though, there has to be deliberate and calculated move to engage the public in owning and using such facilities.
This will ensure the legacy of major sports events is not lost on the public and a sense of despair and dishonesty pervades sports edifices and related investments.

Back to our Asian partners. With the entreaties to our national governments to engage in exploiting opportunities for investing in Kenya and indeed in Africa, remember the populace will only accept to be blind for only so long. If there is no genuine public good in investing in such infrastructure, it will be a matter of time before the same public revolts and openly opposes any investments.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, “You don’t build a stadium, you build people, and the people build the stadium”. 

Of CECAFA 2012 , Issa Hayatou’s tightening CAF Presidency fist

Last Saturday opened this year’s account for the continent’s oldest footballing tournament. The opening game as aptly the one of hosts Uganda and their major protagonists Kenya. In what has become one of the most fearsome derbies in the region, the Cranes pipped the Stars by 1-0.

CECAFA wobbles along
This year though the tournament has managed to bring together almost all the Eastern and Central African teams with Malawi coming in as guests from the Southern part of Africa. After having had brief tiffs between the CECAFA Secretary-General Nicholas Musonye and the FKF Chair Sam Nyamweya, the tournament has gotten on without any hitches and with the added boon of being screened live on SuperSport (EA-9). Away from the pitch though, there was the annual congress held before the tournament as is tradition with most major football tournaments across the world. In that meeting, CECAFA chiefs (among them Kenya’s FKF) decided to back Issa Hayatou to another term at the helm of CAF – he’s been at it for 25 years and counting.
And as if not caring for the votes from this part of the world, Issa Hayatou admonished the CECAFA countries for not doing enough to host continental tournaments. None of the countries have ever hosted the Africa Cup of Nations ( the closest they ever came was when Kenya bid for the tourney in 1996 but bulked out before any ball was kicked). This is also seen in the fact that only Ethiopia is playing the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations after the rest missed qualification. Rwanda is the only country which came under positive light for having hosted the CAF under-17, under-20 and also bidding to host the CECAFA Senior Cup in 2015.
This says a lot about the countries from the region and the state of football therein. Compared to the Western, Northern and Southern countries, football is still under-performed in this region. From the lack of continental champions ( Uganda came closest, being losing finalists in 1978 to Ghana) and also for club championships where teams are routinely eliminated even before getting to the group stages ( the only club to have won continental honours is Kenya’s Gor Mahia before the Champions League format was introduced).
This may have informed the rather loud comment from Kenya’s new head coach Henri Michel of CECAFA tournament being ‘useless’ ( or maybe the words were lost in translation)…
Nonetheless as the tournament continues, football chiefs in the region need to find a way of raising the standards of the game. Both government and private enterprises will play a greater role in the realisation of this. But we should also call to account respective football associations/federations which need to get their act together and move from mere lip service and dependency on FIFA grants and blueprints and have an agenda for their own leagues.
Nicholas Musonye as Sec-General has managed to keep the various tournaments going and even attracting major sponsors every so often. But one man cannot manage a game of such magnitude. He would also need to build greater consensus across the federations. Also pushing CECAFA’s agenda across the continent and challenging to continental honours will be another role to be seen.

All the same, root for your favourite team as we here at SportsKenya might be doing for the Harambee Stars however rickety their form is!

Quick Facts:

  • CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup came up in 1973 though its forerunner is the Gossage Cup started in 1926 between Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zanzibar.
  • The Gossage Cup was sponsored by soap manufacturers’ of the same name under the Lever brothers- which is now Unilever plc (British-owned)
  • The 2012 CECAFA tournament is sponsored by Tusker under East Africa Breweries Limited ( Diageo-owned company).
  • Uganda has won the tournament 12 times since 1973, Kenya 5 times (including a 3-peat in 1981,82,83), Ethiopia 4 times (last time being 2005)
  • Only Ethiopia from the CECAFA region is playing in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
Issa Hayatou’s Iron Grip

Learn from the Best – Blatter (l) and Hayatou (r)
Image courtesy of   

As mentioned above, CAF President Issa Hayatou is in Kampala, Uganda to oversee the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup which ends in little over one week. It may seem that the respective football associations and federations have not made much of an impression to the longest serving football honcho on the continent.
Even then, our football officials have decided to back him up once again when the CAF elections come up in January 2013 in South Africa just before the kick-off of the continent’s biggest football showpiece.
And in what seems to be an effort to maintain the status quo, CAF underlings in September amended the constitution to bar any major competition to this Cameroonian-born sports official. The amend effectively barred anyone who is not serving at the CAF Executive Committtee from running for any top job.
This effectively ended any chance of highly favoured Danny Joordan from South Africa ( who led a successful bid and hosting of the 2012 World Cup). It also knocked out Jacques Anouma- Ivory Coast born was also going to throw his hat into the ring for the top job. Read this interesting post here about African football officials oblivious to changes around them.

Before Mohammed bin Hammamm in 2011, the only other person to have opposed Sepp Blatter’s FIFA reign was Issa Hayatou in 2002. But unlike bin Hammamm who was hounded out even before he got his name on the ballot, Hayatou did manage to save face and ended up mending fences albeit conveniently with Sepp. He currently sits as one of FIFA’s Vice-President. He also managed to become a member of the IOC representing FIFA though was shrouded in controversy late last year on corruption claims which were later dropped, but the damage had already been done. FIFA and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) had to drop his involvement in the Games football discipline. But this has not stopped him learning from Blatter, managing to run CAF’s show almost as a one-man show. It is also rumoured that he is not in the best shape and suffers from some undisclosed condition. Wonder what new ideas he would have that have not been seen in the last 25 years of his reign.

On Monday 26th November, Liberian football authorities challenged CAF’s amendment in the Court of Appeal for Sport (CAS) hoping to reverse the changes made in September. This is a far shot but still one of the many measures football authorities will need to come up to see a fair election. And while it remains to be seen if there will be any other worthy challengers to Hayatou’s long reign, it will be important that the game remains the primary goal for seeking to head the organisation. But with the largess and political connections that comes with these positions, it will continue attracting more vested parties than those out to help the growth and sustenance of the football game.

For more on Issa Hayatou, check his link here and also read this piece from World Soccer’s Mark Gleeson.