Disturbing news indeed, those were. That Sakata Ball football tournament has been cancelled.

This popular tournament was among the several competitions funded by corporate bodies that flourished during the period that our football was on its knees.

The others were Copa Coca Cola and the Orange Mabingwa tournaments. When the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) was elected last October, the officials said they would be streamlined to involve the member association in their organisation.

These tournaments filled the void that was created by the absence of a functional youth development programme. There was too much concentration on the national football team, Harambee Stars, to the almost exclusion of other activities and tournaments.

Through these privately-sponsored tournaments, coaches, both at club and national team levels, can tap into raw talent. It is this talent that will take over from the ageing national players.

Through these youth tournaments, we can sustain the flow of quality players into different national teams, from under-20 through to the senior team.
Copa Coca Cola was launched and its organisation is ongoing countrywide.

There are divided opinion in the current matter of FKF and Safaricom-sponsored Sakata Ball tournament. Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said in a statement cancelling the launch on May 31 that FKF made some unreasonable demands on the eve of the launch of the tournament.

FKF says they wanted 20 per cent of the total sponsorship fees as administration fees. They want to select and pay referees. With the total sponsorship of Sh60 million, the demand fee was around Sh12 million, half of which was to be paid upfront. Safaricom insists they have to handle logistics.

Sakata Ball started in 2010 as a boys-only tournament. Last year, it involved girls, who today are majority in the national under-20 women’s team.

Besides, a few boys ended up in Kenyan Premnier League sides like Anock Agwanda of Sony Sugar and Abdi Malik, formerly of Gor Mahia, who has even gone for trials abroad. Players came from as diverse background as Pokot and Turkana, among other remote areas.

The telecommunications service provider, like many corporates, seem to have the perception that football officials cannot be entrusted with money.

Since his election last year, the Sam Nyamweya-led committee has been assuaging sceptics to give them a chance to revive football. But the cynicism by a cross section of the public does not seem to go away.

Few seem to believe them. Before the FKF came into office, Safaricom had contemplated sponsoring the league, but somewhere along the way, they dropped that grand plan.

Are they stuck in that old mind set? Even Fifa has faced major accusations of financial accountability or lack of it. But some of the world’s richest companies have continued dolling out their money to support global football.

Pro-active thinkers are saying the federation should be given the benefit of doubt. Kenya is now more open and the public can demand accountability, if they feel it is necessary.

Safaricom, like other potential sponsors, will need to live with the fact that FKF is the member association and that the ground has shifted dramatically vis a vis their relationship with world governing body. With this in mind, the FKF has a mandate to sanction all football tournaments.

The flip side is that without private funding, football cannot run effectively. It is that private money that oils the engine of football management.

This is why FKF and Safaricom ought to rethink their positions and look at the bigger picture, which is to popularise football and give the youth a chance.

— The writer is The Standard Sports Editor