Kenya's keeper speaks out
Earlier this month, Kenya’s Harambee Stars went to Tunisia to play a friendly international match against Libya.
Kenya won 3-0 courtesy of a brace from Ligue 1 Ajaccio striker Dennis Oliech and one goal by AFC Leopards front man Paul Were. All Kenyans celebrated that we had beaten a team ranked nearly 80 places ahead of us. I even went on to praise the Football Kenya Federation for organising a friendly on a Fifa-recognised friendly week; something that was totally unheard of under the previous administration.
This joy was short-lived as Stars’ first choice goalkeeper Arnold Origi, who plies his trade for Lillestrom in Norway, exposed some shortcomings in the way the national team is handled while on national duty. My supersport.com colleague Claudia Ekai raised some of these issues where she quoted his rants on Facebook:
“Performing the way they did under the poor circumstances that they were put in, to be quite honest, no Kenyan should EVER, EVER doubt the patriotism of any Kenyan player. The way the national team is being handled must change ASAP because this is just a disgrace…”
I managed to call Origi during my radio show last Saturday. Here are edited portions of that conversation, although I’m not sure I will be able to capture the pain in his voice and the moments he came close to tears.
Roy and Kieni are my co-hosts on the show.
Me: You were very vocal, after the Libya game, about some of the facilities, or should I say lack of facilities, that were provided for you. Just go over what was not right.
Origi: From day one, at the airport, we had some equipment that was donated five years ago. We didn’t look like a team. People passed by and asked us, “Which team is this?” We said, “The Kenya national team”. Then they asked, “Is it the A-team? You don’t look like a team. You just look like passengers at the Tunisian airport.”
As this point Origi’s voice began to shake.
Origi: This is a shame. We’re like a laughing stock because we don’t look like a team. We look like a bunch of schoolboys on a school trip or a bunch of friends.
Roy: Why did you look like that? What was the problem?
Origi: (angrily) Oh the equipment. The tracksuits, the uniform. The things that we had were either bad quality or not enough. Somebody had a jacket, the other one had jeans.
Roy: This was the national team?
Origi: On my way to Tunisia I ran into the national team of Greece. They had swag. From afar you could see that was a national team. People were stopping them, taking photos, asking for autographs. They looked like a national team. Then I got to Tunis and saw our team and I was ashamed. This is not the first time you know.
I remember, when we were on our way to play Togo (in June last year), we camped in Ghana. I don’t think there were any arrangements. The hotel wasn’t expecting us, so dinner was not ready for us. We arrived at around 1am in the morning and they said there was nothing to eat. We ended up having to go to some kiosk in the estate in Ghana. (Sigh)
There’s no pride, there’s no prestige in the Kenya national team.
Me: Yet we, the fans, are sitting at home saying you people must bring back results, not quite understanding what you’re going through.
Origi: I don’t think any player in the world, in any country, would put up with what Kenyan players put up with to represent Kenya.
Roy: What was wrong with the actual uniform you were issued with in Tunisia?
Origi: We were training in Tunisia and the temperatures were between 9 and 10 degrees. Now imagine a person coming from 30 degrees. The players didn’t have anything to combat the cold. People had to take the “kikois” that were given on the plane to each player (laughs half-heartedly) to cover themselves. We didn’t have thermal underwear.
Me: When all this is happening Origi where is the Federation? What are they saying? Are they there watching the training? What’s going on?
Origi: Ah there were delegates. The leaders of the delegation were there. They said we must wait for the new government to come in and there’ll be a change. I did not agree with them. There are so many sponsors and it’s not that difficult to get kit sponsors for the national team. Even third division clubs in Norway have all this equipment so why not the national team of Kenya? This is a very big institute you know.
Me: Arnold what do you want to tell the Federation
Origi: We talk to them all the time. We tell them these things. They should bring pride and prestige in the national team. Now I know it might be difficult with the current economic situation; a lot of national teams are struggling at the moment but equipment is basic. From the day you report to camp to the day you leave camp, you should look like a team. This is what brings pride.
If you ask a player of Brazil or Spain why they are proud of playing for the national team, he’ll say because of the colours. The jersey has the colours of the flag. In Kenya you’re given a torn track-suit to wear.
Me: Yes, there was a time the Stars had to remove their tracksuits at the airport to give to under-20s who were flying out for another assignment.
Origi: The living conditions at the camp are worse than the living conditions at your homes. If you come to the national team, after a muddy training session you have to wash your own clothes.
Me: On the issue of flights Arnold. Did you pay for your own flight? Were you refunded? Or were you sent a ticket?
Origi: To be honest I have paid for my ticket a couple of times and I have always been refunded so I
Me: Arnold thank you for talking about it because you are one of the few players who are brave enough to talk about it. I’m not criticising the others because I know for a fact that there’s a player whose been threatened that he will never play for Harambee Stars again because he asked for a refund of his ticket.
Origi: Of course. Especially the locally based players. I understand that they cannot speak because they’ll be victimized and they feel like they don’t have a voice. It has to change. When my dad was playing for the national team it was the same situation. Things have to change.
Me: It has to change.
Efforts to reach Football Kenya Federation Chairman Sam Nyamweya on Saturday proved fruitless.