Kenyan footballers increasingly turn to bhang and stimulants for performance, risking health and careers, amidst a backdrop of unawareness and penalties.
Most people view football as a beautiful game, a dance between skill and strategy. But off the pitch, a dark cloud hangs over Kenyan football – the increasing use of bhang among its players.
Bhang, or marijuana, has long been associated with a myriad of effects, from euphoria to heightened senses. But in Kenya's football scene, it seems to serve a dual purpose – an enhancer on the pitch and a symbol of 'coolness' off it.
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The underbelly of Nairobi’s football community reveals a startling reality: smoking bhang or indulging in miraa has become more than just a personal choice. It is a ticket to acceptance.
"Smoking bhang gives me the edge. It's like I can see the play unfolding before it even happens," confided Patrick, a player for a top-tier club in the Football Kenya Federation Premier League (FKFPL).
He is not alone. Several players have admitted to smoking marijuana just hours before a match, believing it improves their performance. Such claims, while concerning, illuminate a culture of doping that is not restricted to Kenya alone but resonates with the alarming statistics provided by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Football, on a global scale, leads in the number of doping samples.
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However, what is even more alarming is the sheer ignorance that surrounds the act. As one insider puts it, "Our footballers are annoyingly ignorant. They dope openly, and without a care, because they don’t even know what doping is." With the Anti-Doping Act of 2016 in place, the stakes are high. Yet, most players are uninformed, putting them at great risk both legally and health-wise.
Richard, another footballer, speaks of the foreign influences that have exacerbated the issue. He recalls a teammate from Uganda introducing him to 'innovative techniques' that significantly improved their gameplay. “Initially, I was skeptical. But seeing him succeed game after game... it made a believer out of me.”
The narrative is not limited to bhang. Miraa, or khat, also plays a role. Chewing miraa is a pastime for many Nairobi-based players. Those who don't indulge are often sidelined, termed 'uncool', pushing more players into the circle of drug use.
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But why this surge in drug use among footballers? For Matayo, the reason is simple: “Every coach wants a player who will help them win matches, not one who shines during training but falters on match day. So, what would you do?” The pressure to perform and maintain one's position in a team can be immense.
Recent actions by the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) in 2022, where players Whyvone Isuza and Teddy Osok were suspended for use on unrevealed substances, show the seriousness of the issue. Non-compliance with the agency can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment and hefty fines. Given the average salaries of the FKFPL players, many could find themselves behind bars, unable to pay their fines.
Moreover, the implications aren't limited to players alone. Medical practitioners found prescribing these prohibited substances can face up to three years in jail or a fine of Sh3 million. Even football bodies risk deregistration if they fail to cooperate with the anti-doping agency.
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The overarching concern is the long-term impact on Kenyan football. As more players indulge in these practices, the essence of the sport—hard work, dedication, and fair play—gets overshadowed. The rising stars, once seen as symbols of hope and inspiration, are now shrouded in controversy, putting the future of Kenyan football in jeopardy.
As the sun sets over Nairobi's football grounds, the hope is for a cleaner, more transparent future for the sport. It's a call to action for governing bodies, coaches, players, and fans alike to ensure that the game's sanctity is preserved, and the nation's football legacy remains untarnished.
"The ball is in our court," concludes a passionate fan. "It's time we play it right."
Note: Names in the article have been changed to protect identities.