How far will CECAFA run this time?
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OWNER of the East African football has woken up from a two-year slumber and claims to have firmly reclaimed its 90-year reign.

This is the Council of East and Central African Football Association (CECAFA), the organisation that has kept East African football unified for many decades.

It has bounced back strongly, with detailed plans to revive its Senior Challenge Cup and picked Kenyan capital, Nairobi as its host. Challenge Cup returns to the regional scene after a two-year coma, as its last edition was held in 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Uganda, the undisputed king of the regional football, walked out with a diadem after beating Rwanda 1-0.

As announced during the official launch, 2017 Cecafa Challenge Cup has picked four venues, Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani, Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega, Moi Stadium in Kisumu, Afraha Stadium in Nakuru and the Mumias Sports Complex, as the main venues.

Also confirmed to play are hosts Kenya, defending champions Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Libya. Zimbabwe and Libya have replaced Eritrea and Djibouti as guest teams.

Adding a dimension to the spectacular comeback is the prize money structure which remains the same, as the winners will pocket 30,000 US dollars (about 70m/-), runnerups will take home 20,000 and 10,000 US dollars, respectively.

91 years have passed since the Challenge Cup was inaugurated as Gossage Cup in 1926 and then it involved only Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar. As CECAFA more countries joined alongside the central and Southern African neighbours; Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

But its two-year absence saw CECAFA territory facing a serious threat, the recently introduced Super Cup by SportPesa, being among the notable ones. The inactivity of CECAFA created a huge void which other thought they could create something similar to the club championship or Kagame Cup as it was know or the famous Senior Challenge Cup.

SportPesa introduced its Super Cup in Dar es Salaam bringing together Kenyan traditional rivals Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards and Tusker FC besides renewing the usual Tanzanian Simba and Young Africans rivalry.

Carrying the same colour and feeling, the tournament was almost a throwback to the mid 1973 East African Club Championship except it missed Ugandan envoys.

But what made it look better than the East African Club Championship was the package for every win and unusually, it even the awarded the loser. The tournament’s opening match between AFC Leopards and Singida United saw the winners pocketing 10m/-cash prize and the loser, Singida United getting 5m/- consolation prize.

Simply the tournament adheres to the professionalism that in a simple language a team is paid for entertaining. Though it didn’t go the way most Tanzania fans wished, but in future it is very likely to see the local giants Simba and Yanga meeting or the Kenya rivals; AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia locking horns.

In short The SportPesa Super Cup is a football competition created and sponsored by bookmakers SportPesa with all its matches taking place at Uhuru Stadium. The tournament’s inaugural edition drew eight-teams playing in a knockout format.

Apart from staging the football tournament for its East African teams, the firm also sponsored six of the participating teams, Gor Mahia FC, AFC Leopards SC and Nakuru AllStars FC from Kenya and in Tanzania, Yanga SC, Simba SC and Singida United FC from Tanzania won its sponsorship.

The winner of the 2017 SportPesa Super, Gor Mahia won a ticket to play against the English Premier League giants, Everton FC on July 13 this year. Starting tournaments like The SportPesa Super Cup was simply aimed to gather the best East African prospects, but in doing so, it threatened the reign of the council and many people though CECAFA was clinically dead.

CECAFA under Nicholas Musonye almost melted away since last seen in 2015. CECAFA, who for the past five decades, kept the regional football rolling, is surprisingly back and powerful from what has been disclosed as its both long and short terms plans.

The absence of the regional tournaments and inactivity of CECAFA made the East Af rica’s club champions, Azam FC to remain with the trophy for more than two seasons the same as Uganda Cranes who have remained East African Senior Challenge Cup title since 2015.

Musonye, CECAFA’s brave commander who has been fighting to rescue the council’s tournaments, is also back a rejuvenated fighter. He has not ducked out of sight as many football analysts claimed and likely to be seen much in Nairobi and Rwanda, venues of CECAFA men and women’s football tournaments.

Alongside the spectacular comeback CECAFA seems to have discovered means to end financial constraints, which most often is caused by lack of effective sponsorship. Now fully awake, the council has seen where it went wrong, but in a simple way it is commercialization of the regional football is the what needed most.

CECAFA needs to find means of survival and the best of them is to make the regional football produce skills and tournaments that can generate sustainable income to the council.

CECAFA must find all means to ensure 2017 round is well promoted and marketed to so as lure big audience and sponsors. We expect that CECAFA has come back with an everlasting solution to its big challenges.

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