Unending story of misery in sports must be addressed

Dubai Sevens

Nathan Lawson (left) and Dietrich Roache (right) of Australia are tackled by Nelson Oyoo (centre) of Kenya during a match of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2022 in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on December 2, 2022. 

Photo credit: Karim Sahib | AFP

Kenya’s rugby teams to the Dubai Sevens finally participated in the tournament but not before their departure was almost derailed because of lack of travel costs and allowances.

It really is shameful the way we treat our sports heroes – these selfless Kenyans who are doing so much to earn Kenya global recognition and cheer yet getting so little joy and support while doing this.

The plight of the men’s rugby team was highlighted through a tweet from a member of the rugby fraternity appealing to Kenyans with any little money to spare to send it to an M-Pesa number as a contribution towards ensuring that the team made it to Dubai. This surprising plea elicited plenty of responses, many shocked with the request at a time when the William Ruto government is on a charm offensive to win over souls.

One flabbergasted Kenyan on Twitter targeted Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba, who was having a swell time spectating at the World Cup in Qatar. He asked the minister to please spare some change from his generous allowance in Qatar to respond to the plea for M-Pesa donations!

A tired line

He probably did not donate but he was quick to organise a meeting with Kenya Rugby Union officials and come out of it “with a warning to the officials to manage rugby better”.

A tired line that is profoundly incapable of eliciting any positive action from whomever it is targeted. Proof of that is that the rugby officials could not be trusted to disburse the allowances to the teams in Dubai. This had to be sent directly — from the government, one presumes — to the recipients.

Rugby seems to be spiralling fast into the cesspit of ignominy to join our once glorified cricket, hockey and basketball teams, and our national soccer, the permanent resident in this dump.

How does rugby, arguably for long the best commercially supported sport in this country, find itself in this deplorable state? My guess is that benefactors have not been satisfied that their money is being properly utilised and have decided to direct it elsewhere.

It is not true that there is no sponsorship cash. Safaricom, once a very generous rugby sponsor, is still spending serious money in golf.

KCB’s love affair with motor sports continues and the cash-rich betting firms are still spending, albeit at much lower levels. The Tusker brand was a big spender in sports and its pulling back is not because Kenya Breweries is broke. Far from it.

The malaise of Kenya sports is management at the micro level and enforcement of a national ethos that stops encouraging managers to see sports as easy short-term cash vending machines, and instead value games as highly valuable national assets through which the country can provide lucrative employment opportunities for its restless youth.

It can also derive from sports copious amounts of effective marketing value. But there has to be a deliberate plan for it to achieve this – in conceptualisation and execution.

President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza coalition promised that within 100 days of being in office, it would establish a high-level expert task force to “identify sustainable sources of sports funding, with the consideration of a national lottery, tax incentives to encourage corporate sponsorships, a dedicated tax and a public-private partnership structure for infrastructure development.”

A well-resourced function within the Tourism ministry was to be set up to appeal for international sporting events, as was the intent to develop a sports attire manufacturing unit. But most importantly in my view was the plan to expand the National Youth Talent Academy to include all sports, devolve it to county level and introduce a County Sports Talent Academy “to spot talent” and provide necessary support through sponsorship.

Rosy update

This is actually not a bad plan, although Mr Namwamba and his team do not have a very rosy update for Kenyans with regard to the first 100 days.

They will be forgiven for that failure if they can show movement on the critical areas of streamlining sports management at the micro level, demonstrate a serious intent to generate in sustainable manner funds to invest in sports and initiate the process of partnering with counties to spot and genuinely nurture talent to its fulfilment.

Coddling a tainted soccer administration that awaits its day in court just to curry favour with the international federation in charge of soccer is not the way to reassure fans that their misery will end soon.

To clean up sports and allow the gem that is Kenya sports to shine through calls for intense scrubbing, vacuuming and even some extraction. Mr Namwamba should stop smiling with these people stunting sports and kick some butt!

Mr Mshindi, a former editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi)

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