We are ready, federations plead for full resumption of sport

Health officials fumigate the benches at Nyayo Stadium before friendly match between Kenya and Zambia.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • To ensure safeguard of health of athletes and others involved in sports, major local and international sporting events were either cancelled or postponed
  • Football, basketball, handball,  and volleyball officials insist they have put in place everything necessary for resumption of sports and want government to allow them to resume competitions
  • According to Nyaberi, KVF has banned all forms of social contact (pre-match and post-match handshakes) and even banned celebratory punching by players as they celebrate a point

Sports is a major contributor to economic and social development.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic globally, health protocols such as social distancing and lockdown have been effected in organisations, businesses and learning institutions in an effort to control the spread of the disease , thereby disrupting many aspects of life, including sport.

To ensure safeguard of health of athletes and others involved in sports, major local and international sporting events were either cancelled or postponed. From athletics, football, basketball, handball, ice hockey, rugby, cricket, sailing, skiing, weightlifting to wrestling, all sporting disciplines were affected.

The 2020 Olympics and Paralympics were postponed for the first time in the history of the modern Games, and will be held next year, something that has impacted the sporting world, Kenya included. The global value of the sports industry is estimated at Sh82 trillion (approximately US$756 billion) annually.

Normalcy returning

Due to Covid-19, millions of jobs have been put at risk globally, not only for sports professionals but also for those in related retail and service industries. Sports-related industries which include travel, tourism, infrastructure, transport, catering, media, among others have been affected.

But life is slowly returning to normal in most countries, and sporting events are resuming gradually under strict protocols.

Most major European leagues have resumed and although fans are not allowed inside the stadiums, they can enjoy the action on TV.  Yet locally, Kenyan sports administrators have only allowed partial resumption of sporting activities, leaving many questions unanswered.

On September 18,  Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed allowed the resumption of non-contact sports in phases. All contact sports remain suspended. Amina announced that all outdoor recreational non-contact sporting activities, private fitness clubs and other sporting clubs would reopen immediately.

A screen grab of Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed releasing the resumption of sports protocols via Zoom on September 18, 2020. With her is Sports Principal Secretary Joe Okudo.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

Athletics, lawn tennis, weightlifting, badminton, cricket cycling, equestrian, horse racing, golf, motorsport, fencing, shooting and squad are among the sports that were allowed to resume competitions.

Football, swimming, judo, rugby,  karate, hockey, handball, basketball, volleyball, netball, wrestling, wheelchair basketball and team building activities remained suspended.

Football leagues in African countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Zambia, Rwanda, and Tanzania are on. In Kenya, federations that will field teams in international tournaments are crying foul, with officials saying their teams may never be at a level playing ground when they take on opponents from other countries due to lack of game time.

Kenya’s national football team Harambee Stars played Zambia’s Chipolopolo in an international friendly match at the Nyayo National Stadium on Friday, with the home team winning 2-1 but a keen person could easily notice that Kenya’s foreign-based players whose leagues have resumed did much better while local-based players struggled, especially in the last quarter of the game.

Kenya's winger Cliff Nyakeya (left) watches as Zambia's Mwape Tandi turns the ball into his own net during their international friendly match at Nyayo Stadium on October 9, 2020.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) has fallen behind schedule, and officials have pleaded with Ministry of Sports to allow them to start KVF leagues. According to KVF’s rearranged calendar, the leagues should serve off this month.

“When we were classified rather harshly as a contact sport, we accepted the classification and we took all the necessary precautions by setting  up a commission that came up with protocols for volleyball,” KVF Vice-President Charles Nyaberi told Nation Sport Sunday, adding that KVF has domesticated protocols from the government and  those from world body FIVB to be observed by all.

According to Nyaberi, KVF has banned all forms of social contact (pre-match and post-match handshakes) and even banned celebratory punching by players as they celebrate a point. KVF has banned handshakes among teammates and has made plans for fumigation of match venues. Personnel with thermo-guns will be stationed at all entrances of match venues to take temperatures of those entering the venues.

Kenya Pipeline setter Janet Wanja (right) sets the ball as Kenya Prisons outside hitter Mercy Moim prepares to block during their Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) end of season play-offs match at Kasarani Indoor Arena on November 22, 2019.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Match balls will be frequently sanitised, and anyone with suspected symptoms will not access match venues. Nyaberi said KVF is coming up with a Covid-19 prevention education programme for all players and officials.

“In volleyball, we are ready and prepared. Our new season kicks off in October and will run till June, and we are a bit worried that we are running out of time because the opponents we will play are out and running,” he said.

Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) treasurer Peter Orero says the federation is ready for resumption of competitions, having put in place all measures indicated by the Sports ministry.

“As a federation we have tried to meet all the required health protocols. We have bought thermo-guns for screening, made arrangements for social distancing and we will restrict the number of players in our training sessions to 10 only. We will not even allow fans inside our gymnasium," Orero said.

Orero added that the federation would engage ambulance services and have isolation rooms just in case one is found to be having symptoms of Covid-19. According to him, the Covid-19 period has presented one of the worst periods for local sportsmen and women. A majority who depend on sports as their only source of livelihood have had to endure six months without pay.

He said many basketball coaches employed on contracts lost their jobs and are undergoing untold suffering, same as others on scholarships in various institutions of higher learning which closed shop due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are not therefore sure of their educational status.

“We have put together a Covid-19 steering committee that will implement health protocols at both national and grass root levels. It will liaise with the branches and every other time there is a competition , the committee will take charge,”  he said.

Kenya Morans players celebrate their win against Somalia during their Fiba Afrobasket 2021 qualifier match at Nyayo Gymnasium stadium in Nairobi on January 16, 2020.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Orero says KBF’s problem is three-fold. National men’s team Kenya Morans is due to compete in Afro-Basket qualifiers on November 27 in Senegal, while women’s clubs Equity Bank and Kenya Ports Authority are due to compete in Fiba Zone Five Club Championships in Dar es salaam.

Men’s premier league team Ulinzi Warriors which will represent Kenya in preliminaries of Basketball Africa League in January next year is expected in training.

Gladys Chillo who plays for Kenya Handball Federation women’s league team Nairobi Water says that the handball fraternity has been hit hard, and players have not earned any income because all the international events were shelved.

The left wing and back court player says they could not travel to defend the East and Central Africa title as well as participate in the African Club Championships. Each player stood to earn an average of Sh50, 000 per championship.

Hosting regional tourney

Kenya Handball Federation’s technical director, Charles Omondi, has said officials have put in place all the requirements necessary for resumption of sporting competitions, among them purchase of thermo-guns, hand sanitizers, and face masks. He wants the government to allow competitions to resume.

“We are hosting the East and Central Africa handball championship in Nairobi in November and want our players ready with match practice to prevent cases of players struggling towards the end of matches,” he said.

For his part, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa said the federation is ready to resume football competitions.

Mwendwa reckons that last Friday’s friendly match between Kenya and Zambia highlighted FKF’s preparedness.

“We are ready for football to return. We have been in talks with the government and we are ready to follow the protocols on resumption, including consistent testing of players and sanitising the buses and football equipment,” Mwendwa said.

Kenya's winger Cliff Nyakeya (left) celebrates with Masud Juma (centre) and Erick Johanna after Zambia's Mwape Tandi turned the ball into his own net during their international friendly match at Nyayo Stadium on October 9, 2020.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

He assured stakeholders that FKF had met all the guidelines put in place by the Sports ministry.

Speaking on behalf of football players, Allan Wanga, captain of Kenyan Premier League club Kakamega Homeboyz, said that the players have suffered a lot, with some being forced to take up odd jobs to earn a living after losing income in the form of salaries and allowances due to inactivity.

“Going for eight months without work and pay is not easy. I hope we can soon return to playing football,” Wanga, a Kenyan international, said.

His sentiments echoed by Tusker FC coach  Robert Matano, who said the situation is as though all football coaches lost their  jobs.

“I am banking on the government to help us resume football because we need to work. These youth have to be busy even as we fend for our families and struggle with things like school fees now that schools are reopening,”  he said on Sunday.

Federations officials have indicated that they are ready for the resumption of sporting activities and are appealing to the Sports ministry to facilitate the same.