Congrats Kenya 7s for continually punching above your weight globally
What you need to know:
- Rather moan, let us celebrate Shujaa and the Oscar Osirs, Felix Ochiengs, Benjamin Ayimbas, Humphrey Kayanges, Collins Injeras, Lavin Asegos, Willy Ambaksa, Andrew Amondes, Biko Ademas, Billy Odhiambos, Alvin Otienos et al for their outstanding performance in the abridged version of the game.
- I look forward to seeing Kenya, with the usual meagre resources, again punching above their weight in the World Series. Sooner rather than later.
Hysteria. That was the reaction of Kenyans, many who follow, and many others who do not follow the game after the relegation of Kenya as a core team in the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Here is a random sample of Twitter retorts.
“I never thought I would live to see @KenyaSevens relegation from the World Rugby series core teams.”
“Heartbroken @KenyaSevens time to rebuild with proper structures.”
“Watching Kenya Sevens get Relegated is one of the saddest thing I have ever seen.”
“The relegation of @KenyaSevens from the @WorldRugby7s Series is a shocker for many people.”
“End of an era as Kenya relegated from World Rugby Sevens Series.”
“Not surprised, we all saw it coming.”
I have not named the authors. No need to. It was clearly an emotional moment for most rugby enthusiasts reeling from the demotion, not unlike a noisy, cocky fan supporting a team that enters a tournament as favourites only to be eliminated in the preliminaries. The deflated supporters needed to vent for the sake of their sanity, and for closure.
Kenya agonizingly lost 12-7 to Canada in the final match of their relegation play-off in London to miss out on the 12th and final slot for the 2023/24 World Rugby Sevens Series.
What many social commentators may not know is that for the first time in the history of the 24-year series, each leg will involve 12 countries from next season, down from the previous 16-nation affair.
This is to put the series at par with the women’s competition that features a similar number of teams.
It thus meant that for this season, only the top 11 nations would be guaranteed of a core status for the 2023-2024 competition.
And Kenya performed within their limits, finishing a credible 13th. This performance would easily have kept them in the Series had it retained the decade-old 15 core teams format.
Shujaa had to fight for the final slot with 12th-ranked Uruguay, 14th-ranked Canada and the winner of the Challenger Series this season, Tonga. Unfortunately, it was not to be and for the first time since 2003-2004 season, Kenya will not be part of the elite world sevens tournament.
My small analysis shows me that Kenya Sevens have been regularly punching above their weight.
The country played in just two tournaments – Dubai and South Africa – in the inaugural Series in 1999-2000, losing all their matches.
It was the same case for the next two World Series where Kenya did not gain any ranking points until 2003 when the country finished in 10th position.
Kenya was included amongst the 12 core teams named by World Rugby for the 2008-2009 season. This was the season when they reached the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup in Dubai and finished sixth in the World Series.
World Rugby did not change the core teams in subsequent seasons and in fact increased them to 15 in the 2012-2013 season. Incidentally, it is in that season that Kenya recorded their best ever finish in the series, at position five.
From 2013, the bottom-placed core team faced automatic relegation. Kenya consistently stayed safe, sometimes impressively, like in the 2015-2016 season when they won their first ever leg – Singapore Sevens – on their way to finishing seventh, and less so, like in 2015 and 2019 when they desperately battled to avoid the big chop, eventually finishing in identical positions 13.
In all the 24 World Series outings, Kenya Sevens have finished in the top 10 11 times, with three 13th-placed finishes, four 12th-placed finishes and three seasons in which they were not even ranked.
To have rocked and excited the World Sevens Series over the last quarter century, giving rugby powerhouses like New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa, England, France and Australia brimming with professional players a run for their money shows just how special Kenya Sevens have been.
Because a closer look at Kenyan rugby will show that it is basically a struggling amateur sport. Local clubs struggle to get by with scarce resources. There is no worthwhile sponsorship to talk about and little in terms of gate collection.
The game’s flagship tournaments, Kenya Cup, Enterprise Cup, and the National Sevens Circuit have for ages been staged without any meaningful sponsorship that can support the game and the players.
A pseudo-professional set-up exists at the national sevens level that relies on unreliable sponsorship and its concomitant chaos when it is not forthcoming. A top-up approach that has frankly not benefited the game.
Our player base is still pitiably small. Added to that, our facilities have changed little from three decades ago.
With this background, Kenya Sevens are time and again expected to go out there and beat nations with impressive resources and superior funding.
My estimation is, Kenya Sevens have done extremely well on the global scene, recent relegation notwithstanding.
Rather moan, let us celebrate Shujaa and the Oscar Osirs, Felix Ochiengs, Benjamin Ayimbas, Humphrey Kayanges, Collins Injeras, Lavin Asegos, Willy Ambaksa, Andrew Amondes, Biko Ademas, Billy Odhiambos, Alvin Otienos et al for their outstanding performance in the abridged version of the game.
I look forward to seeing Kenya, with the usual meagre resources, again punching above their weight in the World Series. Sooner rather than later.