What you need to know:
- The petitioners were offended by the fact an African qualifier, involving African nations, was being hosted in a different continent
- I am more inclined to start my own petition to the Kenya Rugby Union to radically change their age-old strategy to take us to the Promised Land
- The quarters will see Namibia battle Burkina Faso, Senegal play Algeria, Uganda take on Kenya and Zimbabwe face Côte d’Ivoire
It has been said that the rough and tumble game of rugby is a thugs game played by gentlemen. To that, I add it is followed by gentlemen too.
Two weeks ago, Rugby Africa, the game’s continental governing body, announced that the 2023 Rugby World Cup Africa qualifiers will be staged in France in July next year.
Rugby Africa (RA) explained that it had invited its 39 national affiliates as well as France 2023 (organisers of the 2023 World Cup) to place bids for hosting the final round of qualifiers.
France 2023 was chosen through voting by the RA Executive Committee after careful consideration of the well-being, health and safety of the players.
RA president Khaled Babbou, while thanking France 2023 for its support, noted that this would be the confederation’s most important tournament to date as it would bring, for the first time, eight teams together that would showcase the continent’s game.
Babbou acknowledged the bids of the Kenyan, Zimbabwean and Namibian unions saying these federations “regularly organise other major tournaments for Rugby Africa brilliantly.”
Whether this was to placate these unions for losing their bids or preempt an outcry from their nationals I cannot tell.
What I know is that Kenyan rugby followers were not happy with this decision and took to social media to vent their displeasure. No name calling though, or threats, or agitation for some people to resign. It was the polite rugby way.
One particular fan, Jerry B. Kungawo, started an online petition to RA against France hosting the African qualifiers. The petition was widely shared in rugby circles and by Wednesday, 1,260 persons had signed up.
The petitioners were offended by the fact an African qualifier, involving African nations, was being hosted in a different continent.
I personally have no issue with France hosting the qualifiers other than the fact that it will deny African fans a chance to watch their heroes playing at home.
I am more inclined to start my own petition to the Kenya Rugby Union to radically change their age-old strategy to take us to the Promised Land.
The qualifiers will head straight into quarter-finals followed by semi-finals and a final whose winner will book the automatic ticket to the World Cup. The losing finalist will get a second chance to make it to France via a repechage.
The quarters will see Namibia battle Burkina Faso, Senegal play Algeria, Uganda take on Kenya and Zimbabwe face Côte d’Ivoire.
Kenya just needs to win three matches in France and we qualify for our first ever World Cup.
Every coach selected to the national team always talks long-term. Talks of building structures, starting at age grade level that would then feed to the senior team several years later and ultimately challenge for a World Cup spot.
But as history has shown, more than half the players who come through the age grade conveyor belt never make it to or last at the senior level for one reason or another. Chiefly, they opt to pursue other careers that presumably gives them a better chance of earning a livelihood.
In fact, we have come tantalisingly close to qualifying for the World Cup just once in history. This was in 2014 in the final round of the 2015 World Cup qualifiers. It was a round robin, four-nation affair involving favourites Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and hosts Madagascar.
Kenya started brilliantly, stunning perennial World Cup participants Namibia 29-22 in their first match to firmly put themselves on the driving seat. The Kenya Simbas then duly dispatched Madagascar 34-0 in their second match and only needed to avoid defeat against Zimbabwe to write history.
Tour firms in Nairobi had even started selling packages for England where the rugby bonanza was held. But Simbas cracked, inexplicably losing 10-28 to Zimbabwe to end up tied 10 on points together with Namibia. The South Africans went through on superior points scored difference.
That Kenya Simbas team under South African coach Jerome Paarwater had been in camp for several weeks and even toured the Rainbow Nation where they featured in the defunct Vodacom Cup as Simba XI, playing seven matches.
To my mind, this was the best ever prepared Kenya Simbas team. KRU has 10 months to do even more.
They should get a quality foreign coach now and assemble the best possible Kenya Simbas team. Let them scout the country, scout Africa, scout the world with a fine-tooth comb to find any and every worthy Kenyan rugby player, any deserving rugger boy with Kenyan roots including descendants of the formidable Kenya Simbas players of pre-independence days.
According to the Kenya Diaspora Policy (2014) over three million Kenyans live abroad.
Chances of finding quality players are much higher than extra-terrestrial life form outside our galaxy.
I am encouraged by what the Senegalese Football Federation did at the turn of this century. They deliberately turned to the country’s diaspora to constitute one of the continent’s best national teams, under French coach Bruno Metsu. That exciting Teranga Lions reached the final of the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations and the quarter-finals of the 2002 Fifa World Cup.
It is just one shot. Let us take it.
Meanwhile, I know our players will have no problem playing in France. The facilities there are certainly better than those found in Africa. The Simbas may just get inspired to secure a second ticket for the big one.
And I don’t mind visiting France too, twice.