Kenya Sevens must regain core world status at all costs

Tony Omondi

Jordan Sepho of France (left) fights for the ball against Tony Omondi of Kenya (right) during their HSBC Rugby Sevens event in Singapore on April 8, 2023.

Photo credit: Roslan Rahman | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Success in any sport is a long term project, one that is without shortcuts. And you cannot just wing it.

Reasons can always be found for a blip, whether good or bad. In everything that happens, we want ready explanations.

We want to know that this game was won or lost because this defender or forward was in his element, or because this referee was biased against us, or the goalkeeper was injured, or this coach is a mere tourist, or this centre-back is no longer agile, or because the 12th man wasn’t present.

We want to believe in heroes and geniuses, in fate and misfortune. Don’t get me wrong, these attempts at justification are not unimportant. Identifying causes and acting to correct or encourage them is how we learn and rebuild. But let’s begin from the start.

Last week, the Kenya Sevens rugby team was relegated from the World Rugby Sevens Series, meaning that for the first time in 23 years, Shujaas will not take part in the elite world sevens tournament. The short-term reasons for the former champions’ decline are various, but not much of a surprise.

Pundits have given enough reasons for the heartbreaking regression, which include the usual –lack of proper, modern training facilities, mismanagement at the top, the indifference of corporate sponsors, and lack of foresight in building an academy to nurture the next generation of players.

I like that, instead of criticism, which is usually our default response as Kenyans, Shujaas’ demotion has been met with quite a bit of empathy.

Many explained the regression, saying that by finishing two places above relegation, the team performed well within its limits, and that in fact, in all those years we were in the Series, the team was simply over performing. I am encouraged by the widespread optimism that the team will soon bounce back. But, what if this period of famine is not confined to one season?

What if Kenya’s absence from the WRS goes on over a much longer period? What if this is not just an odd misfortune, but an irremediable downward trend?

Because you can be sure that the likes of England, Fiji and New Zealand, who are now the elite of the elites in rugby, are not sleeping. While we are still waiting for the stadiums in Kamariny, Chuka, Wote and Moyale that President Ruto promised a decade ago, other countries are engaging in massive research in sports science, and constructing top notch facilities, and fine tuning their leadership structures.

This is likely to guarantee these teams more sponsorship money on which to continue thriving.

And this is the point. Although painful, this relegation matters, because for it not to matter, we have to deny the reality that it is neither a unique nor unexpected occurrence. This is not just a case of bad luck.

Success in any sport is a long term project, one that is without shortcuts. And you cannot just wing it.

We know what we need to do. A form of methodical madness is required of those at the top of sports administration for us to get back to glory days.

Those men with receding hairlines and confident gaits who are often quoted in newspaper articles and occasionally squat on TV studio sofas with titles such as CEO, president and chairman, should step up and commit to doing all it takes to reclaim our place in world rugby.