Mr President, Kenyan sport deserves much better from you

President William Ruto when he hosted the English Premier League trophy at State House, Nairobi.
Photo credit: Pool

Almost two weeks have passed since President William Ruto returned to the country following a “successful” State visit to the United States of America, and the man is still defending himself.

From the millions of taxpayers’ money he spent flying himself and his entourage First Class to the Land of Opportunities, from his decision to use a private jet to and from America at a time when Kenyans are choking from high taxation and national debt, and from his remarks that the national courier, Kenya Airways, is just too expensive.

One thing I haven’t heard him defend is the silence that Kenyan sports lovers had to endure upon finding out that there was nothing in the visit for us. The only thing I saw that looked like sports was a photo of Ruto dwarfed by a towering NBA legend, Shaquille O’Neal, during his stop in Atlanta.

I hoped there would be news of a partnership, or at least an exchange programme that could benefit the basketball fraternity in Kenya, but there was nothing more to the picture. I saw popular sports managers like Masai Ujiri and others on the guest list to meet the President, but there were no discussions centred on Kenyan sports. Perhaps the thinking is that there is nothing that Kenya, a football-mad country, could learn from America, a country so obsessed with their distinct version of football. Yes, they don’t give much thought to soccer, which is what they call our brand of football, but is there nothing we could squeeze out of the visit to benefit our struggling sports industry?
Surely, a conversation about upgrading our sports infrastructure would have been relevant. In Kenya, no stadium can host any match worth talking about.

Kasarani Stadium, our crown jewel for more than six decades, is closed for renovations (for the umpteenth time) ahead of the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, which Kenya will host jointly with Uganda and Tanzania. The same goes for Nyayo National Stadium, which is also closed. Both these stadiums were renovated less than three years ago, and by the end, they still lacked key facilities, including floodlights, without which they fall short of hosting high-profile games. It should shock and anger every Kenyan citizen that Harambee Stars will “host” their Fifa World Cup qualifying matches against African champions Cote d'Ivoire and Burundi in Malawi because we lack a venue to host such a match. But it doesn’t anger us enough, perhaps because we don’t think about it enough.

The lack of mention of sports throughout the State Visit shows the kind of condescension with which Kenyan sport is viewed, and this, coming from the top leadership, says it all. That sports discussions are hardly mainstream or given the weight they deserve is a disservice to all sportsmen and women who engage in so much marathon running, hurdles jumping, knee-sliding and corner-flag slapping every week, and the result is an industry experiencing stunted growth. One hopes that in Ruto’s next State visit, which he will hopefully not have to hire a private jet, there will be at least some serious talk about the state of Kenyan sports. 

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