Why waft of biasness lingers in Simiyu's selection

Kenya Sevens coach Innocent Simiyu addresses the media during a past event.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • In the end though, the Kenya Sevens coach will be judged on performance. Simiyu’s trajectory was on an upward trend in 2018 until the madness in Paris occurred. He is older, possibly wiser and hopefully stronger.
  • The ball is in his hands, and rugby mad fans from Ngong Road, Thika Road, Railways, Rift Valley, Western, Coast and in the Diaspora will be closely watching, and waiting..anxiously for that elusive Series leg win.

Portuguese Jose Mourinho successfully coached Chelsea to multiple titles between 2004 and 2007 before leaving timidly after falling out with club owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Mourinho did return to Chelsea in 2010 for a three-year tenure that was decidedly less colourful.

Jacob “Ghost” Mulee is considered one of the best coaches to have handled Harambee Stars, winning a Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup title and taking the team to the Africa Cup of Nations after a 12-year hiatus. He came and went four times.

His first stint was between 2003 and 2004 before returning for one year in 2005 and again in 2007 for a two-year spell. His last shift was a short-lived one in 2010.

Mulee, always diplomatic in public, had a major private dispute with his employer, Football Kenya Federation, who owed him huge salary arrears dating back years.

I could go on. Innocent Simiyu was first named Kenya Sevens coach in 2016 with the brief of preparing a squad for the 2018 World Cup.

His appointment though was not straight forward. In fact, several top coaches were also in the running for the job including fabled former New Zealand coach the willy Gordon Tietjen and ex-Kenya Sevens coach and only one to have won a leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series, Benjamin Ayimba. There were rumours that Englishman Ben Ryans, who had recently led Fiji to Olympic sevens gold, was interested.

The union was set to announce Tietjen as head coach with Simiyu his assistance only to name the Kenyan for the hot seat. Tietjen actually backed out after his appointment had been leaked to the press before his official unveiling, but that is another story.

Former Kenya scrum-half and KRU development officer Fred Ollows, who has an admirable deep understanding of the local game and its nuances, gave an insightful description of the 37-year-old, former elusive running winger aka "Namcos" in one of his many Facebook posts about the game:

“He is at ease with three things that make most coaches unable to gain the higher accreditations – planning, documentation and data-driven match analysis. He painstakingly breaks down matches and players. This probably draws from his graduate actuarial scientist background.”

Simiyu went on to impress the hugely demanding Kenya sevens fans with a haul of 104 points to finish a respectable eighth in the 2017-2018 Series standings.

However, his rising star came down with a thud after the Paris debacle of 2019 when he was involved in that famous -- or is it infamous? -- player protest over some disputed pay. The players chose to protest by covering the slogan “Make It Kenya” of their shirt sponsors Brand Kenya.

Simiyu was again selected as Kenya Sevens coach last week for a second stint.

But coaches coming back for second, third stints is not my point, it is the perception of favouritism in Kenyan rugby.

There was a lot of push and pull in the latest selection. Word first had it that former Kenya Sevens international Dennis Mwanja, winner of the 2019 National Sevens Championship with KCB, had bagged the job and his unveiling was imminent only for Simiyu to be named as the man in charge.

Some quarters in the Kenyan rugby fraternity read politics in the whole process with the often whispered charge that clubs from Ngong side – namely Impala, Kenya Harlequin and Nondescripts – influence how the game is run and who runs it. Historically, they own the game in the country.

Mwanja played for defunct Ulinzi RFC and KCB before joining the banker’s technical bench, while Simiyu played for Impala and Harlequins before joining the Red Shirts’ management team.

I understand some followers of the game were so livid Mwanja had not gotten the job they contemplated, Kenyan football style, going to court, but common sense prevailed. Rugby after all is played by gentlemen.

But that perception of Ngong Road bias persists and KCB, easily the most successful rugby club of the past two decades will feel aggrieved.

Founded in 1989, KCB won the country’s top most league competition, Kenya Cup, in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and the elite knock-out Enterprise Cup in 2004, 2007, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Tellingly they achieved the coveted but rare double in 2007, 2015 and 2017. Only three other clubs have done a double in the history of the game in the country, Quins, Nondies and Impala.

KCB coach Curtis Olago, assisted by Dennis Mwanja, Mike Shamia, Mark Mshila masterminded the three championships in a row and four in five years.

For good measure the bankers were also National Sevens champions in 2013, 2014 and 2019.

But Olago and his assistants have never gotten a shout at managing any Kenya team. Is it because they come from the other side? Olago, famously outspoken, has said he will never apply for the job because he knows "they" will never pick him even as he soars high with a bank-backed elite team.

In the end though, the Kenya Sevens coach will be judged on performance. Simiyu’s trajectory was on an upward trend in 2018 until the madness in Paris occurred. He is older, possibly wiser and hopefully stronger.

The ball is in his hands, and rugby mad fans from Ngong Road, Thika Road, Railways, Rift Valley, Western, Coast and in the Diaspora will be closely watching, and waiting..anxiously for that elusive Series leg win.

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