The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the continent’s premier football bonanza, kicks off in Cairo, Egypt, today with Kenya among the 24 finalists at the month-long event.
And starting Sunday 11 pm when Harambee Stars take on Algeria, it will be a perfect moment for the nation to sit back and watch how well the team has been nurtured to face the rest of the continent.
Senegal and Tanzania are the other opponents in a tough-looking Group C.
Kenya takes on Tanzania on June 27 and finishes the Group campaign on July 1 against Senegal.
The top two finishers in the six Groups qualify to the knockout round of 16 plus four best third-place finishers. Kenya is returning to the biennial continental showpiece after a 15-year absence – the last one in 2004 being Harambee Stars’ best outing with a 3-0 win over Burkina Faso after 3-1 defeat to Mali and 2-0 loss to Senegal.
Since debuting at the championship in 1972 in Cameroon, Kenya is yet to qualify for the knockout rounds - a shame that has seen pundits call a proud people that call themselves a sporting nation as ‘also-runs’.
No doubt, AFCON 2019 should be a moment of pride. A time to celebrate and cheer on Harambee Stars because for one month, the Kenyan flag will grace the skyline and the anthem sung at least three times.
Amid all the merrymaking, viewing parties should provide the platform for honest conversation right from State House to the terraces why for instance, since 1957 when the first tournament was staged, Kenya has only participated at the finals on six occasions.
Football is a multi-billion dollar business yet as a country, no deliberate effort has been undertaken to tap into its lucrative earnings.
Creditably, the State spent Sh250 million to facilitate Harambee Stars’ camping in France and allowances for this campaign. On the flipside, nothing has been invested in developing and nurturing our sportsmen and women across all disciplines. Spending such millions should count for something.
Egypt, who also records seven-time winners will be a happy lot because of the economic benefits for hosting the 24-nation tournament. Doing so meant Egypt invested heavily in upgrading her infrastructure, both sporting, and transport.
Twice, we spurned the chance to host AFCON in 1996 and the Africa Nations Championship in 2018, which meant we passed a chance to build stadia and improve road networks across the country.
The status of the National Sports Fund touted as the answer to financing sports development is shrouded in mystery. This why during the AFCON period, we must have an honest conversation on why we remain ‘also-runs’.
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