When former President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Azimio leader Raila Odinga commissioned the renovation of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Sportsground in Kisumu two years ago, residents were in jubilation at the mega plans.
Formerly known as Jomo Kenyatta Sportsground, the recreational centre was renamed to immortalise Kenya’s first Vice President. The place which sits at the heart of the city is one of the most iconic places in Kisumu and was always full of people on vacation.
Families sitting in groups on the lush green grass and couples enjoying a picnic were a common site.
The football field and the basketball pitch were always full of activities. And with the planned rehabilitation, hopes were high about the future of the iconic facility.
With Sh100 million from the World Bank invested in the project, locals believed Kisumu’s landscape and sporting facilities would change to catch up with the fast changing technological advancements around the globe.
In recognition of the good job Governor Nyong’o was doing in Kisumu, Uhuru committed to add Kisumu another Sh100 million towards Jaramogi Sports Complex. The upgrade was to include an ultramodern football pitch, refurbishment of Od Mikayi, canopy shades, open event garden, a tennis court, a hockey pitch, a fountain and restaurants.
Other facilities are changing rooms, modern ablution blocks, a sports and leisure gym, drip irrigation, an automated ticketing system and monuments to honor heroes. Upon completion, the football, hockey, volleyball, basketball and netball pitches would be modernised as per international standards. The hockey pitch would come with artificial turf.
Two years down the line, the promises remain hot air as the recreational facility remains closed amid growing long grass and dirt. It was only used as a polling centre during the August polls before county officials shut its doors again.
The hockey pitch which is supposed to be turfed is a wasted ground filled with overgrown grass and gravel stones as the basketball courts which had been casually cemented before lay filled with filth and overgrown weeds at the sides.
Ironically, the marram hockey pitch and basketball court used to host top tier Premier league and Super league matches.
Lakers Hockey Club, the only team from Nyanza featuring in the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) Premier League, has been forced to beg or pay for not only the training ground but also when hosting league matches in Kisumu.
Lakers Team Manager John Paul Otieno said it was a shame that the County Government of Kisumu is silent when clubs which put Kisumu on the national map continue to suffer.
Otieno said many young people are moving to other counties and even to the capital city to progress in their disciplines.
“It is very painful to see young talents suffer because of lack of facilities. The irony is that the facilities are there and have been built but we cannot access them yet we have not been given a valid reason.”
“As a self-sponsored club, it is very tough for us to even train or host league matches. We have to part with over Sh5,000 every weekend to hire grounds and beg for training grounds in neighbouring schools while we have public facilities that can help,” said Otieno.
Comprised mostly of university and high school students, Lakers have been forced to train at Kisumu Day High School and borrow for funds to help them host their matches at Simba Club whose rates are higher.
For Lakeside and Lady Bucks Basketball Club, the situation is the same having being forced to play at Magadi Primary School in Manyatta Slums with lack of a standard court in the city.
Residents who spoke to The Saturday Standard also wanted to know what is happening because the facility when open brought revenue to them.
“It has been two years of turmoil because we cannot sell our goodies at the facility. I used to make not less than Sh1,500 per day when it was active and Sh3,000 on weekends,” said Maurice Omollo who sells smokies and sausages
Peter Odhiambo, who hawks watches, hats and belts has been reduced to long walks within the city with no central point to find people whom he can sell to.
“Ever since the sportsground was closed, we are just waking up and walking all over the city which is tiring because now we have to chase customers who no longer use the facility,” said Odhiambo.
Peris Apondi who owned a small-scale hotel selling fast food and beverages said she was forced to relocate to Kondele with less business near the dormant facility.
Kisumu Sports Executive Achi Alai declined to comment and instead referred us to City Manager Abala Wanga who also remained mum regarding the future of the facility.