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Will new government deliver its promise to sports men and women?

Deputy President William Ruto with Macdonald Mariga during a thanksgiving ceremony organsed by Jubilee`s McDonald Mariga to thank the residents for the votes they gave him during the just concluded Kibra by election. PHOTOS/COLLINS KWEYU

Kenya’s sports sector needs refining, if not an overhaul.

At the moment, sports in the country are at a crossroads. Athletics, the country’s most famous sports discipline, is on the downside if the performance at both the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, United States, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom, are anything to go by. 

Add to this, the doping menace, which has seen promising athletes continue to be banned before and after the Oregon championships, as well as the continued ban on Kenyans football by FIFA, and the task that lies ahead for the next administration becomes more clearer. 

Apart from doping, the country’s sports is plagued by maladministration, corruption, low investment in infrastructure and athletes’ welfare, the problems bedeviling local sports are many.

For instance, local football leagues are, at the moment, being run under a transitional committee.

At the same time, national teams cutting across chess, volleyball, rugby, hockey and taekwondo have resorted to asking wellwishers for funding, amid claims they are incapable of financing their trips for international assignments.

Last month, Kenya’s Simbas head coach Paul Odera appealed to fans to raise money for the team’s 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers in France that was played on July 1-10.

The Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) also launched a campaign as the ladies’ team (Malkia Strikers) were in danger of missing the World Championships due to a lack of funds. 

In April, Auditor General Nancy Gathungu revealed billions of shillings disbursed to various sports federations in the country could not be accounted for. 

At the moment, the focus is on Deputy President William Ruto, who was on Monday declared president-elect by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Wafula Chebukati.

Ruto, while outlining the Kenya Kwanza Alliance manifesto, gave a commitment to return Kenya to international football, in addition to a myriad of other investments that would see his government, within 100 days of taking office, establish a high-level expert task force to identify sustainable sources of sports funding.

“Kenya is an international giant in middle and long distance athletics and 7s rugby, but we also feature in a wide range of sports, including football, volleyball, swimming, golf, motorsport, tennis, cycling, shooting, archery and cricket, among others,” reads the Kenya Kwanza manifesto. 

“The brand value that Kenyans participating and excelling in on the international sports arena is incalculable. But far too often, the Government lets down our sports people, in terms of facilitation and provision of adequate resources. Given the contribution of sports to Kenya’s international standing, we should never see our sportspeople stranded
in foreign countries, or complaining about equipment, allowances and hospitality during competition. Our international athletes should also never retire to a life of penury,” it adds. 

Some of the avenues Kenya Kwanza identified include a national lottery, tax incentives for corporate sponsorship, a dedicated or ring-fenced tax, and a public-private partnership structure for infrastructure development.

Deputy President William Ruto and Victor Wanyama at his Karen Official Residence. [Standard]

It also vowed to establish and resource adequately a devoted function within the tourism promotion function to appeal to international sporting events.

Ruto’s team also pledged to leverage the country’s international athletics brand, aiming to develop a domestic sports attire manufacturing cluster.

In addition, it would expand the National Youth Talent Academy (NYTA) to include all sports, devolve it to county level and introduce a County Sports Talent Academy with the ability to spot talent and provide necessary support through sponsorship.

Last on the Kenya Kwanza’s sports agenda is promoting county leagues and inter-county sports championships while establishing a sporting heroes compassionate (benevolent) fund.

 But critics have been quick to point out that Ruto failed to fulfil promises he and President Uhuru Kenyatta made in 2013 to uplift local sports, including building five international stadiums across the country, a number that he increased to nine ahead of the 2017 elections and later to 11.

However, in an interview with a local TV station in 2020, the president-elect said the pledge was not a personal promise but rather an underpinning in the Jubilee manifesto. 

“You make it look like I was to get money from my pocket to build the stadiums, this was a Jubilee administration pledge,” Ruto told NTV in 2020, noting that Jubilee had delivered on its other pledges such as on electricity, housing, road and rail projects.

So, if he overcomes the challenge his Azimio rival, Raila Odinga, is promising to wedge, will he deliver this time round? Kenyan sports men and women can only wait.

On its part, Azimio in its manifesto identified four opportunities it said would help improve improve the sports sector.

These include increasing the quality of sports facilities and harnessing the rising demand for sports professionals, professional management, education, training and talent development. The coalition also aims to inculcate a culture of healthy living.

It also said, if it were to win power, it would seek to harness an increasing number of creative arts professionals while expanding the market as they develop policies, legal and regulatory frameworks.

To realise this, Azimio promised to reorganise sports funding and work with bodies of non-Olympic sports to prioritise long-term success

Other promises included improving standards in sports management, enhancing transparency, accountability and coaching standards,  integration of sports training and talent development at all levels of education by creating 47 county sports talent development centres, reclaiming illegally acquired sports and recreation facilities and sites and improving the nurturing and welfare of youth and retirees from the sports and creative industry.

Establishing a new mandatory governance sports code that will be rigorously enforced at home, set a new standard internationally, and introduce a mandatory ‘Duty of Care” for all athletes are also among the top goals.

Promises to invest in sports participation by women, girls and people living with disabilities were also part of Azimio manifesto.

Others include establishing a Sports Business Council to develop a new business strategy and improve access to finance and skill development, introducing a ‘Sports Cabinet’ comprising sports ministers to help achieve coordination and sharing of best practices and intensifying staff input, support and training and development in strategic locations across the country.