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Little wonder Kenya is not in the World Cup

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani shake hands before the 2022 soccer World Cup draw. [AP Photo]

Kenya has been a nation for 127 years, since 1895 when it became a British protectorate.

And we have been independent for almost 60 years. Why then are we not in the World Cup, and when shall we ever get there?

Why should Qatar, a country of about three million people host the World Cup when a country of 50 million can’t?

I intend to stop watching World Cup tournaments until I see Kenya in one.

Will you join me? At least the World Cup will be played during “normal hours” this time. Expect a slowdown in productivity as many people take time off from work to watch matches.

We win marathons using our legs. Why can’t we use the same legs to play football? Think of it: in 90 minutes, an average footballer runs about 10km.

The marathon is 42km. Wouldn’t it then be easier to win a football match? It’s not just our endurance that favours us in football, our demographics too.

About 4.5 million Kenyan men are aged 15-24, the prime age to play football. And we need only 11 players! There is an overflow of talent. And football is not like chess with too much thinking and moves.

We are also intoxicated with football. Every Kenyan, including females, nowadays “own” an English premier league team, which they follow religiously and even bet on. 

You can tell if someone’s team lost over the weekend on Monday mornings.

Why then are we not in the World Cup after 127 years? When shall we get there? 

One, we have not seriously invested in football. Our only investment is emotional. It explains why we frequent oddly named sports bars.

When did watching football and drinking beer become a sport? 

When it comes to real investment, we back away. Why don’t we have a mega project like the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) or expressway in sports?

Football talent

We have compensated many people to give way to roads and railways. Why can’t we get land to build stadiums in places like in Eastlands or Githurai, which are brimming with football talent? 

It goes beyond stadiums. We must see football as a business with returns.

In football, money is made from media rights, stadium entry fees, advertisement and selling branded merchandise.

And it’s mostly private business! The English Premier League contributed £7.6 billion (Sh1.1 trillion) to the UK economy during the 2019/20 financial year, according to Ernst & Young. 

Manchester City and Manchester United are private teams. The government should build stadiums and then leave them to private entries to run.

It is unlikely someone can build a stadium. But we should give investors incentives to do this.

The government’s main job is setting up policies and regulating the sector.  And why don’t we have an East African football league? 

Football and other games not only keep the country busy, but they also keep the youth from idleness and social ills. The returns in keeping mostly men out of trouble are significant. Think of crime and drugs.

In Kenya, it’s not just football that has failed to thrive, other games like tennis, baseball, and basketball rarely go beyond school.

Curiously, we do not need a lot of investment to grow football in Kenya. Every village has either a primary or secondary school with a football pitch. Why not upgrade them and use them for football competitions? Why are such pitches left idle during the school holidays?

I love the way the British nurture the game, with young children escorting players to the stadiums. After players retire, they become coaches and managers. There is a clear career path.

What about Kenya?  Why not bring in the private sector and its money, and football will thrive? 

Initial public offerings

When is Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards getting listed on the stock exchange? 

Why are these teams not among the 10 initial public offerings (IPOs) proposed by the Kenya Kwanza government? In every village, we have youngsters dreaming of playing for Kenya in the World Cup. They have the energy and motivation. They only lack someone to hold their hand.

The French teams that have won World Cup are mostly made of players who look very much like Onyango, Njoroge, Makokha or Ahmed.

That is the best evidence that we can win the World Cup and bring that trophy home, and in my lifetime.  Despite my lamentations, may the best team win.

Could President William Ruto’s regime take us to the 2026 World Cup?