Sports got a raw deal in Kenya Kwanza budget

President William Ruto during the flagging off of the 2023 Safari Rally edition. [PCS]

The first Kenya Kwanza government national Budget was a mixed bag for hustlers, who ostensibly voted in President William Ruto’s administration. In an ambitious government spending plan seeking to cut debt, reduce cost of living and create jobs for those at the bottom of the pyramid, sports men and women are among the big losers.

Faced with increased joblessness, President Ruto’s government must be creative in finding opportunities for the restless youth. Sports is one area the administration can fund productively and create opportunities. However, in the 2023/24 budget, the Treasury has slashed by half allocation to the Sports, Culture and Social Development Fund.

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u proposed to Parliament that only Sh6.4 billion will go to the sports fund. This sounds like a drop in the ocean for a kitty whose main goal is to facilitate growth and development of the sports industry in the country. In addition, the funds are used to train the necessary sports personnel and support the cash award scheme.

Nurturing sports talents also needs resources and well paid coaches. The budgetary allocation does not inspire confidence among sports stakeholders and the millions of hopeful young talents.

Indeed, former Sports PS Jonathan Mueke had admitted that the ministry would give priority to sports disciplines with potential economic value and those with a promise.

While tough economic times call for frugal spending, sports investment must be sufficient to attract talent, potential sponsors and lure back fans to the stadiums. Fans will not attend games if their security is not guaranteed. They also want comfort in the stadium and working facilities. Should government provide effective infrastructure, private investors will bring what the fans like and business will boom.

For instance, there was no mention of a budget to build new stadiums and upgrade existing ones, dealing a heavy blow for Kenya’s dreams to co-host the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations with Uganda and Tanzania. CAF cannot award the rights to host the continental showpiece without world-class stadiums in place.

Other countries have in the past invested heavily in sports facilities and sports development, reaping rich rewards after several years. Morocco reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time for an African team after investing heavily in the game. They built top sports complex, hired sports scientists and formed training camps for young talented players.

That was about 10 years ago and last year, they made history on the biggest world sports stage. Kenya should no longer pay lip service to sports. Leaders and policymakers must put money where their mouths are and stop only cheering outstanding athletes after their exploits globally.

Finally, the budget-making team must not treat sports as a side-need, but as a sector with potential to create millions of jobs and grow the economy in huge ways.