Battered and shattered Shujaa

By Zach Macharia: Thursday, June 1st 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3 | Rugby
Top: Beaudein Waaka (right) of New Zealand in action against Samuel Oliech USA Sevens Rugby in March.

Disillusionment, infighting, insubordination, interference, threats to play ball or else...and a lame duck coach best describe the feeling in the Kenya Sevens team.

The Singapore Sevens win last year is now a distant memory.

An interview with several players, some Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) officials and coaches, who are cowering in fear of reprisal, painted a picture of a Shujaa team in dire need of rethink.

Standard Sports exclusively obtained behind the scenes details of how KRU has over the years run down the national Sevens team.

Correspondences between current and former union officials, players and the coaching staff reveal infighting, insubordination and constant interference with the playing unit by outsiders.

Whereas the team is earning more money than they used to take home last season, the results on the pitch tell a different story.

Today, two of the highest paid Sevens players each earns Sh165,000 a month plus additional Sh8,000 in transport allowances, with the lowest taking home Sh50,000.

A KRU director we interviewed admitted thus: “We have failed to sit down and talk about the things that matter most.. Even as we ponder on what to do next, England and New Zealand have renewed the players’ contracts up to 2019.”

So disgruntled are the players over pay that some admit they only participate in the World Rugby Series for the sake of increasing the number of their caps.

“I will only contest rucks siku nitalipwa ku (when I am paid to) contest rucks. Why on earth should I bother working hard when I know that my earnings will never change unless I clock more than 30 caps?” one of the players posed.

“Wacha most capped players wakufie team. For now sisi tutajaza team sheets ili tupate caps ndio pia siku moja tulipwe kama Tier One.” (Let the most capped players die for the team. AS for us we shall fill in the sheets to get the caps so we can, one day, be paid as tier one players).

Previously, under coaches (Benjamin) Ayimba and (Mike) Friday, the tier system was used to rank players based on their merit, performance and experience.

“Today, however, the players accuse the coach of only listening to the most capped players,” another player claimed.

Players interviewed insist the coach, Innocent ‘Namcos’ Simiyu’s, handling of the player-ranking has driven a wedge down the team.

Unlike last season when the players were clustered into Tier One, Two and the Academy, of the 17 contracted players today, 14 players are categorised between tier 1 to 4 and three under Academy.

Those in the first four tiers take home a minimum of Sh100,000 while the three in the academy only Sh50,000 a month.

Under former coach Benjamin Ayimba, 22 players were contracted. In the event of an injury, a player was automatically relegated to the lower tier because of productivity. Every tier had its privileges, all captured in player contracts so as to create fair competition among the players.

One of the players claimed a director has been interfering with the team saying he had been threatened to play ball or else he would be left out of the team.

“It came to pass. It was easy for the coach to drop me because he has no spine to defend his team. You get the feeling he is hostage to those who gave him the job,” the player said.

In his response, Simiyu agrees that some things did not go right and that he has opened discussions with the union on how to address the outstanding issues with the players.

“The tier system is based on contractual obligations, an issue that the union is already addressing. We are discussing contracts now and they will run from July 1, 2017 to the last tournament next year. We are looking at how to improve the players’ benefits, bringing in new gym equipment early, getting supplements ready so that we do not discuss such things when the season is on,” Simiyu said.

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