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It's a sad state for Kenyan sports as rugby, football and cricket are on their deathbeds

Ball boys clears water at Gusii stadium on July 27 after heavy rains. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Without doubt incompetence, constant wrangles, mismanagement, under funding, embezzlement of funds and lack of infrastructure have derailed the growth of sports in the country.

From Kenya Sevens’ relegation from the World Rugby Sevens Series, Harambee Stars dismal performance in the four-nation tournament in Mauritius to FKF Premier League clubs playing for ‘nothing’ in the just concluded season, doping menace, Kenya Pipeline failing to reclaim continental volleyball title, Kenya losing to Uganda in the Continent Cup T20 Africa Cricket tournament and finishing third in the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Africa Group III tennis tournament at home, the state of Kenyan sports is saddening.

Despite Kenya possessing exceptional sporting talent, the concerned authorities have not been able to fully appreciate and tap into the sporting industry as a major economic driver.

Unfortunately, the country is full of leaders who always want to profit from sports instead of sports profiting from them.

And instead of enacting policies that will help to establish permanent structural changes and attract corporate partnerships within the sporting industry, most of the leaders are thriving in unsustainable donations and the culture of tokenism at the expense of most teams with FKF Premier League giants Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards the biggest casualties.

Currently, there is little to write about Kenyan sports as it is in a deplorable state thanks to the greediness and selfishness of most officials who are equally running federations like personal kiosks.

Well, it goes without saying that success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

Youth Affairs, Sports and Arts Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba is joined by his ministry officials and University of Nairobi Researchers inspect the Nyayo National Stadium on June 16 ahead of AFCON games. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Both government officials and politicians have mastered the art of associating themselves with success; mostly whenever a team or athletes conquer the world, they are ready to celebrate with them on red carpets and high end hotels, but not to be part of the process.

The scramble for attention that was witnessed on the eve of Faith Kipyegon’s awarding ceremony at State House, Nairobi, perfectly depicts how the leadership of this country is always ready to go for glory and reap where they never sow.

At first, Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua both jostled to honour the double world record holder with both offices sending out early press invites on June 12 before Kipyegon found herself being airlifted from Eldoret to the capital after a late night invite from President William Ruto.

Initially, the event was scheduled to be held at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport only for it to be switched to State House in the dead of night leaving journalists guessing.

Even after receiving Sh5 million and a three bedroomed house for breaking two records, 1500m and 5000m, at Diamond League meets in Florence (June 2) and Paris (June 9) within a week, Kipyegon made one bold request to the government.

“We need more stadiums with proper running tracks to help upcoming athletes train with ease. I would like to urge the government to set up more training areas to motivate young athletes and help grow their talents,” she said moments after being awarded at State House.

And it was the same situation two weeks ago as a section of leaders from Gusii region jostled for attention when they hosted Shabana for dinner after the club made a return to the FKF Premier League after 17 years in the cold.

Police Officers shield a referee from being attacked by irate fans during a National Super League match in Kisii. [Sammy Omingo,Standard]

Before their recent success, no politician wanted to come closer to the team as Tore Bobe struggled to meet their match expenses and also cater for players’ salaries.

“It is really interesting that these politicians have started appearing after we sealed our return to the Premier League. Before then, nobody bothered with us,” said a Shabana official who sought anonymity.

Save for a few glimpses in individual disciplines like athletics, most of the team sports are on their deathbeds and they will definitely need a miracle for the country to restore its lost glory both in the continent and globally. While many countries have been scientific and embraced technology with their governments strongly investing in sports, most Kenyan teams are still stuck in their traditional approach and tactics as they bank on natural talent.

From football to rugby, volleyball, hockey, basketball, boxing, swimming, paralympics and cricket, the script is almost the same.

While Kenyan football is still reeling on its financial constraints that saw KWPL champions Vihiga Queens receive Sh1 million in prize money, their men’s counterparts Gor Mahia just got a trophy and applause from the organisers and their fans.

But K’Ogalo were lucky to benefit from an estimated donation of Sh8.1m from their shirt sponsors SportPesa and politicians. 

The once vibrant league in the continent has been in a red alert for a couple of seasons with match fixing allegations and financial struggles among clubs in the last two campaigns making it worse.

But there is some ray of hope in the coming 2023/24 season as Tanzanian broadcaster Azam TV are set to become the official broadcasters of the domestic league.

However, it is evident the current situation in Kenyan sports has even been worsened by so many unfulfilled promises by successive governments. 

President William Ruto with Faith Kipyegon, her husband Timothy Kitum, daughter Alyn at State House. Faith is a World Record holder of 1500M and 5000M respectively. With them is Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba.[PCS]

Sponsors have equally shied away from sports due to mismanagement and misappropriation of funds within federations. 

The Jubilee administration promised to build nine new stadia and refurbish the existing facilities. But that never came to pass as currently there is no single facility in the country that can host an international football match. The completion of the proposed upgrade of most stadiums by both national and county governments has either been slow or stalled in totality.

While a chunk of the federations need a radical surgery for the country to properly harness its talent, the government needs to improve and even modernise most of the facilities in the country which have been used as cash cows in the recent past. Several inspections have been made to different facilities across the country, but nothing fruitful has come out of them.

As it stands, Gor Mahia and the winners of the FKF Cup are likely to host their Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League and Confederation Cup matches outside the country.

Although the government recently submitted a joint EAC Pamoja bid with Uganda and Tanzania to CAF to host the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations, the state of infrastructure is appalling.

Kenya’s two largest facilities, Kasarani and Nyayo stadiums, were banned in October 2021 by CAF after they both failed to meet the required standards to stage Fifa accredited matches.

While Kasarani and Nyayo have unsuccessfully undergone renovation for many years, a deserted Nairobi’s City Stadium is typically a historical site while Kipchoge Keino which has been earmarked for 2027 Afcon literally looks like a grazing field.

Gor Mahia celebrate after clinching the FkF Premier League 2023 title against Nairobi City Stars at The Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani, Sunday 25, June, 2023. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Kenya lost a chance to host both the 1996 Afcon and 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) due to unpreparedness.

Even as the country prepares to stage the World Rugby U20 Trophy 2023 for the second time on July 15-30, floodlights at Nyayo Stadium, the venue for the event, are yet to be fixed.

But the government now says it has engaged the University of Nairobi’s Department of Engineering to redesign Kasarani, Nyayo and Kipchoge Keino stadiums in anticipation of winning 2027 Afcon hosting rights. A team from the continental body is set to arrive in the country this month to inspect Kenya’s preparedness.

Mumias Sports Complex, which was once considered as one of the best stadiums in the country, is a pale shadow of its former self, while Kamariny Stadium whose upgrade started in 2016 is yet to be completed.

And in his own words, after making an impromptu visit at Kipchoge Keino, which is based in Uasin Gishu County, the city of champions, a home town of world beaters including legendary Kipyegon, last month, Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba referred to the stadium as a grazing field.

Ironically, Kipchoge’s renovation started way back in 2012 and was commissioned by Namwamba while he was serving in the same docket under the late President Mwai Kibaki’s administration.

“The amount of time it has taken to complete this project is criminal. If you look at the pitch, that is not a football pitch, it is a grazing field. There is no way you can bring a player to run on that pitch. Even this tartan track, I launched the work of this track 11 years ago and needed to be refreshed over time which has not been done,” said Namwamba as he pointed an accusing finger at contractors for delaying the renovation.

“Faith Kipyegon calls this city (Eldoret) her home, she lives here, she trains on this tartan track. So, you expect her to train in this condition and continue to set world records? It cannot be. It’s miraculous that they perform so well in such conditions. This region is the fountain of athletics talent, not just in Kenya but the whole of Africa.”

He continued: “Eldoret must have an international stadium, where we can hold competitions and our athletes train in world class facilities. Kamariny must have a state of the art and high-altitude training camp. We want contractors given responsibilities to do this work to really work within that new order of highest possible standards and value for money.

“We have chosen to respect existing contracts (in the upgrade of stadiums) but we can’t condone the bad manners of the previous administration. The bad manners of doing things in a haphazard manner and doing substandard work and lying to government officials will not be condoned.”

And even as the doping menace continues tainting Kenya’s image globally, the country seems to have lost its dominance in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase which has always been considered as its traditional stronghold.

Sadly, Kenya forms almost 40 per cent of athletes who have failed dope tests across the globe.

As per a recent report released by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), 66 Kenyan athletes were on the global ineligible athlete list for breaching anti-doping rules by April 2023.

In May, 10 kilometres road race world record holder Rhonex Kipruto was suspended by AIU for a doping offence before African 800m champion Jarinter Mwasya and fast-rising 100m sprinter Samuel Imeta were equally suspended by Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya for doping in June.

Just like football and athletics, rugby and volleyball have had their share of problems.

The current state of rugby can be well equated to former Attorney General Githu Muigai’s mortician analogy, cricket is unfathomable, while hockey, boxing and other disciplines are mostly living in their past glory. [Watch out for Part Two on Sunday]

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