Kenyans left chasing shadows in Africa's Olympic qualifiers

Maureen Okumu of Kenya in action against Ghana.[Africa Hockey Federation]

Kenyan hockey, once a source of national pride and sporting prowess, has seen its glorious days fade into a distant memory.

The country that once competed at the highest level, even at the Olympics, is now struggling to regain its former glory.

After missing out on the Paris Olympics, with the men’s team finishing 6th and the women taking third place in the qualifiers, it is evident that Kenya still has a long way to go to get back to the Olympic Games, a remarkable 35 years behind its golden years.

Decades ago, hockey was a beloved sport in Kenya and an integral part of the country’s sporting fabric.

The men’s team was a formidable force, competing with the likes of hockey giants such as India and Bangladesh. Kenya’s finest moment in international hockey was in 1971 when they finished fourth at the International Hockey Federation (IHF) World Cup, which remains their best position to date.

Kenya's striker Festus Omnyango.[Africa Hockey Federation]

However, the golden era of Kenyan hockey has slowly eroded, overshadowed by a myriad of issues that have plagued the sport. The current state of the game is deeply concerning, with no signs of an imminent revival.

The women’s team, in particular, has never qualified for the Olympics. The last time Kenya participated in the global event was in 1988 when the national men’s team finished last in Seoul, South Korea.

It is disheartening to see that this drought will continue to 39 years as Kenya once again missed out on the games.

The recent African Hockey Road to Paris 2024 qualifiers in Pretoria, South Africa, painted a clear picture of Kenya’s struggles.

Kenya's Flavian Mutiva in action against Ghana.[Africa Hockey Federation]

The women’s team managed to secure a third-place finish, earning a bronze medal. They defeated Ghana 3-1 in the third-place playoffs, sealing a double victory over the West African team. Caroline Guchu, Naomi Kemunto, and Eleanor Chebet were the heroes of the match as they contributed to Kenya’s redemption win.

The road to Paris 2024, however, was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Kenyan team. They suffered a heart-wrenching 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the semifinals, which ultimately cost them a ticket to the Olympics. Despite having a promising run in the group stages, including a 4-0 victory over Zambia and a 3-2 win against Ghana, Kenya’s journey was cut short.

Danstone Wabwire of Kenya in action against Nigeria.[Africa Hockey Federation]

In the men’s category, Kenya’s performance was disappointing, finishing a distant sixth. They failed to advance beyond the preliminary group stages and lost 4-3 to Nigeria in the fifth-place classification playoff match.

The dream of representing Kenya at the Paris Olympics was shattered.

The question that now arises is, what should Kenya do to regain its long-forgotten status in the world of hockey? The challenges are numerous, but here are some key steps that could lead to a resurgence:

Kenya must invest in grassroots development programs to nurture young talent from an early age. Building a strong foundation is crucial for the long-term success of the sport.

Kenya's Ivan Ludiali.[Africa Hockey Federation]

The country also needs to enhance its coaching and technical support. Bringing in experienced coaches and technical experts can help players improve their skills and understanding of the game. Modernising and upgrading hockey facilities and infrastructure is vital. This will not only attract more players but also allow for international-standard traininwg and competitions.

Adequate financial support is essential for the teams to participate in international tournaments, acquire quality equipment, and provide incentives for players to excel.

Initiatives to engage the youth in hockey and raise awareness about the sport can help rekindle interest and bring back fans, especially supporting high school hockey.

What Kenya should do to uplift hockey standards 

1 Investment in Grassroots Development: Kenya must invest in grassroots development programs to nurture young talent from an early age. Building a strong foundation is crucial for the long-term success of the sport.


2 Coaching and Technical Expertise: The country needs to enhance its coaching and technical support. Bringing in experienced coaches and technical experts can help players improve their skills and understanding of the game.


3 Facilities and Infrastructure: Modernizing and upgrading hockey facilities and infrastructure is vital. This will not only attract more players but also allow for international-standard training and competitions.


4 Financial Support: Adequate financial support is essential for the teams to participate in international tournaments, acquire quality equipment, and provide incentives for players to excel.


5 Youth Engagement and Awareness: Initiatives to engage the youth in hockey and raise awareness about the sport can help rekindle interest and bring back fans.


6 International Exposure: Participation in more international tournaments and friendly matches against top-level teams will provide valuable exposure and experience to the players.


7 Strategic Planning: Developing a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan for the revival of Kenyan hockey is crucial. This plan should outline clear objectives and steps to achieve them.

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