BY DAVID ONJILI
World over, sports employ millions of individuals directly and indirectly and respective governments capitalize on this to maximize on revenue collection through ensuring that the industry is well funded and handled by professionals.
A case study of Germany says it all, a joke is told that when England hammered Germany 5 – 1 on September 1 2001 at the Olympiastadion in Munich in a friendly game, the English went on to celebrate while the Germans went back on the drawing board and 13 years later, in 2014 in Brazil, the Germans won the world cup against Argentina. Years of planning and investment had come to fruition as Germany was crowned world cup winners for a record 4th time.
Success in sports like any facet of life is not accidental, it takes planning, hiring of qualified personnel and proper financial investment in the training of coaches and upgrade if not construction of facilities. Sadly, the same cannot be said with regards to sports in Kenya.
At the time of going to press, the Africa Cup of Nations was ongoing and Harambee Stars did not qualify yet our neighbour Uganda did. The Rio 2016 Olympics just concluded in Brazil with Kenya posting a pathetic display and poor medals haul, officials attended the games for personal gain as the team suffered.
While the female soccer team, Harambee Starlets, managed to qualify for the nations cup in Cameroon last year, they were eliminated at the group stages after losing all their games.
We have a sports cabinet minister who cares the least for sports, a government that is arrogantly aloof about sports despite promising to construct 5 ultra-modern stadia in her campaign manifesto. Sportsmen and women are treated with neglect and looked down upon, only occasionally do we see state officials, for public relations purposes, appear to care about sports with annoying handouts. This is just but the bilious state of sports in Kenya.
If the Rio 2016 bungling is the appetizer, then the daily running and budgetary allocation of sports in this country is the main dish. Sports Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario is a bad joke to the country, his utterances show a man out of depth and touch with sports… For instance, Dr Wario has once ever said that “Kenya is an athletics country that thinks she is good at football.” Really?
Role of the media
For sports to grow in any country, the role of the mainstream media cannot be gainsaid. If the media actively reports on sporting activities with the required professionalism then the general public will have an interest, as they would be fed with up to date and factual information.
Journalists should not behave like socialites, finding it cool to be seen attending sporting events then reporting one paragraph stories in their publications or taking selfies with athletes and not laboring to tell the stories of triumph most athletes have gone through and are willing to tell. The stories of athletes succeeding despite insurmountable odds like Julius Yego training on his Javelin on Youtube should be a common feature and this will not just bring spotlight but also inspire a new generation of athletes.
Hiring coaches and selecting team on
It is not a secret that Football Kenya Federation president Nick Mwendwa’s choice of Stanley Okumbi as the Harambee Stars national team coach was a bad move, the man has no footballing CV to his name, and success in the Coca Cola junior championships is his only medal. The federation bypassed many qualified individuals to appoint him does not inspire any confidence. Fact that Harambee Stars failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations despite being in a rather easy group points to the fact that a lack of seriousness is the major undoing of sports in the country. Why would the federation appoint such a novice?
Kenya rugby 7s too is a victim of such mediocrity, after winning the Singapore circuit against Fiji in the world 7s series with coach Benjamin Ayimba, the rugby union went on to fire him. Names like New Zealand’s Gordon Tietjens were touted as possible replacements only for them to settle for Innocent Simiyu as coach. While I do not intend to look down upon any individual coach, if the Kenya 7s rugby team is to be taken serious and challenge for honors and not just participate then the team needs a top-notch professional coach.
There are no shortcuts here; the amount of coaching is evident whenever the rugby team blows away winning leads only to crumble to defeat. The team lacks the winning mentality to compete against the best and this is squarely the duty of the technical bench
Investment in facilities
The state of sports facilities in this country is a direct indictment of the reckless abandon with which sports is treated. Football pitches are in poor condition, the grass is poorly taken care of and even the artificial football playing turf at City Stadium pathetic. This is the story not just about football but in other sports. That is why many national team sports have to literally beg for them to train at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani before any major tournaments. The lack of facilities hinders the right preparation for sports.
The government continues to treat sports as an alternative and even the available facilities are not well maintained. The Kisumu Municipal Stadium perimeter wall is always coming down, basketball players have to do with training on the wrong court and with wrong balls and it is thus ironical to see the Head of State wishing any sports team best of luck whenever they embark on international assignment yet his administration does not care about the sporting facilities.
Neglect of sports heroes and heroines
It is not uncommon to watch on national television as former sports greats living in abject poverty beg for handouts. While I cannot wholly blame the sports industry, and that athletes must take care of their finances while in their prime. The sports ministry should be proactive in aiding athletes with financial planners training while they are still making good cash.
The life span of a professional athlete is not long, yet in that short duration, they make large sums of money. Many sportsmen are vulnerable to exploitative agents and mostly end up losing a lot of money due to extravagant lifestyles and later on die stressful even after all the glory they once brought the country.
There is nothing as heart wrenching as seeing former female pugilist Conjestina Achieng in her current mental state. She represents the neglect and greed that is rampant in our sports. Today, she remains helpless in her ancestral home; totally neglected by citizens of a country she proudly represented winning titles and even catching the eye of former world female boxing champion Laila Ali.
Inculcate a sports culture
While most parents prioritize academics, sports do offer a great alternative. Sports personalities like Victor Wanyama, David Rudisha, Julius Yego and Catherine Ndereba, Dorcas Ndasaba just to mention a few are perfect examples to the young generation of where an individual can be and what they can achieve through sports. They earn top dollar and play amongst other elite athletes, more and more chances for such should be created to inspire a generation of sportsmen.
While most Kenyan households believe that education is the best way to life, success stories like these can be used to inspire the younger generation through mentorship.
School games are also a great venue to scout for talent, whereas companies like Brookside Dairies offer scholarships to top athletes, some sports scholarships are fraught with bureaucratic red tape, political interference, corruption and conflict of interest from the awarding panel. This is very demoralizing and it is important to curb the same so that sports motivates the many young people who can use it as an alternative means of earning a living.
The government must handsomely reward sportsmen who bring glory to the country and this will also make the sportsmen feel appreciated and motivate others too. Time for empty talk should be past and the government and respective sports bodies must run their institutions in a professional manner where merit and talent is the bar and not tribe or sycophancy.