Invest in soccer to create opportunities for youth
Sports are important for building social cohesion. It is a moment when barriers come down, the spirit of the game takes over, and emotions soar.
For a moment, people forget their challenges and focus on the collective delight of victory. Australia and New Zealand jointly host the women’s football World Cup, but we do not seem to have any idea in Kenya as the information on these games is largely missing from our media.
The United States are the current World Champions. They are seeking to retain the trophy, which will be unprecedented.
They face a strong challenge from Germany, Netherlands, England, and Canada. Should the United States retain the trophy, they will have won it three times in a row. That is an achievement.
South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, and Morocco represent Africa in these games. But they started poorly. Zambia has conceded 10 goals and a red card after two games. Morocco conceded six goals against Germany, South Africa lost to Sweden and Nigeria after receiving a red card drew against Canada. Only South Africa has scored one goal. What a performance for the continent!
Australia is a vast country with three time zones. Add on New Zealand and their location; the games occur in Kenya’s early hours of the day. To watch them live, one must wake up early or miss morning activities. One would need the motivation to do this.
The women’s football team’s fate is tied to the overall fate of football in Kenya. The lead-up to this world cup has been torturous for Kenya.
The global football federation, FIFA, banned Kenya from participating in FIFA-organised activities during the era of Amina Mohamed.
The minister, fed up with the corruption and irregularities in football, disbanded the local federation in November 2021, drawing the ire of FIFA.
FIFA banned Kenya from participating in its activities. Although FIFA lifted the suspension after the intervention by the Ababu Namwamba regime, the fate of football has not changed much.
It is not just the women’s game; the national men’s team, Harambee Stars, has, time without number, run into headwinds.
The clubs do not fare any better despite their best efforts. Recent reports that Gor Mahia could not play their home games in Kenya due to the lack of appropriate facilities are just one challenge.
It is a shame that there are no stadia in the country of the standard on which competitive football can be played. Yet we have big names for stadiums: Nyayo National Stadium, Kasarani Sports Complex, City Stadium and even the Machakos one.
Football, if well managed, offers many opportunities for young people. It is an income-generating activity. Think of the amount of money the French superstar Kylian M’Mbappe attracts. Despite our challenges, our young talents have been holding their own internationally. The spotlight is often on Victor Wanyama and Michael Olunga among others.
But there is a host of women players out there. Doreen Wabwire, Cynthia Shilwatso, Ruth Ingotsi, Corazon Aquino, and Annedy Kundu are all playing their game abroad. Below them, there is still a full supply of talent from the local clubs. Vihiga Queens has particularly been a great nurturing ground for talent. But this is despite the challenges. Now imagine if these clubs were given the support they need to grow their talents!
Yet sports and football are not an end in themselves. It is not just about employment for the young people; national economics, as the sale of players, brings the club selling and the country a windfall of cash, but it is also about national pride. The joy of your national colours on display at the international level is soft capital for the country.
Locally, it is a tool for managing your population. We pride ourselves in individual sports. Ferdinand Omanyala and Faith Kipyegon, not to mention Eliud Kipchoge keep taking the population’s mind from their worries to their momentary bliss.
Now imagine the group sport that is football and its psychological potential of drawing the public’s attention, as football often does, into a moment of psychological frenzy. Kenyan football should rise.