Let’s seize soccer fiesta to spur sports growth

Friday, September 29th, 2023 10:50 | By
Africa Cup of Nation trophy. PHOTO/Kawowo Sports
Africa Cup of Nation trophy. PHOTO/Kawowo Sports

This is the best news in Kenya in a long time: the success of the Pamoja bid, the joint petition by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to host the African Cup of Nations finals, and the African football feast, in the three East African countries!

Just imagine the thought of Mo Salah, Winfred Ndidi, Sadio Mane, Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang and the host of African football stars, including Winfred Zaha and Eduard Mendy, walking the streets of Nairobi and riding the superhighway to Kasarani Stadium!

The thought of the three East African Heads of State together holding hands at the rousing opening ceremony, hopefully at the Kasarani Sports Complex, to welcome the continent and sporting enthusiasts from across the globe to Africa’s biennial football bonanza.

This would be a massive lift to the regional agenda of regional integration – opening borders to welcome citizens from other countries into the community, to holiday, to study, to work and to visit family and friends.

It is a badly kept secret that from time to time, the community suffers bouts of flu, when summits fail to take off, bills remain unpaid, financial remissions fall behind schedule, and staff members are left uncertain about the future of their job security.

But here we would be, the three East African countries standing up as one. Part of diplomacy takes place at the interpersonal level. The risk of failure would bring the three leaders together and, in the process, unlock other avenues of collaboration.

Hosting the sports fest will also serve as a motivation for Kenya to get her sport together. Football has been doing badly. For example, the mighty AFC Leopards has started the league badly. After four games, Ingwe stands at position 13 on the table. Gor Mahia won the league last year with hardly any breathing space, while the AFC was seventh. How these two teams perform gives us a measure of the football heartbeat, whether healthy or otherwise. It has not been good.

As for Harambee Stars, the less said, the better. We may do well to focus attention on the ladies’ games. But ladies do not go to Afcon, except as fans and spectators. Now, Harambee Stars will have to account for themselves. Who knows, but this hosting right might, fingers crossed, the sheer shame of failing, if we still have the capacity to feel shame, bring some sobriety to the game many Kenyans love.

Our long-distance runners, the individual stars that we raise in Uasin Gishu and its environs, do as proud once in a while. But their success would be nothing compared with the pride of watching Harambee Stars match to the field to challenge the continent’s best.

Watching Harambee Stars would be sheer bliss. We still live in the memories of the past. It is almost 40 years since Gor Mahia, the only Kenyan team to have earned continental honours, won the African Cup Winners’ Cup. We had false starts in hosting continental football games in 1996 and 2018. The last time an East African Country, Ethiopia, hosted continental games was in 1976!

Hosting the games will inject massive investments into the economy. There are stadia to be built or refurbished, a city to be spruced up to showcase our best, infrastructure to be developed, the hospitality and entertainment industry to be upgraded, a nation’s face make-up for the world’s television, and other auxiliary services to go along with it. This is what we would be looking at.

Those in government would be looking at an opportunity to use the games to drive a feel-good factor to carry them to the next elections. The games coming up only months before the next general elections will provide a success story to showcase during campaigns.

This success of the Pamoja bid will have a ripple effect on different facets of the nation: economy, infrastructure, international relations, regional integration, emotional uplift, and many other sectors, the benefits of which money cannot buy. The government can not afford to mess this up. Opportunities do not come up that often, and when one comes, then the better to grab it.

— The writer is Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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