The shame of Kenya’s stranded national teams

Monday, July 4th, 2022 03:01 | By
Kenya's national women's netball team. PHOTO/Courtesy
Kenya's national women's netball team. PHOTO/Courtesy

A very sad situation is obtaining in Kenya’s sports, where teams representing the country in various sporting disciplines are being stranded and unable to travel to honour fixtures.

The Kenya men’s national basketball team, the Kenya Morans, were unable to travel to Egypt because they had received no money from the Ministry of Sports. The Morans were going to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Basketball World Cup qualifiers. They had to be bailed out by FIBA itself.

The Malkia Stars, Kenya’s women’s national volleyball team, is one of Kenya’s most successful national teams. However, they have always floundered on the world stage, when they meet the top global women’s volleyball teams.This has been attributed to lack of exposure at the highest level. The team was, therefore, looking forward with great anticipation towards a two-month training camp in Brazil in June, to prepare for the World Championships. The Ministry of Sports told them it had no money to pay for the trip. They were bailed out at the last minute by a betting company, Mozzart Bet.

Similarly, the country’s 15s national rugby team, the Kenya Simbas, were stranded with no means to finance their trip to the 2023 World Cup qualifiers in France in June. If it was not for the magnanimity of Teita Sisal Estates, who shelled out the money they needed, they would not have travelled.

Through what is really a momentous scandal, the Ministry of Sports has simply resorted to hand-wringing, washing its hands of all responsibility. It says it has exhausted its funding for sponsoring national teams. Really?!

First, sports is not just any other activity in a country, and especially in one like Kenya where it has uplifted the lives of millions of young people, and given them relevance and identity. Young people are making very good livelihoods in sports as diverse as athletics, football, rugby, boxing, volleyball, kabaddi, among others.  Sports federations have really woken up, and are representing the country at world championships in their sports. The Ministry is clearly lagging behind.

Secondly, representing your country constitutes the highest level of patriotism one can achieve in peacetime. Kenyan youth have proved their patriotism again and again by representing their country, usually under very difficult circumstances.

Thirdly, Kenya teams have done the country incredibly proud over the years on the world stage.  It thus beggars belief to see this kind of scandal playing out at the Ministry of Sports. Pushed to reform by the Ministry of Sports, many sports federations have upped their game. As a consequence, Kenya is seeing an explosion of hitherto unacclaimed sports, with teams prepared to represent Kenya at global meets. The Ministry of Sports cannot be the one to let these people down.

For youth, sports is as critical as education. In countries like the US or Britain, millions of young people are making an excellent living across a whole plethora of sports. Those governments have gone out of their way to pump billions into sports because this represents a major career pathway for youth.

Where does all this leave Kenya?

It is a crying shame that Kenya’s sportspeople can be stranded, unable to go compete after  months of backbreaking preparatory work. By the time a sportsperson is called into a national team, it is an ambition that has been nurtured and fervently worked on for years.  Imagine then, the momentous sense of frustration and betrayal such young people face when up to the last moment they have no surety they will travel. The anxiety certainly will affect their performance.

It looks like the Ministry of Sports has been caught flatfooted, completely unprepared, for the increased workload  from the sports federations. The Ministry must completely recalibrate its projections in line with the country’s growing sports profile.

Just like the Government has to ensure that the capitation money for every child in primary and secondary school is budgeted for, it must also make sure that the money for the preparation and participation of any sports federation that is representing Kenya on the global stage is budgeted for. Anything less is abdication.

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