Saturday, 4 June 2016

Muhammad Ali, truly Greatest of All Time

Circa 1980: Unease is building across the globe while countries are busy preparing for the Summer Olympics to be held in Moscow. The then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier in 1979, has US engaging its top foreign officials in diplomacy to object to the USSR's actions. It is decided  that the Carter administration would procure the services of its biggest sports icon Muhammad Ali to convince African countries to boycott the Olympic Games.
The then Pres.Jimmy Carter hurriedly cobbled up an African Tour for Ali to visit 5 African states including Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Kenya. His reception in 2 of the states - Tanzania and Nigeria was lukewarm given the countries were quietly supporting socialist ideals and did not take Carter's shuttle sports diplomacy kindly. Tanzania's Julius Nyerere refused to meet Muhammad Ali and almost ruined the February trip to Africa. Nigeria's Shagari also gave a cold shoulder to his sojourn.
Muhammad Ali and Pres. Moi at State House, Nairobi, Feb 1980 - Image courtesy of Associated Press
For Kenya, it was the first and only time they came close to seeing the 'Greatest of All Time' - Muhammad Ali. Then Pres. Moi and his emerging role in the Cold War turf wars in Africa, restored some decency and surety by supporting the US boycott.
The Kenyan trip gave the US some impetus and won them an ally when Kenya's athletes eventually boycotted the Games in Moscow later in 1980. The 3-day trip to Kenya included a visit to the Starehe Boys Centre, as well as an exhibition fight with Kenya's Muhammad Abdallah Kent. Though the African trip did not score a major victory for Ali, it still endeared him to his adoring fans across Africa and other developing countries.
Later that year, he would lose his title to Larry Holmes in his second last year before retiring in 1981.

Humble Beginnings
Ali's walk into the ring started in Louisville, Kentucky where it is rumoured to have found his bicycle stolen. In his anger, he swore to thump the thief and a cop found him and enrolled him to a local boxing gym. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr as he was christened by his parents quickly learnt his art and became an amateur boxer winning the Golden Gloves (6 in Kentucky and 2 National) awards. This led to his selection into the US boxing team for the 1960 Rome Olympics Games, winning light-heavyweight gold medal.
For this young boxer who's unorthodox style of dancing around the ring and speed previously unknown of boxers his weight, he indeed announced his arrival onto the scene. His style would have a spice of his bounce as he sought to tire his opponent and deliver his punches with precision much to the delight of the crowds. He often called out his opponents in the ring, driving them mad and in essence making them lose their minds before delivering the coup de grace. Indeed his was more like a calling to change the way boxing was viewed and seen then.

Ali and The Olympics 
1960s were a defining era for Clay. Winning the gold medal in Rome was among them. A story is told of how he became angry after being denied service at all-White restaurant resulting in him throwing away his gold medal in the Ohio River. He turned pro in October 1960 amassing an impressive 19-0 fight ( 15 of these being TKOs). In 1964 in Miami, he got his chance to fight the reigning world champion Sonny Liston scoring one of the biggest upsets in the sport.

In the same decade, he joined the Nation of Islam thanks to the influence of  Malcolm X and its founder, Elijah Muhammad appropriately giving him the name Muhammad Ali. Having being subjected to the
Ali & Malcolm X's family- Image Archives
segregation and oppressive forms of social living in some of the States had made him become conscious of his place in society and his role in coming up and speaking out of these social injustices.

Later that decade in 1967, Ali was forced to retire from the sport thanks to conviction of a federal court which stripped him of the heavyweight titles (WBA, WBC among others). This was after he refused to enlist in the US Army to join the forces in Vietnam.

Moscow 1980 (again):Ali's entanglement with the Olympics movement would come again in 1980 when the US Government sought to enlist his services to engage in shuttle diplomacy among African states. His statement on the USSR (now largely Russia)'s invasion of Afghanistan buttressed his role. (In Ali’s estimation of the invastion);
... the Soviets were: like a bad child who you’ve told to stay out of the kitchen, stay out of the cookie jar and if you threaten to strike him, he’ll see that you’re not really serious and tomorrow he’ll go take another cookie, or he may break the jar. The Russians have made a move that we should do something about. So we got to do something to show them that we’re serious and if we go play ball with them, go boxing with them, run track or swim with them it just don’t seem that we’re so serious
Atlanta 1996: The US IOC got the chance to host the Olympic Games in consecutive decades in Atlanta. Come Summer in ATL, and the Games organisers kept everyone guessing who would light up the Olympic Torch ( lit at the start of every Games and put off on the last day of the same). And when the spotlight was shone in the night of 19th July,1996 in Atlanta. It is often noted as one of the Games enduring moments and one of the Olympics of triumph over physical challenges. This ceremony would also mark the last of the major public appearance of the legend.
(He was also re-awarded his 1960 gold medal having lost his original medal)
Ali at Atlanta '96 - Image courtesy of

Africa and Ali
Having been a vocal supporter of social injustices, it would only be a matter of time before he connected with the 'motherland'. Well, that may not be entirely true...his African journey came around thanks to the genius of one Don King. Starting out in his role as boxing promoter, Don King had been tasked with securing a venue and money for the fight dubbed 'Rumble in the Jungle'. The bout also coincided with a music concert organised by Jerry Masucci. As if by fate, the two events were quickly picked by Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo)'s Pres. Mobutu Sese Seko who paid for hosting the fight to shine a spotlight on the state at the River Congo. The music concert dubbed Zaire '74 featured among others, Miriam Makeba, B.B King, Bill Withers, The Spinners, Celia de Cruz and King of Soul, James Brown. Local acts include Tabu Ley and his Afrisa International Band, Franco's TPOK Jazz and Cameroonian Manu Dibango.
Rumble in the Jungle - Ali vs Foreman Ticket -image courtesy of

The fight scheduled for September 1974 was pushed by a month to October, further complicating the logistics for Don King. The Zaire government also refused to pick the music festival's tab prompting new investors to be sought. In the end, all these were forgotten when in the sweltering humid conditions of Kinshasa, Muhammad Ali knocked George Foreman on the morning of 29th October,1974, truly one of the Fights of the Century!
The fight achieved many first being that both boxers were paid in excess of US$ 10 million. Consider too the fight was broadcast across the world (in Africa at some ungodly morning hours), it made the commercial possibilities for pay-per-view which in effect has also led to the diminishing interest in the sport among younger audiences.
The fight also launched the career of Don King who would dominate the boxing promoters' world for the next 2 decades before his influence diminishing in the 2000s.

Ali and the US Govt Hate-Love Relations
For his stand and vocal nature, he was always at crosshairs with the US State officials. His first encounter came when he joined the Nation of Islam and associating with the maverick Malcolm X. Though these early encounters were not as often quoted and publicised, they did form a basis of his love-hate relationship with the authorities. Initially following the teachings of Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam, he did convert to a Sunni Muslim in the 1970s.
His second encounter came in 1966/67 when he refused to be inducted in the Army which was engaged with the communist elements, VietCong in Vietnam. He had been drafted in the Army in 1962 and classified as fit for the mandatory draft in 1966. His defiance represented a first for a sportsman and person of his status refusing to bow to so-called nationalism or patriotism.
His third part is the aforementioned shuttle diplomacy in Africa representing the Carter administration's proposal of Moscow 1980 Olympic Games boycott. This again was met with mixed feelings both within the US administration and world. While it didn't yield much given 3 countries ended up at the Games, he did play his part in advocating for non-aggression among states.
His fourth and final act of diplomacy with the US Government was in 1990 when he was sought to negotiate with the Saddam Hussein establishment to release US hostages before the Gulf War. By this time, the authorities acknowledged that in Muhammad Ali they had a Citizen of the World who would best serve as a negotiator to a fellow Muslim. He did secure 15 hostages - a less known but significant triumph in the world of diplomacy.
The awards by the Bush administration among others were a foregone conclusion to a career worth noting.

Louisville Lip:Ali's Quotes
A trailblazer in trash-talking, getting into the opponent's head as well as giving press conference journos a wealth of words to note for their stories. Here are but a few of the many;

"The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life"
"I hated every minute of training, but I said, 'Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion"
"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth"
"I'm so mean, I make medicine sick"
"I am the greats, I said that even before I knew I was"
"The man who has no imagination has no wings"
"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up"

...Truly the Greatest of All Time!

Find two great pieces of his career and legacy first published by the Daily Nation and The Guardian respectively;
1. When a Great Sportsman becomes a Cultural Icon by Joyce Nyairo

2. Muhammad Ali: fighter, joker, magician, religious disciple, preacher by Kevin Mitchell

Sources:,Wikipedia,, Getty Images, Daily Nation,

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

With IRB 7s 2015/16 season done and dusted, can we conquer in Rio?

IRB 7s Series 2015-16
The 3rd weekend of May 2016 was always going to be a momentous one for Kenyan rugby fans, more specifically for the 7s game. Well, after the Singapore and Paris rounds of the HSBC 7s IRB Series, the expectations would only get higher. Unfortunately the Kenyan 7s team, affectionately known as the Shujaa Pride, seemed to have run out of steam in the final outing in London's Twickenham Grounds.
Collins Injera - image courtesy of

One Collins Injera had other ideas though. The winger who is celebrating 10 years since making his debut to the Kenya 7s team topped the tries to become leading try scorer of all time. After passing the previous record of 230 tries, he went on to add 4 more tries on the last day to increase his tries at 235. Below is a list of the top 5 leading try scorers;

  1. Collins Injera (Kenya) - 235 tries;
  2. Santiago Gomez Cora (Argentina) - 230 tries;
  3. Ben Gollings (England) - 220 tries;
  4. Dan Norton (England) -210 tries;
  5. Fabian Jurles (South Africa) - 179 tries.
{Special mention too to Humphrey Kayange, Collin's elder brother who is 8th on the rankings with 159 tries}.
Congratulations to Collins Injera and the Kenya 7s team for achieving this feat! Commendable job by the team finishing 7th in the log of IRB 7s teams with 98 points , 1 point less than the highest ever points.
The team came of age this season winning at least 1 of the circuit series in Singapore though they featured in less Main Cup action than would have been anticipated. The team has also been able to withstand initial woes of delayed salaries (though not fully resolved yet). They have also had a fairly common front with the team management. This stability has ensured less rocking and more focus on the team's deliverables.
With the IRB 2015/16 circuit coming to an end, the second half of the tough year starts almost immediately. These include;

  • Rio Olympics Games 
  • Kenya 7s circuit in the 3rd and 4th Quarters of 2016 (to be reviewed in Sep 2016)
  • IRB 2016/17 Circuit (to be reviewed in Oct 2016)
Rio Olympics Games

Having qualified among the last slots as Africa representatives, the Kenya 7s team saw its resurgence which formed the basis of the current success. However this will be banished first due to its sterling performances making them marked by the bigger teams.

The success too has meant the team has kept within its current players utilising a minimal number as substitutes along the season. This may again work as double-edged sword as the experience will serve them well. The negative though is the exhaustion from a tough season and the harsh weather in Rio.

Again the limited pool of players (sic) may hurt the team going from the circuit to the Olympics and onto to the new season 2016/17. No belittling the achievement of the Collins Injeras and Humphrey Kayanges of the team, it is also time new talent gets to step up and take the place.

The more realistic target would be for a medal bracket - Bronze medal at the worst. Gold and Silver would be ideal but you can lest assured the big boys in Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, fellow African reps South Africa as well as Argentina and USA will be no pushovers for the summer festival of Games.

Preparations will also be key to how the team performs. Here we invoke the GoK and the sponsors who first need sort out the payments to ensure players are fully remunerated. Being one of the few semi-professional sides in the top 10 of the IRB circuit, the players make heavy sacrifices. Its only fair they get rewarded their hard-earned monies.

Still relating to preparations, the pre-Games camp will be integral to ensure the team doesn't run rugged in the humid conditions of tropical Rio. Ideally a few days in Mombasa or such a location would mimic the conditions down in Brazil.

Finally the Olympic team for Kenya under GoK and NOCK supervision would make ours a worthy Games. Previous Games have seen #TeamKenya get a raw deal with arguments over non-essential travel parties ( Sports CS READ THIS) making the Games at the expense of players and essential technical team members.

Once these are addressed, we can sit and enjoy an entertaining debut of the 7s rugby game in Rio, watching our only team hopefuls for #TeamKenya repping the country. Over to you KRU, GoK and NOCK!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Kenya Sevens finally break the duck winning the Singapore Sevens Main Cup

A shimmy here and dummy there - Sunday 17th April, 2016 marked a watershed moment for Kenyan sport. The Kenya Sevens Rugby team better known as Shujaa overcome current IRB 7s table leaders Fiji 30-7 to win the  Singapore Sevens Main Cup.
Take a quick pix- Kenya's Shujaa - Singapore Sevens 2016 champions - image courtesy of

Having made two previous main cup finals in 2009 and 2013 respectively, the Kenyan side has slowly been creeping up on the bigger and more favoured teams for awhile. The HSBC IRB 2015-16 season too has been a mixed basket with the Kenyan team with posting a number of strong performances in the group stages only to falter at the quarters of the main cups.
Even in Singapore, the team had started well beating Russia, before tying with Scotland and losing to fellow Africans Blitzbokke from South Africa. Thanks to the other teams falters, the team's determination got its redemption moving into the quarters (against France) and semis (against Argentina).
Collins Injera also won Man of the Match as he also sought to close in on the akk
Not belabouring these points, the team now looks primed to finish in the top 6 places of the HSBC IRB 7s rankings if they are able to reach the semis in the remaining 2 legs in Paris and London. The final position will definitely put Shujaa team in a prime position for a medal place in the Rio Olympics Games in August.
For now though, let's savour the historic win after 140 tournaments, 2 previous finals, we are the CHAMPIONS!

Here's a sneak peak of how major new outlets reported it;
Kenya shocked Fiji 30-7 in the final of the Singapore Rugby Sevens to claim their first World Series title. It took Kenya 140 tournaments to finally break their duck and they are only the second African nation after South Africa to win a World Series leg.
Kenya pulled off a stunning 30-7 victory over Fiji in the final of the Singapore Sevens to capture their first World Series event and join the growing list of contenders for the Olympic gold medal in Rio. The East Africans, who had twice finished runner-up in tournaments, blew the Fijians off the park with six tries in the first-half, including two by Collins Injera who took his career tally to 228 touchdowns, just two behind Argentina's Santiago Gomez Cora's world record of 230.
KENYA has stunned the sevens world with an epic upset of Fiji in the cup final in Singapore. The unfancied Kenyans destroyed the world series leaders 30-7 — delivering the African nation their first major sevens title after losing the cup final in three previous tournaments. Kenya scored six tries — all unconverted — with stalwart Collins Injera nabbing a double.
And finally CNN's interview with Collins Injera on his exploits thus far as he tries to breaking the all-time try scoring with CNN's Christina MacFarlane;

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Sports in Kenya – First Quarter 2016 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The first quarter of 2016 is already up, funny how time flies when we’re having fun…but is Kenyan sport really have that much fun? January – March there have been a number of positives to cheer up our common good as a nation (though David Ndii doesn’t quite believe in this….). The same period has also seen a number of disappointing results, pronouncements or lack thereof. Let’s get this started;


  • FKF Elections – a new Board of management is running Kenya’s biggest sport, football. After a number of false starts, it was the youthful Nick Mwendwa who won the day. His base, christened #TeamChange also scooped a number of strategic positions including the Vice President – giving Kenya her first female top football official.
    Kenya's Oscar Ouma against New Zealand's Bonny Williams - courtesy of 
  • Kenya 7s – 2016 started well for the 7s team. In March, victories against strong nations like New Zealand and Argentina at the Las Vegas 7s showing intent into the team’s aspirations of finishing in the top 6 of the IRB 7s log. One of the highlights was one Collins Injera clocking his 220th try and now chasing the top try scorer’s position being the only top 3 7s players with a shot at it. 
  • Kenya’s athletic prowess – world half-marathoners (both men and women ) and continental cross-country champions is what we are! The two teams scored big victories both at individual and team levels colleting top honours and firmly setting the pace as the world prepares for an Olympic year. Hongera wanariadha wetu!
  •  Motoring whiz – Tejas Hirani – if you don’t know that name, then you don’t know the young genius of a motorsport driver in the country who’s making it big on the icy and speedy trails in Europe. And as he says on his link this is “a champion in the making”…enough said! 
  • Sponsorships – the betting companies have been placing their money where mouths are by signing sponsorship deals with the Kenya Premier League, top teams in the KPL including AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia among others. Other corporates have restored some of their sponsorships including Kenya Airways, Safaricom who put investments in the rugby sport. Golfing enthusiasts got their annual swings thanks to a raft of sponsorship deals – including Barclays Bank, MultiChoice, TransCentury among others.
    Flying Tejas - Kenya's motor-rallying Tejas Hirani -  courtesy of 


  • Anti-Doping Bill – if ever there was a time our MPs were needed to legislate on a Bill before its signed into law, it’s now. But what do our ‘honourable men and women decide? Blow whistles while others were busy cheering on the Presidency before going on recess. Now Kenya stares at missing major athletics events including the 2016 Rio Games
  • Football politics – it didn’t take long for the game to be back in mucky waters – from the national coach appointment, to the circus that was the national team selection and ultimately 2 defeats for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. It has also been an unsteady start to the Kenya Premier League as teams seek to secure sponsorships, with officials busy scheming how to keep the monies deeper and for long than pay deserving players and coaches. I mean why did Gor Mahia insist on reducing former manager’s pay before he decided to jump ship?


  • AFCON  2017 Qualifications - Kenya’s (placed 103 on FIFA  world ranking loss to Guinea Bissau – over 40 places at 147 below Kenya  and we couldn’t muster a single goal. The second game inNairobi ended in a loss of 0-1 though the match was disrupted for 30 min as Kenyan players disagreed with referee’s decision to award a goal. In the meantime, the team and the venue Nyayo National Stadium faces severe penalties and likely suspension for the indiscipline.

  • Kenya’s Volleyball queens loss to Egypt in Rio Games direct qualifications - the team looked destined to book a direct ticket to Rio in August but the Kenya Volleyball Federation officials and team management had other ideas. First the change in personnel bringing in less experienced players was bound to backfire. Secondly the team's preparations were haphazard and the technical aspects not well covered. The only reprieve is that there is one more round of qualifiers to be played next month in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

No to Rio 2016 ? Zika Virus, Boycotts, Controversies and all that appertains to the Olympic Games

This year is surely not disappointing with its drama-filled headlines and issues around sport. The biggest one at the moment is the Zika Virus which is seen as Brazil's latest hurdle in hosting the largest multi-sports bonanza.
Rio 2016 
While Brazilian authorities have been battling with polluted waters along the Rio shoreline ( as well as diminishing commodity prices, the Zika virus has shaken the very essence of the Games threatening it with boycotts or no-shows by major sporting nations.
Many have even brewed conspiracies such as;
Whatever the case, the impact of the pandemic will surely be felt at the Summer Olympics to be held in Rio in just under 6 months. Even Kenyan sports administrators have mixed feelings of attending the Games with some calling for tighter safeguards or else, while others insist on participating in the spirit of the Games.
Never before have the Olympic Games looked at risk of missing the largest gathering of nations since 1984. Speaking of missing the Games, we shall take a cursory look at some of the Games which either didn't take place or were mired in controversy, leading to boycotts or low attendance.

1916 Berlin Games logo - courtesy
1916: The VI Olympiad at the Berlin Games in Germany - with the world tottering towards an arms race thanks in part to the German empire and emerging disquiet in parts of Europe, the Games were not held. This is to avoid endorsement of the German Reich as the Games had suddenly become important social and political platforms. 

1940 and 1944 XII and XIII Olympiad in Tokyo-Japan (then Helsinki-Finland) - by now the dalliance of the Games with political and warring regimes seemed to be buttressed. While Japan had won the rights to host the Games, it got into war with its larger (and by then less developed neighbour) China in the 2nd Sino-Japanese War. The IOC hastily awarded the Games to Helsinki, Finland only for the cold weather to rule the Games completely off. Given the 1940 Games debacle, the World War II meant that no Games were held in 1944, though the Summer Games had been awarded to the Britain's London. 

Kenyan Olympic team 1956 - image courtesy of Kenya Archives
1956 XVI Olympiad in Melbourne, Australia ( and Stockholm, Sweden) - these Games had two hosts thanks to the quarantine of livestock and animals meaning the equestrian events - horse jumping were held in Stockholm. The rest of the world or what remained after the boycott of the Chinese Republic, England, Iraq, Lebanon, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland to make a statement of their political positions. See it's a joke when the virus is on the loose.... 
Kenya participated in its first Olympic Games though still as a British colony. This was one year after the establishment of the National Olympic Committee Kenya (NOCK). This would be the only Games that Kenya never won a single medal too (thus far, yaiks...)

1976 XXI Olympiad in Montreal, Canada - Tanzania managed to rally 22 other African states to boycott the Games ( including our very own Kenyan state). This was due to New Zealand's rugby team the All Blacks tour of South Africa , which was still suspended from the Games due to its apartheid system of governance. This meant the world was denied the exploits of one Henry Rono among other top athletes and sports personalities of that time. 
1976 Montreal memento - courtesy of

The Games also were occasioned by one of the largest debts ever to hit  host city which was finally repaid 30 years later in 2006. They also had one weird mascot - don't know whether it was a beaver but it surely doesn't inspire much confidence.

1980 XXII Olympiad in Moscow, (then USSR) - The height of boycotts had reached its zenith and the US led about 62 nations into boycotting the Games in the Russian city. This was to protest the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan. Although some were in solidarity with the boycott, others were undergoing economic hardships thanks to unstable fuel prices and commodity prices of the late 1970s. The UK was part of the boycott though it sent its athletes under a neutral flag. 
Some of the countries that boycotted the Games ended up participating at the Liberty Bell Classic or Olympic Boycott Games - mainly the athletics disciplines. Kenya participated in these and won two gold medals in the 400m ( Billy Konchellah) and 5000m (Kip Rono) as well as silver in the 4 X 400m Men's Relay.

Julius Korir - courtesy of
1984 XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles, USA - To return the favour for the 1980 Games, the USSR and its 14 'satellite states' including Angola, Cuba, East Germany, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to name but a few decided to boycott. Though the boycott did not achieve much it also led to a similar parallel Games in the form of Friendship Games - sponsored by one exuberant media magnate in the form of Ted Turner. Kenya only participated in the Los Angeles Games after coming off an attempted coup in 1982 and a bruising election in 1983. The team's performance was dismal with only one gold medal in Julius Korir's 3000m steeplechase triumph.

1988 XXXIV Olympiad in Seoul, South Korea - The tumultuous 80s would mark the last of the Games boycotts but surely not without controversies. North Korea boycotted for not being considered as part-host of the Games. Albania, Cuba, Ethiopia. Madagascar, Nicaragua and Seychelles all boycotted for various reasons. The Games would also be the last that East Germany participated as a single state as it would merge with the West Germany to form the Federal Democratic state of Germany. USSR would also participate for the last time as a union of soviet states as it broke in 1989 after the collapse of the union under Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev.
Kenya had one of its best outings winning five gold medals including Africa's first ever gold medal in boxing - with the late Robert Wangila Napunyi winning in the welterweight while Chris Sande won bronze in the middleweight. The athletics field had 4 gold including Paul Ereng (800m), Peter Rono (1500m), Julius Kariuki (3000m steeplechase) and John Ngugi (5000m).
The Games were also marked by the biggest scandal in doping with the positive testing of Ben Johnson who had won the 100m in record time then of 9:79 secs ahead of everyone else. He would be banned for life from the Games. 
The Games also marked the first time an openly gay athlete was forced to disclose his HIV-positive status in rather odd and almost tragic circumstances. Read more on Greg Louganis's diving exploits at the Olympics

These but a few  are some of the many controversies that have dogged the Games. We do hope that this time round there will be no boycotts and the concerns of health and general environmental state of the city of Rio are addressed in time before the Games. Who would want to ruin what would surely be one Samba party to remember? 

For quick Qs and As on the Zika Virus check out this link by WHO.  

Friday, 29 January 2016

Kenya Sevens - Seven Top Moments of the Rugby 7s team

2016 marks a momentous year for the game of rugby and in particular the shorter version in the Sevens. Taking a look at both the 2015/2016 IRB Sevens Series and the Olympic Games in Rio in August, Kenya's team is well-placed to claim its place and maybe rewrite history too...
20 years ago, the Kenya 7s affectionately known as Kenya Shujaa team journey started in earnest as one of the most exciting and hard-working teams in the rugby series. It also marked a start of its major sporting event in Kenya in the Safari Sevens. Through this storied past, we have decided to take a sneak peek of the top 7 moments of the game in the last 20 years since it gained prominence in this part of the world.

[NOTE: This is no scientific list and its given its order more by the chronology of events.]

1. Kenya qualifies for 3rd Edition of Rugby Sevens World Cup (2001) in Argentina

It had taken about 5 years to build a formidable team. The team had played as an invitational team at the Middlesex 7s,  Commonwealth Games in 1998, as as Dubai and Stellenbosch legs of the inaugural IRB Sevens series in 1999. The Safari Sevens also worked to whip up local team support and appetite for the game, as well as expose the team to opposition of similar experience.
At the third edition of the Rugby Sevens World Cup, Kenya announced its entry into the global stage.
From Africa there were its more fancied counterparts in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Though the team didn't score any victories thus finishing last in the Pool (along with Fiji, Argentina, South Korea, Russia and Ireland), they did play in the Bowl beating France 12-5 before losing in the semis to Chile.

2. Kenya beats Australia - Hong Kong Sevens (2002) - IRB Sevens Series 2002/2003

Following good outings in 2001 and 2002 in various invitational tournaments and the Commonwealth Games, Shujaa team was slowly cementing its place in the game. In 2002 at Wellington 7s in New Zealand, Kenya caused a major upset topping Australia 15-12. By the end of the IRB series, Kenya was placed in the ninth position finishing within the top 10 bracket.
Ben Ayimba's a coming for you...Image courtesy of

The performances in this season helped the team's campaign in becoming a core team of the IRB Sevens Series in 2004. The series usually comprises of 15 'core' teams named each season depending on their experience and performance of past seasons.

3. Kenya finishes joint 3rd at 5th Edition of Rugby Sevens World Cup (2009) in Dubai,UAE
Come 2009, the Shujaa team was enjoying a rare era of success despite having a semi-professional team. It had managed to groom some great talent that even one of its players became coach and helped it one of its best seasons ever.
That player was none other than Benjamin Ayimba. Initial skepticism coming from many quarters was quickly vanquished when the team reached 7 out of 9 semi-finals and 1 final of the IRB series. In H. Kayange and C. Injera, the team had two players who came of age and produced try after try.

In the same year, the Rugby Sevens World Cup was held in Dubai, UAE. They played in a tight pool consisting of England, Tunisia and Hong Kong emerging second.  The team scored a major win over Fiji beating them 26-7 in the quarter-finals, before losing out to Argentina in the semi-finals. The team would finish joint 3rd with Samoa.

These accomplishments saw the team's Collins Injera and Humphrey Kayange awarded the Order of the Golden Warrior (OGW) by the Head of State for their role.

4. Kenya beats New Zealand  AND
Kenya reaches Final  of Wellington Sevens (2013) - IRB Sevens Series 2012/2013

2010 and 2011 were tough years for the team and the mixed performances had the Kenya Rugby Union and sponsors influence the hiring of the management team. On the field though, Kenya Shujaa had by now become a crowd favourite and attracting attention across the series tournaments.
Once again, at the Wellington 7s, the team bested a top seed this time ,the hosts New Zealand in a memorable game. The game ended 19-14 to mark Kenya's first roll into a Final.

In the final, Kenya was primed to play England - so much for patriotism on the side of coach Mike Friday who's English native. If the semi-final game was a toughee, the final was a cracker and nerve-wrecking affair, requiring extra-time to be decided. And were it not for captain Andrew Amonde and Oscar Ouma being sin-binned, maybe it would have gone either way...see below;

5. Kenya finishes 5th in IRB Sevens Series for 2012/2013

Sterling performance by Kenya Shujaa finishing in its best ever position , 5th in the IRB Series deserves a mention. Given Mike Friday's hard work with the team (we all remember how massive they all suddenly looked even for winger Collins 'Collo' Injera who had a tough season with the cancellation of his contract).
There were suddenly vested interests in the game some being from the Board and also the interference with the management and contractual issues. This notwithstanding the team put in its best boot forward.

6. Kenya finishes 4th in 6th Edition of Rugby Sevens World Cup (2013) in Russia

The team's performance in the IRB series meant the team was girded with positive energy going into the Luzhniki stadium, Moscow, Russia. The most outstanding had winger Willy Ambaka being voted into the IRB Series for 2012/13 Dream Team. Pool C pitted Kenya against Samoa, African rivals-Zimbabwe and Philippines. The team topped the pool and advanced to the quarters beating France 24-19. Once again Mike Friday's charges were to face a familiar foe, England. It was another closely-contested game ending 12-5 for the English.
Willy Ambaka whizzes past a New Zealand player - image courtesy of AFP

With the team seemingly disappointed to have to play in the third-place play-off, they lost 29-5 to the Fijians. What was worse was the how the management were treated with Friday tendering his resignation as the obnoxious now became putrid. His departure marked the end of a fairy tale season and downward trajectory of the team for the next two seasons.

7. Kenya qualifies for Olympic Games in Rio (2016)

Having endured a rough 2013/2014 and 2014/2015, the Kenyan team had one last chance to redeem itself. The change of technical bench from Paul Treu to former international Felix Totty Ochieng had not brought back the spark to the team's performance. Many even started questioning if the team still deserved to be accorded the 'core team' status. It was a trying time indeed with the 2015 Safari Sevens - which usually serves as a warm-up to the team's IRB series - having the lowest attendance ever in recent times. Tournament sponsor Safaricom had earlier in the year withdrawn its support meaning the 7s circuit was a dour affair leading to the scenario described above in the Safari Sevens.
The 2014/15 season was used to select automatic qualification to the 2016 Olympics. This was given to the top 4 teams at the end of the season. Kenya missed this badly and had to settle for the African Olympic qualifiers.
A few positives though were the return of Richard Omwela to head the Kenya Rugby Union. Choosing to go retro and nostalgic the Board chose Ben Ayimba to steady the ship. The team also had a mix of talent bringing on board tested players as well as grooming the new talent for the 2015/2016 busy season.
In the Final of the qualifiers, Kenya faced arch-rival Zimbabwe. The latter looked like they had secured the place scoring a try in the dying seconds, almost putting the game beyond Kenya's reach. However a moment of inspiration from speedy Dennis Ombachi saved the day and as they say the rest is below;

Quick Notes:

  1. Kenya Rugby Union officials have indicated they have worked on the players contracts and they can rest easy as they play in the Series for 2016.
  2. Collins Injera  will be chasing more tries seeking to catch Argentina's Santiago Gomez's tally of 230 tries and England's Ben Gollings 220 tries.Possible? Who knows...

Semper fortis Kenya Shujaa !!!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Sports Betting Landscape in Kenya

By SK and PanoramicDon

{This blog post is done as a collabo of two bloggers, SportsKenya and Panoramicdon and shall appear in the respective blogs. It has been a work in progress and not in any way a duplication of previous or current posts in other blogs. Where possible we have attributed the posts that stood out on the same. We welcome your views and experiences in this and seek your indulgence for the next few minutes…Enjoy!}

Image courtesy of sports_betting

1.       Intro, Overview, Legal Framework

Sport betting is a phenomenon that is quickly gripping Kenya. A university student, matatu tout, young professional, boda boda guy, retiree and watchman are all united in anxiety and joy or sorrow depending on the outcome of a sporting event for which they placed a bet on. Some might wonder why it took so long but the multi-billion dollar sport betting industry is now firmly established in Kenya and steadily growing.

Unlike a number of African countries, Kenya has been quite liberal with gambling from independence. The Betting, Lotteries and Gaming Act was enacted in 1966 and has been the legal framework governing the industry since then. The Constitution of Kenya (2010) partly devolved the function of ‘betting, casino and other forms of gambling.’ Both levels of government were given this mandate but there has been no subsequent legislation from both houses of Parliament to determine which specific function will be performed by which level of government.

The Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) was established by an Act of Parliament Chap 131 Laws of Kenya in 1966. Prior to the Act, the functions of the board were handled by the Kenya Police Department. The BCLB has been licensing and regulating betting, casinos and other forms of gambling.  The BCLB Act provides for the control and licensing of betting and gaming premises such as casinos and any other forms of gambling. It also provides for the authorization of lotteries and prize competition as well as eradication of illegal gambling. Through these mechanisms, the Kenyan government has managed to protect and safeguard the public and third parties from unscrupulous betting operators while also providing certain mandatory requirements relating to licensing, ticketing, and submissions of returns, bookmaking and totalizing. Several betting organisations have also been established.

For a number of years though the gaming and betting industry had seen its growth falter but has turned around in the last 5 years making it viable  for employment and revenue generation with renewed dynamic advertising and stringent State supervision. The Kenyan government continues to play a key role in the legal administration and regulation/controlling of betting activities in Kenyan sports.

With the new constitution enacted in 2010 and 2013 elections which led to the establishment of devolved units of governance, Governors naturally wanted the application of the devolved function so as to tap on this potentially lucrative revenue source. There has however been a conflict of opinion between the Council of Governors and the Betting Control Board over licensing and regulation of gambling in specific jurisdictions. The Board argues that there is some security element to gambling hence the reason why BCLB is domiciled under the Ministry of Interior. The gambling industry has been known to attract organized criminal groups due to the massive profits of the industry.

The disagreement between the two levels of government necessitated the Transition Authority to form an Inter-Agency Committee as mandated by law to try and find a way out of the impasse. In the interim, the national government continues license and regulate lottery and gambling activities in the country through the BCLB. County governments were given a ‘supervisory role’ and allowed to license business premises for national lotteries. Counties were also given temporary mandate to issue pool table permits in their jurisdictions. An inter-agency technical committee was formed in August 2015 to help resolve this issue and in the interim the national government will continue in its role to license and regulate casinos and other forms of gambling with the counties having only a supervisory role.
Sports Act
Another Law is the Sports Act No. 25 of 2013 It states as follows in Part III -11 of the Act on the Establishment of the National Sports Fund,Into the Fund all the proceeds of any sports lottery, investments and any other payments required by this Act to be paid into the FundIt has also mentioned as one of the functions of the Board of Trustees, part III-17
(d) “Raise funds through sports lotteries, investments and any other means and disburse the funds for the development of sports and recreation(f) “In relation to the national sports lottery, ensure that any lottery carried out for the purposes of the Fund complies with the relevant lawAs well as the advisory role of the Trustees to the Cabinet Secretary as noted below;(g) “Advise the Cabinet Secretary on the establishment and implementation of a social responsibility programme in respect of the national sports lottery and any other matter relating to the national sports lottery which the Cabinet Secretary may require advice

These clauses in the Sports Act of 2013 give credence to the potent of sports betting and ingrains this to the National Sport Fund hoping to generate a benevolence of sorts to the country’s first sports kitty. If fully operationalized, it would help ease the taxpayer’s burden of funding sports teams during national duty, invest in some sports causes and hopefully set up some basic sports infrastructure where possible.
Who wins what, where and when - image courtesy of

2.       Popularity of Sports Betting in Kenya
Sport betting has not always been this popular in Kenya. Aside from horse racing at Ngong’ racecourse, you had to go to some betting house at Odeon to place a wager on sport events until recently. The most popular lottery then was the Kenya Charity Sweepstakes with its out-and-out and extensive network of agents across the country. However this monopoly was diminished with the growth of the mobile telephony and use of mobile money payments, which eased the placing and payment of bets.

The popularity of the English Premier League, a growing middle class with disposable income and a favorable legal framework meant the necessary conditions were in place for the growth of sports betting in the country. In about a decade, mobile phones got to every corner of the country with it - mobile money and easier access to the Internet. Betting firms now have the means to reach all corners of the country.

What was once a potentially lucrative industry with limited reach, can now be accessed by any Kenyan with a mobile device. Everyone now wants a piece of the pie. Sport betting companies have been quickly setting up in the country under a blitz of publicity. They have done their homework and know that of the ‘exposure effect’ where people are more likely to gamble if exposed to some form of gambling. 

3 .       Brief Review of the top 4 Betting Companies in Kenya
Having seen the sports betting space grow by leaps and bounds in the last 3 years, we shall profile the main players in this space.

a) SportPesa -This is the current undisputed ‘king’ of sports betting in Kenya, appropriately named SportPesa (maybe to ride the mPesa wave…???...), has over 1,000,000 registered users, with over half those users being active monthly users. The holding company is the Pevan East Africa Limited, having launched in Kenya in 2013. This platform has managed to demystify sports betting by taking advantage of mobile phone payments among a range of channels to reach the widest and most remote audiences in the country. The company has leveraged its position by making major sponsorships of the Kenya footballing league (Kenya Premier League renaming it to ‘SportPesa Premier League or The SPL’) and the Super 8 tournament to its stable. The company’s CEO is one Captain Ronald Karauri (son of former Kenya Football Federation honcho Matthew Adams Karauri, fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree…). 

Besides sponsoring the local league, it has also exploited the love of Kenyan football fans of the English Premier League to appeal to all and sundry. It also allows betting on UEFA Champions League and Europa League too. Predictions on other European Leagues are also permitted as are basketball, tennis and rugby league games.

The well-oiled machine has been able to bring on board all major mobile telcos and media houses to help it push across a wide discerning public. It also has the major media houses to count as its partners. The company’s marketing and PR have also been on a major blitz for some time now with concerts (such as the SportPesa Festival) and other forms such as outdoor publicity giving it top-of-mind presence over other sports betting platforms. It has used some of the well-known local music artistes such as Wyre to push their brand to the youthful populace. It runs a news site aggregating football news from across major leagues of the world. Its site was ranked among the top 10 most visited websites in Kenya year ending December 2015.
Check their tweets via Twitter handle @SportPesa

b)  Betway Kenya – operating under Jambo Marketing Limited, the sports betting platform is more famous across the seas being a principal sponsor of EPL team West Ham United.  The ‘Betway’ brand is managed globally by Maltese and Guernsey-based Betway Limited. It is the leading sports betting platform in the UK and is hoping to leverage on the English connection to reap big in Kenya. It officially launched in Kenya in July 2015 after issuance of the BCLB license.
Among the other betting platforms, it would boost of some worthy international appeal having cut its teeth in the UK and other European markets. It boosts of major sponsorship deals including the West Ham United, Premier League of Darts (UK) –one of the biggest sport there, snooker, tennis and horse-racing.
In August 2015, it courted controversy after it emerged that majority ownership is held by British and South African nationals as well as breaching its license by using mobile phone platforms, after implying it would be an online gaming one. This may have led to its cautious approach to the local scene. It is yet to make as much traction in Kenya but we can only guess it will be in this for the long haul once it is able to master the mobile phone and offer a distinguishing feature and service to the other sports betting platforms.
You can follow their updates on Twitter using @Betway_KE

c)   Betin Kenya – this platform is managed by GamCode company incorporated in Kenya and with links to GoldBet Group, one of the largest betting and gaming operators in Africa and Europe. It has online operations in Europe and is said to be the largest operator in Italy with over 1,000 retail shops.  Besides Kenya, it also operates in in Nigeria under the brand name “Bet9ja” which has over 3000 shops in the expansive West African country. It also operates in Uganda as Betin Uganda for sports betting for both online and offline sports products, having acquired the national lottery license to exclusively operate the ‘Play Lotto’ brand.
Plans are underway in Kenya to roll out the setting up of retail shops across the country. This betting platform specializes on online betting but also uses mobile devices. Its main distinction is the multiplicity of sporting disciplines to bet on including football, basketball, tennis, hockey, athletics, horse racing and even dog racing. It also incorporates an online casino and virtual sports betting (the latter being same as other sports betting platforms).  
Though not explicitly stated, it may have links to the Curacao-based For their tweets, check out the Twitter handle @BetinKenya

d)  BetYetu – is a platform run by Oxygen 8 East Africa. It also has Standard Group as one of its main partners. However the site has been having capacity challenges of late, making access difficult when users decide to log on to place their bets. Their focus is mainly on football, basketball and tennis. Along with one other sports betting platform, they seek to address responsible gambling.
You can follow their tweets at @BetYetu

e)   mCheza – this is the latest entrant into the Kenyan sports betting act. Represented by one Peter Kirimi, the company launched with razzmatazz in December 2015. The holding company is Acumen Communications Limited with the global partner being Greek-based Intralot, through its sports betting management arm. Among its directors is former media personality Julie Gichuru.
Given its being the most recent of the sports betting companies, it has managed to build some buzz around its brand. It has also enlisted some leading media personalities and uses their tweets on the mCheza brand to reach Kenyan social media users. It also sponsored the Sports Personality of the Year Awards –SOYA to the tune of KES 3 million to show its willingness to play in this space. It has a war-chest of about KES 1.5 billion to grow its fledging business in Kenya. There are a number of sports disciplines which one can bet on including; football, basketball, baseball, American football, boxing, cricket, rugby, motorsport and golf.
You can follow their tweets @mCheza

Other leading sports betting platforms worth mentioning include;
-          EliteBet Kenya ;
-          JustBet;
-          Lucky2U and
-          Kenya Sports Bet
Another blogger, Bankelele had profiled the sector in a 2-part series of Sports Betting Coming of Age in Kenya Part 1 and Part 2 for more details on how to play and participate in the respective sports betting platforms.

4.        Problems of Gambling and Sports Betting

Betting is not universally legal due to negative effects that it may have on individuals and the society. Top of the list of problems is addiction where some become compulsive gamblers. Sport betting is considered a skill-based form of gambling as opposed to a pure game of chance. Punters place bets with their choices advised by accumulated knowledge of a sport. While this is true to some extent, the element of luck is very much present with bets placed on such niche categories like number of corners and goals scored after a certain minute, among others.

While majority of gamblers will indulge without getting hooked, a small number will suffer from the worst of gambling addiction. Problem gamblers become so engulfed in gambling that they basically cease to exist as socially-functional human beings. Cases of debt, financial ruin, theft, job losses, ruined relationships and even suicide have been reported among compulsive gamblers who must indulge regardless of harm done to self or loved ones. The former Arsenal and Scottish striker John Hartson was a high profile case of addictive sport gambling and he considered his fight against gambling bigger than his cancer fight.

The question for Kenya therefore is how do we identify problem gamblers and what measures will be put in place to cater to them as sport betting grows exponentially. In other civilizations, part of the revenue from gambling is used to fund social facilities that offer help to problem gamblers. Victims of gambling addiction have been known to recover with treatment.

The threat of the gambling industry being infiltrated by organized criminal groups is also a problem to contend with. The American mafia helped transformed Las Vegas from an unfavorable desert town to the Mecca of gambling after seeing the lucrative nature of the industry in Batista’s Cuba. The mafia would bribe law enforcement and judicial officials and made huge amounts from the industry. For decades, the mob ran the gambling industry in the famous desert city but were eventually chased out of town in the 1980’s.

In modern times, organized crime has continued to reap from sport betting. In wanting to control the outcome of games and therefore maximize on revenues, criminals have been known to bribe or coerce players to commit certain actions on the field during play. Match fixing is a big problem that has affected most professional sports. Interpol has been going after these shadowy rings that transcend international borders with mixed results. How Kenya will address such challenges if they manifest themselves in the years to come will be something to watch out for.

5.       Betting in Africa and rest of the World

Going further afield in Africa, sports betting is biggest in South Africa where the country’s multi-disciplinary acts in rugby, cricket, football, and athletics makes it a sports punt’s playfield. A PwC report on Gambling Outlook released in 2014 shows that sports betting accounts for about 13% of the gambling revenues. It includes book-making and pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing and other sports events. Online wagering for sports is also allowed, being the only form of online gambling permissible in South Africa. The revenues of sports betting were estimated to be in the region of 3.9 billion rand last year and projected to grow to 4.05 billion rand in 2016.
Africa's winning - image courtesy of

The growth of sports betting in South Africa got a boost from the country hosting major tournaments including the most recent 2010 FIFA World Cup. The country’s participation too in major sporting events in cricket and rugby world cups have helped keep sustained growth over the same period. A mature horse racing segment has also aided expand sports betting.
In West Africa, Nigeria is the most attractive market with its expansive economy and the growing middle class. Sports betting started in earnest in 2007 with the success of the local Nigeria football league. Due to infrastructural challenges, sports betting is still largely offline but fast moving too to the mobile platform. This is supplemented too with the expected growth of online betting as the Nigerian Communications Commission predicts at least over 50 million of its citizenry accessing the Internet.
The Nigerian government has also made the entry fee fairly prohibitive fee of US$ 5,000 for a gambling license. However the use of mobile telcos has made it a potential sector for growth as seen by the number of local and international sports betting companies set up in the last 5 years. These include Stakersden Soccer Jackpot working in partnership with mobile telco Etisalat, NairaBet and Bet9ja.
Indeed Africa remains an attractive haven for sports betting and gaming with 3 conferences planned this year alone on the same, starting with
To name but a few.

6.       Future of Sports Betting

Indeed sports betting is here to stay in most of the African countries including Kenya. With the sports industry enjoying a modest growth both at local and continental level as well as the availability of mobile and online technologies to leverage global best practices, the trend can only be upwards. There have been fears of alleged criminal links with online sports betting being used for money laundering in other parts of the world, thus African countries will be targets too. The same would go for online fraud as most of the online and mobile platforms are not as secure as would need be.
There are also fears created by the blitz of advertising to the adult population which then makes it attractive to a younger audience. This becomes tricky since there are large number of people under eighteen are being given access to mobile devices by their parents, guardians and friends. It would be interesting what the advertising and marketing regulatory bodies would say to this.
Match-fixing and similar allegations have been made to many an African sports disciplines, all in the name of helping game-fixers win a larger purse. These actions would impact local leagues and games and as such relevant bodies need exercise vigilance to check against match and game-fixing.
On the positive note, the expansion of sports betting has offered opportunities for mobile money, virtual currencies such as bitcoins among tech developers making it attractive for them to develop sturdy solutions. 
Sports betting has also seen job creation through the different channels that the sports betting have sought to spread their products. Beyond the agents and corner shops, one can become an agent just by the mere ownership of a mobile device. This is also an opportunity for sports punters and analysts to reap on helping and placing bets for themselves and their friends, remember Nate Silver?
Sports betting has also given marketing and ad companies opportunities to appeal to the widest of masses as they seek to grow this. Kenya is one example where in the space of 3 years, over 5 sports betting companies have launched and consistently engaged in such services.
On a broader perspective, the contributions from sports lotteries to the national sports fund kitties will help develop sports both a local and national level. It will seek to legalize and mainstream what would otherwise be illegal activities escaping State scrutiny. Kenya and South Africa vibrancy in the same represents a way forward into attracting and growing sports betting. This being another big sporting year, we can only wait to see what opportunities will come and the next milestone in sports betting.