Kasarani Sports Centre-official grounds for 1987 All-Africa Games
Africa has been waiting for a host for its own continental version of the Olympic Games, the All-Africa Games. It’s one of the world’s exhibitions of raw and amateur talent and there has been a yearning after being postponed twice. The planned host was having infrastructural problems setting up the stadiums, pools and grounds for the Games.
It can’t get worse when the firm appointed to market the Games makes off with millions of shillings (estimated at KShs. 200 million-approx US$ 3million) and the Ministry charged with the responsibility is left reeling from the bad publicity and delays.
Finally in August, Nairobi gets to host what can be said to be its biggest sporting extravaganza to swarm it. It does put up a good show worth the wait and the Kenyan team manages its best performance in the Games ever. From athletics, boxing, hockey, volleyball, basketball to fringe games like handball, tennis to name a few. It managed a respectable 4th position with a medal ranking of 22 Gold, 25 Silver and 19 Bronze medals.
It is from these Games that some sports legends in the country are discovered; from Robert Wangila (welterweight boxing fighter), Ambrose Ayoyi(footballer),Peter Akatsa(hockey captain), John Ngugi(5000m athlete) to Elizabeth Olaba (discuss thrower) and Susan Sirma being some of the outstanding sports personalities.
Triumphant John Ngugi at Seoul 1988 Olympic Games
The Games would be used as a springboard to Kenya’s participation in the 1988 Seoul Olympics where it made its largest medal haul in the Games to date. An unprecedented 5 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronzes was something to be proud about. It also helped launch Kenya’s maverick professional boxer Wangila R who would end tragically in the same boxing ring.
It also provided Kenya with an opportunity to showcase its athletes in the World Athletics Championships held in Rome Italy in the same year 1987, having Paul Kipkoech (10000m), Billy Konchellah(800m) and Douglas Wakiihuri taking 1st positions cementing Kenya’s status as a leading athletics powerhouse.
20 years on, Kenya sends its biggest squad since 1987 continental Games. The disciplines are well represented with such peripheral disciplines as kickboxing, rowing, horse-riding. True to tradition among the best performers are track athletes. A revelation by the name of Jason Dunford is revealed.
Dunford sending warning waves in Africa
He is such a phenomenon bringing the team 3 Gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze medals! The cycling team (of 3) manages silver in the 150km road-race courtesy of rider Chris Froome. Boxing has a dismal performance compared with the 80s “Hit Squad” getting only 1 Gold through one Suleiman Bilali.
Saving grace comes from the Paraplegic athletes serving up 5 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze.
What went wrong? Where is the sense of patriotism? Where are the famed Kenyan athletes? Why would we flirt with mediocrity?
My two cents worth of critique would think of a few things, which we ought to consider if we are to challenge for continental and global sporting events;
- Development of a concrete and comprehensive sports policy- in a country priding itself as Africa’s sports powerhouse, it bothers me when 53 years after our first since Kenya was represented in a sports event: Commonwealth Games in 1954 (then known as British Empire and Commonwealth Games), there is no policy framework for sports. Yeah there is Ministry dealing with Gender but I feel it needs a whole Ministry to itself…check this:
o Brazil one of the world’s fastest growing economies has a Ministry of Sport dedicated to sport. We all know Brazil from its football, beach volleyball, basketball to name but a few sporting disciplines.
o In the Pan-American Games being hosted in Rio de Janeiro, around US$ 600 million (approx. KShs.39.6 billion) was spent with the federal government contributing 50% of the budget while the municipal and regional government sharing out the rest.
o Main emphasis was on; infrastructure, sports education and development of a sustainable legacy for the country.
o An arrangement is in place to have either private management OR public-private initiatives to ensure high standards of maintenance of the infrastructure developed. A social program is also being promoted to have 50000 children from under-priviledged parts to be coached and trained in various disciplines.
From this we can see that all main stakeholders need take sports more seriously with the Government leading the way.
- Professionalism in management of sports programme and bodies:- a glaring point from the Games shows that most of the bodies entrusted to run sports in Kenya don’t have the wherewithal to do a great job. How can Kenyan athletes manage ONLY 2 Gold medals in athletics while we have one of the biggest pool of talent in the world? Coming from the World Athletics Championships it was only fair that Kenya older athletes would have put a better performance than it did. Other disciplines merely represented their country without much impact (tennis, horse-riding…)
- Development of concrete youth programmes-as seen in the World Athletics Championships, youth will play a major role in various capacities if Kenya is to have its rightful place in sports.
- Reward system: - though commendable for its recent announcement, the government needs to work out a way of rewarding its best performers. More ways should also be developed to have the same being used as sports ambassadors to have them serve as role models to budding sports people.
- Better exposure- look at basketball (women), volleyball (men), tennis at the AAGs; you know what am talking about?
- Coverage of sports events: - with Games and sports events reaching as wide as possible an audience, Kenya will be reaping great rewards not just from its local audience but exposure of the talent to world audiences.
- More disciplines –this means the probability of harvesting more medals is likely.
From the few and other points, Kenyan sports officials and stakeholders can work harder and try getting Kenya its rightful place in sports. I look forward to the day, sporting nations will make a stop in Nairobi or any other city for either All-Africa Games, Commonwealth or even Olympic and World Cup (ambitious it is but possible)!