Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Changing Face of Kenyan football

I couldn't believe it the other day when I was walking in the streets and my fellow countrymen are talking about Mathare United and Tusker FC. Now what was more interesting was to find them actually naming players in both teams. I could also say I was amazed to read our radio personalities as well as our TV journalists are taking within themselves to go watch the Kenyan football games live. Now that's progress !
What the live coverage from the DSTv did or whatever life has suddenly been blown into the game is quite refreshing. My only worry is that 2 of our national teams have been bundled out of continental championships, making it less attractive to watch these games.
It is good to see Kenyans are developing an interest in the local game. The challenge now goes to the teams to raise the quality of the game as well as develop some consistency. I also think the Stadia Management Board need get more stadia around the country back into playing fields. That way the game will actually reach its intended audience.
For those guys ( I might be a victim too) who usually follow foreign leagues with such intent, it's time we learnt to love our own. Though it ain't there yet, it's you and I who will prove the players and pay them for what they are worth. As for the radio personalities and other parties intending to watch the games, please let's spare our times from our crazy politics and crowded news field for more positive forms of entertainment.

Athletics championships in Ethiopia

Well, well, well ! For those who love watching athletics, this is one championship you don't want to miss. Being hosted by one of the leading nations in the sport, this is bound to showcase the best that Africa has to offer.
True it's being run at high altitude which makes it harder to break records, it also comes before the Olympic Games which will be staged in August, and also before major Grand Prix events in the European calendar.
For Kenya, this will be a time to test the athletes bound to feature in some of the events later this year. We all know their preparations have not been up to required standards, but that should never be any athlete's excuse. Ask Martin Lel-2008 winner of London marathon or Robert Cheruiyot in the same discipline.
The hosts start as favourites to win the overall title and they will be out to prove they can hold their own in most races especially in the long distance races. From information trickling in, they have a contigent of over 140 athletes. I'll almost put my money on them but then again, you never know on the actual day.
Sorry Kenyans but from the races ran this year, I'm not putting too much into the team. Please prove me wrong !
For more action, be sure to tune in to KBC our national TV station for live and recorded feeds from Canal France International-CFI.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Boston Marathon:- Mwafrika does it again

For an athlete to win a marathon race, it's usually an ultimate for one's training and career. But for you to win 4 times, that's greatness ( as some popular beer brand advert would say.
This distinction lands on one Robert Cheruiyot, fondly known as Mwafrika to his peers. He won the race in 2:07:46 .Last year he seemed to have reached the peak of his career and even won the World Marathon Series title. I can tell you , a marathon is one of the meanest races one would ever compete in. First you usually train alone and even though you might be part of a team, the ultimate effort is usually individual. It gets tougher on the race day since you never know what sort of weather to expect and even if its good, you don't know how other people are conditioned.
Well Robert is now like a textbook example of how to train and run for a marathon. The win comes with a $ 150,000 prize money as well as a possibility of Olympic Games qualification. SportsKenya salutes a true Kenyan hero.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Secondary School Ball Games come to an end

Maseno vs Laiser Hill in the Final of the Basketball -Boys.
Photo Courtesy of East African Standard's Oscar Pilipili.
With the weekend action being overshadowed by Secondary School Ball Games and Cross-Country, I must say something good's in the air.
Even though I never got to attend any of the games ( thanks to my full-time job and strict weekend plans), I felt every bit it was worth the money for those who made their time there.
Unlike most sports games in Kenya, these are usually fiercely contested and amount of talent in adundance. This is evidenced in such games as basketball and rugby as well as hockey which used to be a mainstay sport back in the 1970s and 80s in Kenya. Look at the Boys' Final between Maseno and Laiser Hill, the game even went into overtime with Laiser Hill winning it by a basket (72-70).
It was for this reason, the Kenya Basketball Federation decided to use it as a recruiting ground for the under 17 national basketball team. I was excited to hear even the 7s national coach Ben Ayimba made his forays into the rugby grounds to watch the Western Kenya teams make mince meat of other provinces teams,with Kakamega High emerging eventual winners. I'm sure the boys must have heard of his presence and even went ahead and did their own victory 'Western Kenya-haka dance'!
What I found more interesting was the presence of major corporates in the shape of Brookside, Wrigleys (through its flagship product-Orbit), both which branded jerseys and vests of players in most disciplines. They also had their own stands selling the products to these young firebrands.
I guess with a little bit of enticement and also sterling results, most of the Kenyan corporates can start coming out of the woodwork. The national officials also deserve a pat on the back for making a buzz of the Games hence ensuring media coverage of these.
It is also important that these officials manage the Games efficiently and transparently as they could easily be roll-outs for our future stars.

Hot ? Not in Hockey !

Watch me now !Esther Termens dances around Kenya's Rose Mbulo and Teresa Juma
Gone are the days when we thought we would go to some major tournaments abroad and come back at least with our heads high. Not this time.
No excuses, for not even scoring one hit, just one ! Ukraine V/s Kenya 6-0, Azerbaijan(hosts)V/s Kenya 13-0,Kenya V/s Chile 0-5, Belarus V/s Kenya 4-0, Kenya V/s Spain0-9 ! That's a statement right there.
I will remember our national women's coach convincing us that at least the ladies would get 2nd or 3rd position of the qualifiers. What a bluff !
But let's look at it from the preparations to the departure. First the usual culprits of not enough resources and funds is always there and let's just say that will never be. Secondly, who did the ladies play for their build-up matches ?.....our male counter-part teams from the National League.....that's a try but laughable too !
Let's look at the infrastructure. The only hockey ground that is of repute is the Hockey Grounds at Parklands. Well, by world standards, that ought to be the training grounds. Why do say ? The grounds are too small for any worthy training to take place. It is the only ground which has astro-turf (albeit 2nd hand...) in Kenya.
Now since we didn't get any from the qualifiers in Azerbaijan I guess we can lick our wounds and console ourselves for rising through the rankings from the 40th to the 22nd position in the world.
All's not lost if you ask me. I feel the ladies have what it takes to play against major world hockey powers. But with the kind of technical expertise and training regimen other countries undergo, we expected a bit too much of them. It's time ( and I'll say this for the umpteenth time ) that we invested in our sports. Not just sponsorship of 1-day tournaments and weekend arrangements but longer term plans. The money that some of our companies spend on the other niceties and irrelevant advertising and publicity can be channelled to sports and at least save our faces against such blushes.
Can you hear me ?

Friday, 18 April 2008

New Sports Minister, what now?

It’s those times again when a new Minister is appointed and takes office as usual with much gusto. But we’ve all come to expect this over and over. In the last 10 years Sports has fallen into hands of not less than 5 Ministers. It usually fell under the Ministry of Gender and Social Affairs, which metamorphosed into Culture, Heritage and Sports onto what was last called Gender,Sports,Culture and Social Services. Right now it’s been accorded a fancy name, Youth and Sports.
I’ll also say that it was accorded to one of the first time Members of Parliament in the 10th Parliament, Dr. Helen Sambili who’s also among the 5 female Ministers appointed to the largest Cabinet in our country’s history thus far.
It bothers me how the politicos get us into predicaments every so often. Why do I say this? Going by previous appointments, none of the appointees ever fits the bill of being in the Ministry and they come chest-thumping and proclaiming to the hills about their expectations. What do we end up with? The same old, same old…..infighting at different sports associations and federations, corruption, incompetence, lack of funding and the usual maladies which afflict our sports. Some try muddy their hands but they end up with egg yolk on their faces. A major headache is usually the Kenya Football Federation which many an official use to launch a career into politics (talking of which I can remember about 3-4 current members of the Cabinet being in the game!)
The new Minister came up and said she would ensure the Sports Bill (which I have tried getting a copy, any help on that one?) is passed into law to develop a proper Sports policy for the country. Well said, commendable and well-founded! I only wish you the best in your delivery. Hey, let’s just say, I’ll be a blog away if you need any consultation. I’ll be waiting ………

Kenyan Sports Policy

Sessional Paper still gathers dust
For a country in its 45th year of independence, we still don’t have a Sports Policy. It sucks! I said it here before that sports practitioners; players, managers, entrepreneurs, and interested parties need develop this framework upon which sports in Kenya can build a firm foundation for this more than lucrative industry.
It may have been developed sometime back but I think these were just some hoodlums purporting to develop a paper just to please the Government of the day and try squeezing a shilling or two out of it OR it could have been what we would refer to as our ‘scholarly brothers’ who develop very good papers for intellectual discourse but when we get to implementation, nothing ever moves.
With the new dispensation/mandate, I think it’s fair for us sports people to stake our claim in the process of national reconciliation and healing. We can do this by developing an all-inclusive sports agenda for this country which will mark it as a model sporting nation in this part of the world.
We can also turn a new leaf on most of our sports activities where we seem to have continual problems. This is never too late as can be seen in some of the major sporting nations which have come from serious socio-economic alignments, let’s check some Balkan states, Czech Republic, Croatia, and even current Asian Cup winners Iraq!
It can even be incorporated in the Brand Kenya work that will seek to sell Kenya as a viable destination not just for its game but also for its varied sporting disciplines and venues as well as investment options.
Over to you industry players!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Schools Games extravaganza .....

As the first term comes to an end for the schools and most learning institutions, the ball games are underway, that's the National Secondary Schools Sports Association (NSSSA)Games. This is coming against a back-drop of little activity in most institutions since the disruptions of the last 3 months have meant not much learning has taken place.It is also a better and relaxing way to ease the tensions of the soon-to-be young adults.
I would also bet that the more innovative coaches and technical directors of ball games:- football, basketball,volleyball,handball to name but the least, should have the pens ready to mark out potential talents for their junior teams in the coming years.
I do not know but am sure there will be some coaches up there ( this year the Games are being held around the Central town of Thika). Basketball officials are already there hoping to get the team for the under-17 and also spruce up the coaching bench of the national team. I thought it was interesting having the Kenya Basketball Federation Chairman who also doubles up as the Principal of Maseno Boys High School, and is the schools basketball coach. Isn't it conflict of interest doing business with a Federation which you have a post in ? I must have sworn 2 players from the Maseno team have the Otula name( any relations ?). Just a thought !
I'm sure if I had the ability to be at more than 1 place at a time, I would be there for the weekend. But such is life, you can never get all you want !
Catch the respective games at the following venues;
Basketball: Mang’u, Trikha, Chania; Hockey: Mang’u, Thika High; Swimming: Imani School, Cross-country: Mang’u, Sevens Rugby: Mang’u Decathlon: Thika Stadium.
For the year, Brookside increased their sponsorship for the games from last year's KShs.4 million by adding another million to total Kshs.5 million. I'll hope they can build a more healthy relationship and a bigger and deeper pocket.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

World Marathon Series starts for 2008

With a successful year in 2007, Kenyan marathoners start the 2008 World Marathon series in earnest with the first of major marathons in London this Sunday. The Flora London Marathon is among the events which include the Boston Marathon, real,-Berlin Marathon, The Bank of America Chicago Marathon and ING New York City Marathon ( note the branded names for each of the races !).

This weekend, the Kenyan marathoners will hopefully restore the lost pride from the Cross-country held in Scotland 2 weeks ago. Last year's event was won by Martin Lel who starts as favourite, but from the field of athletes, it can be anyone's race. Lel also heads the standings for the series with 50 points, as he leads 5 other Kenyans in the top 10. Other top Kenyan athletes to be expected include, Felix Limo, Samuel Wanjiru, Luke Kibet are expected to help keep the race title in Kenya. But they better watch for any Ethiopian , Moroccan or British runner.
Most of the athletics bodies will be represented there as they assess their country's runners to see who fits the bill for qualification for the Beijing Olympics. A week from now, they will move to Boston for the next marathon which features in the World Marathon Series.

Some Maasai warriors from Tanzania will run the London marathon to raise money to help access water for the village in Eluai,northern Tanzania. They said they will not be running for records but you can be sure they won't the course in more than 3 hours as most charity-based runners do. I'm reminded of some Samburu warriors who did a similar thing and have done since the year 2004 at the Nairobi StanChart Marathon. So runners don't freak out the runners by your side, they just be the warriors !

About World Marathon Majors: ( from www.worldmarathonmajors.com)
On January 23, 2006, Boston, Flora London, real,- BERLIN, Bank of America Chicago and ING New York City marathons collectively launched the World Marathon Majors – a new series offering a $1 million prize purse to be split equally between the top male and female marathoners in the world.

In creating the World Marathon Majors, the organizers of these five races recognized an opportunity to advance the sport, raise awareness of its athletes and increase the level of interest in elite racing among running enthusiasts.

Each of the five races that make up the World Marathon Majors boasts an international elite field for both men and women, has a mass participatory field completing the same course as the elites, takes place in a major international market, has a history of 25 years or more and is regarded among the very best in the industry. Collectively, the group annually attracts more than 5 million on-course spectators, more than 250 million television viewers, 300,000 applicants and 150,000 participants. It also raises more than $80 million for charity world wide and generates an economic impact of more than $400 million.

In addition to the five races, two other Qualifying Races were included in the series: the IAAF World Championships Marathon and the Olympic Marathon.The inaugural 2006-2007 series launched at the 110th running of the Boston Marathon on April 17, 2006 and concluded on November 4, 2007 at the ING New York City Marathon.

Martin Lel did a 3rd on the London streets and even set a new course record sprinting home ahead of compatriot Samuel Wanjiru. He did the marathon in 2hrs 5min 15 secs. This set him ahead of the World Marathon Series at least till the next marathon. Pending any injuries or mishaps he looks set to be among the Kenyan marathoners in the Beijing Olympics.

Nike comes to Kenya .....formally !

I think this ought to be one of the best moments for Kenya's sports circles. One of sports most famous manufacturers makes it entry (albeit formally) into the country. Having seen the company sponsor our national teams in the form of kitting and provision of sports equipment, it didn't augur well for the company not have a presence in such a strategic place.
I remember around 2003-4 when they had an advert of Kenyan athletes training and running in the Rift Valley ( funny that even the Ethiopians who have proved to be Kenya's main rivals also come from....yes Great Rift Valley....I digress !), and I asked myself, why they couldn't even have a store at any of the shopping malls (or 'exhibitions' as Kenyans have gotten this hype around).
This is going to be a good entry with some of the teams which the company sponsors expected to be having busy schedules. Athletics is one of their mainstay disciplines along with the Kenyan Rugby team among others.
What maybe of concern though is that there are too many counterfeit products in the local market and Africa generally. This might affect their bottomline since the pricing of their products at times seems prohibitive. But then again, given Kenyans have been known to be some of the most conspicous spenders, they might just cream the market.
Go on, try one of their stores in the region ( one has opened at the Nakumatt Westgate in Westlands) as we wait for more to come along. There's also a radio station running a promo on one of its programmes for listeners to win assorted prizes from this legendary company( read "label") .
Quick Check:
I'll have to say I was a bit disappointed having gone to the Nike branded shop at Nakumatt Westgate. They have a limited number of items which might not appeal to the market they had wanted to target but then let's hope they are able to get additional lines such as basketball,athletics and maybe even casual wear.
I also noticed two other brands with shops there, Converse and Adidas (please don't sue me for using these on the same blog article, it's just that I thought I'd mention it !)
Did you know.......
that NIKE which is pronounced as NI-KEY, is the winged goddess of victory according to Greek mythology.
The NIKE 'swoosh' embodies the spirit of the winged goddess who inspired the most courageous and chivalrous warriors at the dawn of civilization. The SWOOSH logo is a graphic design created by Caroline Davidson in 1971-she was a student at Portland State University in advertising. She met Phil Knight who taught accounting at her institution and did some freelance work for him. She was asked to design a logo that could be placed at the side of the shoe, and in response handed him the SWOOSH, he handed her $35.00 ! Now you know the rest of the story.....

Acknowledgement: Nike Consumer Affairs

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Olympics- What's this all getting to ?

Sports is supposed to be a boundless inclination, without the politics and all the baggage that comes with it. But for the second time this year, I find myself writing about it.
Beijing authorities had thought that the Olympic torch doing its trips around the world as it waits its grand arrival in China but that's not been the case. Except for the warm reception at its only stop in Africa in Tanzania, the torch seems to 'light up' the path its set to cover in the next few months. Starting in parts of Europe and encountering some of the most hostile crowds ever ( a demonstrator in Britain even tried to put it off, which would be a PR disaster for both the IOC and Chinese authorities).
But while the IOC chief Jacques Rogge tries doing some rather pale job insisting that the Olympics will bounce back. But what has been seen in France, UK and now US is not very good coming into the last 3 months before the Games. What shocked me was reading an item about plots to hijack or even sabotage the Games once they start at Beijing. Some say where there's smoke, there's fire.
I won't dwell on the Tibetan case, I think the human rights activists are doing their job( some of whom are worse than the rights they try to defend). But the Chinese badly need a better PR team and need to put their act together soonest possible, or else they'll host a sham of the Games.
With the crisis in Kenya and one threatening to explode in Zimbabwe , does it bother Africans that we seem to be just pawns on the world board ? What do I mean ? Why does it have to take 'foreign' intervention (foreign here being US, UK and other European countries) for some of the issues to be resolved ? What happened to home-grown, indigenous, independence ? I heard Bush say the way China needs to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama- spiritual leader of the Tibetans....does it sound familiar ?

Update on Torch Relay:
Apparently I seem to have reported too early. First the Torch will make 3 stops in Africa, Egypt, Tanzania and South Africa.
Secondly the torch seems to have gotten more controversies as an expected participant, Kenya's Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathaai boycotted the Relay as protests against environmental concerns raised in some of China's cities and Beijing in particular. She's advocating for what she called "Green Olympics". She also said she is joining other protesters in solidarity opposing Chinese oppression of the Myanmar, Tibet and to some extent Darfur region in Southern Sudan.
Incidentally, UN Habitat's Anna Tibaijuka said the relay acts as a symbol of peace and as such the Tanzanians will not engage in what other countries have engaged in. Their President, one Jakaya Kikwete also happens to be on a 4-day trip to China. Tanzania happens to be one of China's and other Asian countries key allies. This trip might save the authorities the blushes of the last 2 weeks .

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Which way forward ?

More than one month into their election, the KBF officials have had a studious silence about the way forward for the sport. This is essentially one of the most dormant sport given its appeal to the audiences and wider market. But from the many ups and downs in the last 5 years, a revolution is needed in the sport.
I went for the Play-offs last season and boy,was it disappointing or what ? Just like football and most other sports, this discipline needs exposure, financial muscle, fans and the much-needed technical expertise.
Well, a good start will be for Kenya Basketball Federation officials to run the office transparently and efficiently. I'm made to understand that accounts for the last 2-3 years have not been released and with the new officials on board, nothing much will happen on that front. So if there are any corporates willing to come on board, that already will be a Herculean task to convince them of having their money's worth in the sport.
Another pressing issue is venues. As of now, Nyayo National Stadium Gymnasium and Kasarani Complex seem to be the more better developed courts. A couple of universities have good grounds to host games but there would be a problem with crowd management as most are meant for training and exhibition games. This infrastructure needs to be developed not just in Nairobi but nationwide. Again, sponsors and other worthy instituions can develop these.
Of concern too would be the technical aspect of the game, both for the players and the referees. When you watch most of the supposed top flight games at the Nyayo Gymnasium, you get the feeling you're watching a street game or worse a practice session of a high school team from the US. Much skill is wasted when players feel like they can start showing off their moves which they've seen from the NBA and Collegiate League on ESPN and European Leagues.
The game also needs develop exchange programmes and this can start simple with major African playing nations such as Angola, Nigeria and Egypt. These countries can be used as launching pads to bigger and wider nets in Europe such as Spain, Greece, Bosnia and also have such programmes with US colleges and ambitiously NBA teams.
I was reading some report which has seen NBA identify South Africa as one of its next point of focus for its global outreach programme. This is massive in terms of revenues, exposure of the country, exposure for the players as well as feeder programmes for the NBA Players and TV rights market. Just imagine what that will mean for sport in Africa.These guys think global man !
I don't see why Kenya can't focus on being the next point of focus say in 5 or so years !

Monday, 7 April 2008

Kenyan Football: TV rights maybe the remedy

Starting the past weekend, Kenyan football games had a first with the games from the local Premier League beamed for the first time across the continent thanks to our South African brothers SuperSport.
With our local media stations having given the game a wide berth, as well as not getting enough corporate sponsorship to attract any meaningful financial impetus; the SuperSport firm decided to raise the stakes just a tad bit high. My thinking though was that with GTV coming in last year and already making an impact in only its first year( note: they have acquired the Tanzanian, Uganda and Ghanaian local leagues + the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup for 4 years). Thus SuperSport had to share the spoils and settle for the less dominant and controvery-ridden Kenyan Premier League.
What amused me over the weekend was the setback for local media stations which are used to taking 3-5mins clips and airing them at their sports news segments without any form of remuneration or even compensation to the league managers.One presenter even confessed that due to the acquisition of the rights to screen those select matches, the said station could not use the images at least till the next day ( no more freebies, huh !)
I'll say that's a plus for the local game. Listening to BBC over the weekend, I heard one of the interviewees, a local radio presenter ( who presents a breakfast show) say how her station is trying to give their support to the local game and what more than to show up for the games herself. She was seen last weekend but one at the national team's game and also last weekend's feature game between World Hope and Mathare United.
Now let's see what Kenyan marketing firms and major corporates are made off. And please KFF, keep off the cookie jar this once ! Pleeeaase !

Friday, 4 April 2008

Formula One rolls on

With the Formula One season well underway, there is expectation that this season will be an exciting one for participants looking to edge out current world champion Kimi Raikonnen. The Formula 1 calendar shifts to the Middle East with the latest round taking drivers to Bahrain as they hope to challenge for points and also manufacturers' title.
This round starts with last year star rising, Lewis Hamilton leading the drivers' standings with 14 points while Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld a joint second with 11 points. McLaren-Mercedes top the constructers' table at 24 points with BMW Sauber second and Ferrari third.
The Formula One is a global industry generating over $4 billion per year. The sport’s commercial rights alone produce $1 billion in annual revenue and its top teams run on budgets of over $400 million, backed by global corporations. Thus this is every sports' marketer's dream sport.
A small blip though has diverted the sports attention from the focus to some personal issue with the FIA President Max Mosley involved in some Nazi fetish orgy. This is bound to shift the focus temporarily from the sane to the insane. Check this out here;

Rugby Sevens in Australia

One of the revelations in sports in Kenya this year, the 7s teams heads to the 6th leg of the IRB Sevens series in Adelaide, Australia. Having jumped into the fifth place in the rankings thus far, the team ought to be one to watch again as the main challengers face off in the pool games. They face France, Fiji and England in this round. Given earlier experiences, this ought to be a tough call.
Though pundits may want to write off the team, I feel they can raise their game and play in the quarter-finals once again. Let's hope the brothers keep their feet on the ground and launch themselves to greater heights to Sevens glory. Keep hope alive, down under !
Locally, the Bamburi Rugby Super Series comes to a end with the Final, with Rhinos and Lions facing off at 4.00 p.m. Thus much said, appreciation to Bamburi for sponsoring the event for the third year running and even committing to a future in the Series. Appreciation to other current sponsors such as KenChic, Ramco, Precision Air and Kenya Bureau of Standards. The future of this sport is truly bright.
We also hope the technical bench of both national 15-a-side team and 7-a-side have kept their notepads close and noted outstanding talent to add to their squads. Go there, be part of the crowd and enjoy your favourite drink as you cheer the team of your liking. KRFU Grounds(along Ngong Road) at 4.00p.m. Be there !
For more incisive analysis on Kenyan rugby check, www.rugbykenya.blogspot.com.