First off let me start by saying that the purpose of this column is not to excoriate nor criticize anyone not least the Minister for Sports. The purpose of this article is to track the accomplishment of the sports minister, give credit where it is due and provide suggestions for initiatives the sports minister should pursue.
When Mr. Hassan Wario was appointed as Sports Minister in April 2013, there was some skepticism among sports fans. Not much was known about him and he did not have any background in sports. The sports loving public had anticipated the appointment of a person with a background in sports administration. Names like Dr. Paul Ereng had been mooted. Sports fans have been given a short shrift by successive governments because most of the previous sports ministers had been political appointees with no background in sports, no passion about sports and no intention of accomplishing anything. During the last days of the Moi era there were ministers like Nyiva Mwendwa who did not know the first thing about sports and Francis Nyenze who tried but was never really passionate about sports. In the last government we had Hellen Sambili and Paul Otuoma neither of whom accomplished much. Then in the last months of the last government we had Ababu Namwamba who despite being in office for only a few months accomplished what his previous three predecessors had failed to do for 12 years that is to pass much touted sports bill in parliament. The sports Bill was first mooted as far back as 2002 but successive sports minister had let it gather dust on the shelf while paying only lip service to it. Which brings us to the first point.
The Sports Bill is gathering dust again
The sports Bill which spent 11 years gathering dust after being neglected by various sports ministers is now in danger of being ignored again as Mr. Wario has not seen it fit to implement it. Among other things, the Sports bill which was passed into law was supposed to provide a mechanism by which sports officials could be held accountable and brought to book should they fail to meet their obligations for financial transparency. Kenya badly needs to hold its sports administrators accountable for performance and for financial transparency.
Where is the Sports Lottery ?
The sports bill was also supposed to set up a trust fund for development through a National Sports Lottery. One of the biggest complaints Mr. Wario has expressed recently is that lack of funding. One of the easiest ways to address this is by implementing the sports lottery which is another idea that has been mooted for over a decade.
Countries like Rwanda have thrown significant amounts of money at various sports. As such Kenya can no longer beat tiny Rwanda at sports like basketball. The Rwandese have invested heavily in their national teams and in youth development. As a result, their senior men’s team recently beat Kenya 76-44 while their U18 side beat their Kenyan counterparts by a massive score of 80-39. Yet as recently as 10 years ago, Rwanda could not be found anywhere on the basketball map.
Associations are not being held accountable
Most sports in Kenya are still poorly run. The officials often cannot account for monies that they receive. This applies not just to the sports federations but also to officials of some of the top clubs. It is true that Mr. Wario is limited by the statutes of international federations such as FIFA which forbid government interference. But Mr. Wario can still hold officials accountable using mechanisms such as the Kenya anti-corruption commission (KACC). Mr. Wario should also engage with presidents of international federations such as FIFA. With that in mind, Mr. Wario should book an appointment with the top FIFA officials to discuss how football in Kenya can be reformed. FIFA may forbid government interference but they would welcome an opportunity to work with the Kenyan sports minister.
No sporting infrastructure has been constructed
The jubilee government promised five new stadia. But most Kenyans were skeptical of such a promise and are still skeptical despite the fact that Mr. Wario has promised that construction will start next year.
Nevertheless Mr. Wario can still help by providing basic infrastructure for Kenyan youth. Football fields have been disappearing at an alarming rate as the land is grabbed by well connected persons. To make matters worse, no new playgrounds have been created in Nairobi. Almost all the sports grounds that exist today such as Woodley grounds and Jericho sports ground were create by the colonialists. Virtually no new sports grounds have been created by indigenous governments since 1963. Yet the population of the country has quadrupled which means youth have far fewer spaces to play and develop their talents. In crowded areas like the Kibera slums, there is literally no space for the youth to play football, basketball or any sport for that matter. Which means a youngster growing up in Kibera is likely to see his sporting talents go to waste.
In rugby the same scenario applies: Railway rugby ground, Impala sports club, Nakuru Athletic club etc were all bequeathed by the colonial government. It is a crying shame that indigenous governments have not seen it fit to support rugby in the same manner that the colonial government did.
The rugby clubs that thrive in Kenya are those that have their own grounds. With that in mind, Mr. Wario should work towards providing grounds for teams like Kisumu RFC and Kakamega. They do not need anything elaborate. Just a field with two rugby goals and a few benches. That will give teams that are a financially struggling like Kisumu RFC a leg to stand on.
Aside from rugby and football, the government should also build basketball courts and volleyball courts all over the estates. Aside from providing an opportunity for the youth to hone their talents, they could also serve to keep the youth away from crime, riots and idleness.
Taking credit for current accomplishments
When questioned on what his office had accomplished Mr. Wario responded by saying that the Harambee Stars had won the CECAFA senior challenge cup under his watch. A similar scenario happened years back when then sports minister Hellen Sambili took credit for the exploits of the Kenya national rugby sevens team , despite the fact that she probably did not even know how many players play on a rugby sevens team. And the truth of the matter is that the Kenya government has never played any role in the success of Kenya rugby teams.
The government should not take credit for the success of Harambee stars or any existing national team because they have done very little to ensure their success. They did not play any part in the development of national team players like Clifford Alwanga, Duncan Ochieng, Allan Wanga or David Owino. These players developed their skills with no government help. And neither did the government pay for residential training or any other aspect of Harambee’s stars preparations. It is only recently that the government agreed to pay the salary of the Harambee stars coach. But that is scarcely enough.
For the sports ministry to take credit, they should provide for youth development, provide infrastructure in the grassroots, provide funding for national team preparations and generally provide an environment that enables sports to thrive.
One of the stated accomplishments of Mr . Wario is the creation of the national sports academy. “The idea is that for the first time in Kenya your talented child will enroll into a secondary school which is purely a school for talented men and women,” said the minister.
The academy was first created by the previoys sports minister Ababu Namwamba. The creation of the academy is laudable and Mr. Wario deserves credit for seeing it through. However one sports academy will not suffice in a country of of over 40 million people. So the minister should not stop there. For Kenya to rise up in sports, there ought to be sports academies dotted all over the country. Nairobi with a population of 3 million people should have at least three sports academies. And the sports offered should include sports like basketball, volleyball and boxing, not just the football and rugby that Mr. Wario mentioned.
And with regard to the sports academy, we have to wait until it produces tangible results before giving more credit to the sports ministry. The academy should be judged based on the calibre of players it produces.
Set goals and track the progress of sports associations
Ever since Mr. Wario took over, there has not been any tangible improvements in the way sports associations perform. What the sports ministry ought to do is sit down with each federation official, set goals then grade each sports association based on their progress towards meeting those goals. As such each association or federation can be awarded grades such as A, A-, B+ all the way to D-. This will provide another way for the sports ministry to track sports federations. As things stand now, several associations are getting away with literally doing nothing for their respective sports.
This column is not saying that Mr. Wario has not done anything at all. In fact he has been fairly active tracking progress on previously ongoing projects and fighting fires whenever they arise. But given the new political dispensation where cabinet ministers are qualified professionals and not politicians, Kenyans expect a lot more from the cabinet minister. Kenyans expect new well thought out initiatives. They expect tangible actions and not just empty promises as has been the common in the past. So far we have not seen much in terms of real tangible accomplishments or new initiatives from Mr. Wario. It is our hope that things will start to change in the next year or so.
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