Can Kenyan Rugby Truly Come of Age? - by Grace Kiraguri
Over the last 18 months, Kenyan rugby has been going through triumphs and tribulations. While it remains one of the disciplines in Kenya’s sporting scene attracting sponsors, it has had serious lows with poor performances in the IRB series, delayed remuneration of players, as well as gross mismanagement on the parts of officials.
Starting with Kenya’s foundation on the shorter version; the Safari 7s, the morale is at an all-time low even as the tournament marks its 20th anniversary. Kenya Rugby Union officials have given mixed signals of preparations to the 2015-16 IRB season. The season also marks the first time the game will be played at The Olympics.
First, the Union officials need to have a common voice. It is in the best interest of the officials to work in unison from the team management, to approaching sponsors, and communicating to the public. The officials also need have a balance of individuals with the game’s knowledge as well as people’s management and business acumen.
Second it is important that the Union develops a proper structure for graduating talent from the lower levels to the senior team. This is already happening though there needs to be a more rigorous process and proper training of the teams as a unit. The different clubs are easy feeder places for youthful talent. The local 7s circuit scene aids considerably with this.
Third, the Union needs to develop an internal team whose main drive is to relate with potential and existing corporate sponsors. The relationship that has existed with past officials has been fractious and under-appreciated. It is important that companies investing in the game get a regular brief of what their monies are being put into and results and gaps exposed to arrest any challenges the team may face.
Fourth, the playing unit needs to have developed into a semi-professional entity by now. 20 years on since the game became key to the national sporting psyche, it is important that players efforts are appreciated by, not only remunerating them well, but also having well-developed training facilities. This needs to be supplemented with a technical team well versed in modern tactical approaches.
In addition to this, there is need to have fully-fledged teams at senior, junior and even the women’s game. What we saw over the past weekend with the Kenyan ladies team, the Lionesses, shows that the country has talent across both genders.
Fifth, it is important to invest in individuals who have retired from active rugby. These individuals have a wealth of experience that can be harnessed to develop local talent. It is happening though mostly on an ad-hoc basis, and it would only be proper to have training programs which can address this.
The country’s game is at crossroads. Given last season’s dismal IRB 7s performance, corporate sponsors were right in asking pertinent questions. It remains to be seen if the team will qualify for the Olympic Games – no, it will be nothing short of failure if the team does not qualify for the ticket to the Rio Games in 2016. Let’s meet on 3rd – 4th of October and see what the future holds for the team. Happy 20th anniversary to the Safari 7s!