From this weekend, Kisumu County will host the 38th edition of the Kenya Communications Sports Organisations (Kecoso) Games with 12 different sporting codes on the programme.
The Kecoso Games bring together 12 institutions from the communications industry and are held annually on a rotational basis across the country. The ministries of transport, information and sports are also represented in the membership of Kecoso, with the three cabinet secretaries joint patrons of this affiliation.
However, in recent years, these games somewhat lost their lustre, largely because of dwindling financing, a shoestring budget and declining interest from some of the member institutions.
However, the good news is that the Kecoso Games are currently experiencing renewed interest and vigor, with the Kisumu championships expected to reflect this new spirit.
Which is just as well because it is these championships that played a pivotal role in the development of some of Kenya’s greatest sporting stars of old, and need to be re-engineered to their rightful place in the Kenyan sport matrix.
Bitten by the sports bug as a student in the 1980s at Cardinal Otunga High School Mosocho in Kisii County and, before then, at the neighbouring St Mary’s Mosocho Primary School, one of the annual events that I really used to look forward to sneaking out to watch were Kecoso Games.
Partly because some of my schoolmates had their professional sporting careers ignited at these games, cradle-snatched by some of the top Kecoso teams like Posta, Kenya Airways and Kenya Ports Authority who went to the lengths of offering them scholarships after appreciating their skills at inter-schools competitions.
My classmate, the late former national 100 and 200 metres champion and record holder Kennedy Ondiek, was snapped up by Posta while another classmate, Kennedy Ochieng, a two-time Africa 400m champion, joined the Kenya Ports Authority.
Before them, many of our schoolmates, including former Kenya national basketball team veteran and later coach Ronnie Owino, starred for Posta’s basketball team with other stars such as Peter Achar and Robert Omolle joining Posta and KPA squads.
Our multi-talented schoolmate Mike Sanna, a gifted hockey and football star, turned out for Posta’s football team, then anchored around the powerful league side Kisumu Posta FC.
If they didn’t join Kecoso teams, then the high school sports stars back in the day would be recruited mainly by the banks, with Barclays Bank’s “Eagles” and Kenya Commercial Bank’s “Kencom Lions the preferred destinations of basketball legends such as Philip Omany and Gerald Nyaoma, the latter now a director at the Central Bank of Kenya.
The Kenya Defence Forces would concentrate on recruiting track and field talent where the likes of 400 metres hurdles star Shem Ochako settled.
Nationally, football stars such as Peter Dawo, John Arieno “Papa”, Tobias “Jua Kali” Ocholla (Railways), John “Kasongo” Odie, Josephat “Controller” Murila, Mahmoud Abbas, Anthony Ndolo, Tobias “Jua Kali” Ocholla (Kenya Airways), Sammy Onyango “Jogoo”, John “Bobby” Ogolla (Posta), Ricky Solomon, Wycliffe Anyangu, George “Fundi” Onyango and Ben Oloo “Breakdance” (KPA) made the Kecoso Games an exciting annual showcase.
Top athletes were also in action, including hurdler Rose Tata Muya and marathon legend Tecla Lorupe who did duty for Posta alongside 1988 Olympic 800m gold medallist Paul Ereng and former London, Chicago and New York marathons champion Joyce Chepchumba.
Even Kenya’s Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama can be termed as a “product” — or is it by-product? — of the Kecoso system because it was while turning out for Kenya Railways (football) and Posta (netball), respectively, at the Kecoso Games that his parents, Noah and Mildred Wanyama, met and later settled down together.
These games offered national coaches a ready platform to recruit ready-made talent, and thanks to this system, a thoroughly fit Gor Mahia squad, that drew most of its players from Kecoso affiliates, won the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup (Mandela Cup) in 1987 with Dawo the tournament’s tormentor-in-chief.
Kecoso general secretary, fellow scribe Omolle Asiko, has announced there will be an exhibition boxing contest in the Kisumu championships, organized by the legendary Stephen Muchoki, with a view of having boxing back on the Kecoso roster.
This is a welcome move because top Kenyan boxers also emerged from the Kecoso system, including the celebrated heavyweight/ light-heavyweight Omar Ahmed Kasongo, Harold Obunga, D.K. Kamau, Ali Athuman Ojukwu and Alois “Les Les” Muiruri.
It’s encouraging to see organisers include former Kecoso stars in the management and organisation of this year’s competition, with sprinter Ochieng now the athletics co-ordinator and Dawo also representing Kisumu County in the local organizing committee.
Ochieng believes that Kisumu will mark the revival of the Kecoso Games of old.
“The level of competition is high, the stadium has been renovated to good standards and I can assure you that we will have top class competition,” the former 400m star assured me on Monday.
We need to support the Kecoso Games to their full potential as they can offer national coaches more options as we prepare for 2018 Commonwealth Games and other competitions.