Over the past few weeks at Nation Sport, we have been focusing on the state of Kenya’s sports infrastructure.
The story of our stadiums is generally a sorry one, with isolated flashes of hope.
A freshly-laid synthetic running track at Kericho’s Green Stadium, extreme makeover of the Nyayo National Stadium and re-engineering of the Gusii Stadium are some of the bright spots.
And as we continue running this series, some of our reporters on the ground have been summoned by offices of governors, county secretaries and county sports executives, and given a dressing down.
They have been denied access to public stadiums to assess conditions therein. From Trans Nzoia to Nyeri, our county news crews have been harassed.
Not because of inaccuracies or factual incoherence, but, rather, because our stories are “exposing the governor to ridicule.”
We are basically being accused of telling the emperor that he’s naked.
These county honchos would rather trample on the rights of sportspeople to access first class stadiums than utilise public funds to serve the very people who voted them into service.
Nonetheless, we shall continue exposing these inadequacies and, in equal measure, highlighting uplifting developments.
The ne’er-do-wells in public office ought to learn from two major events that happened in the last week: The ruling of Sirisia MP John Walukhe’s case and Liverpool’s first league triumph in 30 years.
The Liverpool story first.
Governors must learn that sport is big business by appreciating the impact of Liverpool Football Club to the Merseyside economy.
Ten years ago, Liverpool FC finished seventh in the league and was teetering on the brink of financial collapse.
Well-heeled British businessman Martin Broughton was brought on board as the Reds’ chairman, ostensibly to negotiate the sale of the club.
Sir Martin did negotiate the sale of Liverpool FC, at 300 million pounds (about Sh40 billion in today’s rates), with ownership changing hands from one American operation to another - from the pair of Tom Hicks and George Gillett to hedge fund manager John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group.
Henry, a shrewd businessman, had lifted the Boston Red Sox from the ruins through a series of prudent management decisions that saw them recover from a near-whitewash at the hands of the New York Yankees to win the Baseball World Series in 2004, their first triumph since 1918.
Now, slowly but surely, Henry has lifted Liverpool in similar fashion, culminating in their first premiership win in 30 years, increasing the club’s value from the 300 million pounds (Sh40 billion) he purchased it at, to an astonishing two billion pounds (Sh264 billion), according to Financial Times and Deloitte estimates.
And the value is expected to escalate through the roof following their latest triumph.
Liverpool FC account for four percent of Liverpool City’s economy annually, having generated 454 million pounds (Sh60 billion) of the city’s 11.3 billion (Sh1.5 trillion) revenues in the 2017/18 financial year.
Over the same period, the club pumped 479 million pounds (Sh63.2 billion) into the larger Merseyside region’s economy of 30.8 billion (Sh4 trillion), accounting for 4,500 full time jobs and 2.3 percent of Liverpool’s job market.
Through tourism, culture and professional services, Liverpool FC – along with the famous music group, The Beatles - contributed enormously to the revival of Liverpool City’s economy since its collapse in the 1970s and 80s that resulted in massive levels of unemployment.
Today, about 1.5 million fans file through the Anfield turnstiles, spending about 102 million pounds (Sh13.5 billion), with Henry’s shrewd plans to expand the iconic ground from a capacity of 54,000 to 60,000 expected to increase the club’s economic impact by an additional 85 million pounds (Sh11.2 billion).
It is the same strategy that the American adopted at Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox.
Rather than build a new stadium for the baseball giants, Henry elected to expand Fenway Park and increased ticket prices resulting in a record 600 consecutive sold-out games.
Hotels are full to capacity whenever Liverpool FC have home matches at Anfield and last year, the Reds recorded an income of 533 million pounds (Sh70.3 trillion).
Should our governors appreciate such massive contribution of sport to the local economy, then they will agree with the push to improve on existing sports facilities in their counties rather than stalk our reporters for exposing the emperor’s nudity.
Good, well-maintained and well-utilised sports facilities, along with prudent management of sport, have the ability to transform local economies, and the Liverpool example is there for all to see.
Credit must go to Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed for her sustained drive to push works on public stadiums.
With a Cabinet reshuffle on the cards given the political horse-trading currently in progress, the only reasonable hand President Uhuru Kenyatta should play is retain Amina and her Principal Secretary Joe Okudo.
Because consistent changes at Kencom House have previously seen momentum in delivery of sports projects lost, and I’m sure President Kenyatta wouldn’t wish to see his sports legacy at sixes and sevens…
Back to the Walukhe story.
County administrations that divert funds meant for enhancement of sports programmes should know that they belong in jail for wiping away generations of talent.
The same way the MP and his co-accused Grace Wakhungu were thrown in the slammer for fraudulent transactions.
It baffles me how a county government can spend Sh20 million on “stadium works consultancy services,” with only a grazing field to show, yet an individual privately spends Sh30 million to construct a basic stadium, complete with hostels and a running track!
Shame on these county louts!
Makori is the Editor (Sports) at Nation Media Group. [email protected]