Amazing scenes were witnessed last weekend when Kenya’s “Morans” defeated well-heeled South Sudan 74-68 in the decisive match of the Fiba Afro Basket pre-qualifiers at the Nyayo National Stadium.
There was lots of drama on and off the court with the surge of humanity almost leading to the calling off of this epic encounter as the crowd was uncontrollable.
Nyayo National Stadium’s basketball court is a tiny facility perhaps best suited for high school basketball.
In hindsight, Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) Chairman Paul Otula should have hosted the tournament at the much larger indoor court at Kasarani.
Saturday’s massive turnout replicated scenes at Kasarani during the 2017 IAAF World Under-18 Athletics Championships, which filled the 60,000-seater Moi International Sports Centre to the brim, especially in the last two days of action.
Also, in 2016 organisers had to close the gates after Eldoret’s Kipchoge Keino Stadium was packed to the rafters for the Rio Olympic Games track and field trials.
Such demand points at the need for Kenya to continue hosting major high-profile competitions, because there’s fan hunger for such events.
And it raises further demand for the upgrading of our stadiums, the construction of others as well as perfecting crowd control to meet this insatiable demand.
Facilities aside, federations must sustain competitiveness at the highest level, just as the “Morans” have demonstrated over the last two years.
Otula’s charges now face a bigger challenge in the next round of the Fiba competition from November 23 to December 1 when they come up against Senegal, Angola and Mozambique in the “group of death” as they seek to qualify for a place in the final Fiba Afro Basket competition in 2021 in Kigali.
KBF have been offered an opportunity to bid to host the November competition and with such enthusiasm shown by home fans, coupled with the fine performance by the “Morans,” Otula shouldn’t have a difficult time signing up sponsorship deals.
A solid partnership with the US Embassy in Nairobi, for instance, should be a low-hanging fruit especially with Ambassador Kyle McCarter, naturally, a self-confessed basketball fan.
Such partnership will also help create a pipeline for the transition of our high school basketball stars into the US collegiate system through college scholarships that will eventually enrich the Kenyan game.
After the largely successful Afro Basket tournament, attention will shift to the Magical Kenya Open Golf Championships in March.
Presented by Absa, the Open, to run from March 12 to 15 at Karen, is a leg of the European Tour and with a purse of 1.1 million Euros (about Sh124 million) the richest tournament in this part of Africa.
And then we have the World Athletics Under-20 Championships at Kasarani from July 7 to 12, followed closely by the return of the Safari Rally to the World Rally Championship from July 16 to 19 with the contest centred around Naivasha.
Besides raking in a tidy sum in foreign exchange and marketing Kenya’s attractions to a global audience, hosting these events helps raise the profile of our country as a sporting destination.
Already, scores of foreign elite athletes — led by Great Britain’s multiple world and Olympic distance running champion Mo Farah — have pitched camp in Iten for pre-season track and field training.
This goes to cement Kenya’s position as one of the world’s leading sports destination, a position we should jealously guard and cement by upping the ante in improving our facilities and consistently hosting first class sports events.
And these facilities must be well maintained all year round. It’s despicable of those charged with the management of public stadiums sleeping on the job and raise huge budgets for renovation work.
For instance, had they done their job well in maintaining the Kasarani stadium after the 2017 IAAF World Under-18 Championships, millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash wouldn’t have been gobbled up in the current vote to renovate the facility for the Under-20 championships. We must take sport more seriously.
Makori is the Editor (Sports) at Nation Media Group. [email protected]