Sportspersons should rise up and be proactive in the fight against Covid-19

Monday May 18 2020

Covid-19 pandemic racing against athletes: Sheila Kiplagat, a marathoner, carries stones at a construction site in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County to enable her put something on the table and pay rent on May 14, 2020. A group of upcoming athletes are doing manual jobs to fend for themselves and their families after all races were either cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP


On Monday, the Fifa Foundation announced it would organise a special football match to raise funds towards aiding the battle against Covid-19.

The world football governing body’s foundation seeks to accelerate “the development, production and equitable global access to new coronavirus essential health technologies, including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.”

“It is our responsibility to demonstrate solidarity and continue to do everything we can to participate and support the efforts in the combat against the pandemic,” Fifa President Gianni Infantino said in a media release.

“We have been active in raising awareness via several other campaigns, and Fifa has also contributed financially to this cause, but now we commit ourselves to organise this global fundraising event when the health situation permits, even if this is only in some months’ time.”

Fifa Foundation’s announcement comes just a few weeks after the Zurich-based world football governing body announced it would send each of it’s affiliate federations $500,000 (about Sh50 million) to mitigate against financial problems brought about by Covid-19, including player welfare.

Meanwhile, across the border in Ethiopia last weekend, the country’s running legends, led by multiple world and Olympic champions Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, staged a virtual race to help raise funds for Addis Ababa’s fight against Covid-19.

Reports by Haileegziabher Adhanom, an Ethiopian colleague who runs the sports website, indicate that the athletes, in line with social distancing rules, ran in empty stadiums, on treadmills and in gardens at their homes, and were joined by fans worldwide in the virtual race.

Funds raised from the online race will be donated to two Ethiopian non-profit organisations to help in the fight against the virus.

The Fifa match and Ethiopian virtual run demonstrate that while sport is one of the industries worst hit by the pandemic, sportspeople can still chip in, be innovative and bring about some cheer. And raise some cash too.

And this is something we need to borrow and get going in Kenya.

It’s uplifting to see marathon stars Eliud Kipchoge and Lawrence Cherono lead, from personal resources, in distributing food to athletes worst affected by Covid-19, thus supplementing the government’s stimulus efforts.

Equally, though heartbreaking, we have seen athletes take up different jobs to make ends meet.

Seeing potential marathon and road running champions toil at construction sites to eke out a living isn’t exactly the fallback plan we expected, but at least it’s better that sitting idle with begging bowl in hand.

Footballers and athletes from other sports are suffering too and even the government stimulus plan won’t entirely be enough consolation with equally drained landlords cemented at their doors.

Innovation and thinking around virtual competitions, like our Ethiopian brothers and sisters have elected to do, is certainly a good way to handle virus-related stress, financially and psychologically.

The Bundesliga may have kicked off last weekend, becoming the first major sports competition to shake away the shackles of Covid-19, but it’s hardly an assurance that we’re close to the end of the dark, coronavirus tunnel.

We could be in for the long haul, as demonstrated by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s extension of the dusk-to-dawn curfew and travel restrictions well into June.

The rising numbers of Covid-19 positive cases from the Ministry of Health’s daily briefings also paint a not-too-rosy picture.

It’s good to see the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) arrange webinars to keep the sports conversation going, one of the reasons I accepted to moderate the one coming up from 3pm this Thursday on the distressing topic of doping in sport.

We need to see more innovation and a proactive approach to the virus stalemate.

Could one of the geniuses at @iLabAfrica, Strathmore University’s much-trumpeted Centre of Excellence in ICT Innovation and Development, for instance, incubate an application that would bring the Kenyan Premier League to our mobile phones?

And the income accruing channelled to sustaining our footballers besides supporting the university’s ICT hub?

Could the ubiquitous sports betting firms, that rake in massive income by the billion, transform the e-sports industry in Kenya through their outrageous profits?

Rather than jump at photo ops, face masks at the ready, to present a pittance in alleged corporate social responsibility?

Indeed, as our good Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe tells us, “if we treat this disease normally, it will treat us abnormally.”

It’s certainly not business as usual, and it won’t be for a reasonably long time to come.

And the more we sit and wait for government stimulus, the gloomier the future of Kenyan sport will be.

Yes, we pay taxes through the nose, and indeed we expect the government to cushion us in the hour of need.

But should it always be serikali saidia?

Makori is the Editor (Sports) at Nation Media Group. [email protected]