It was music to the ears of Kenya's sport fraternity when President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that all national teams will be funded by the Government.
"Our athletes are the shining star of Kenya so all the national teams, be it Harambee Stars, rugby or netball will be funded by my government. We have put in place a fund (Sports Fund) to take care of that and I want to tell our athletes that they will not lack uniforms or training shoes,” he said while speaking at the Beyond Zero half marathon on March 10th.
Shortly after, Harambee Stars received Sh249 million.
This comes against the backdrop of Team Kenya’s preparation for the African Games scheduled for August and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
As federations queue to get a piece of the sports fund pie, I urge the managers of the fund to allocate the bigger piece to sports development as opposed to financing travel and elite competitions.
Traditionally the Government has faithfully paid for travel and allowance for teams participating at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and the African Games, formerly All Africa Games. This has produced good results, making Kenya the most successful Africa nation at the Olympic Games by medal count. However, judging ourselves against our neighbours is setting the bar too low for a country that claims to be the home of champions.
Kenya boasts of 103 medals since 1964, the USA 2,827, and Great Britain 883. The main reason for this is that the Olympics heavy weights qualify athletes into 15 to 20 disciplines while Kenya qualifies only in four disciplines at best. This reduces the country’s chances in the medal rich disciplines such as swimming, rowing, sailing, shooting, fencing and boxing.
Looking at Kenya’s medal count, all but seven out of 103 medals were won in athletics. The seven are from boxing, the last of which was won in the 1988 Seoul Games. Since then Kenya has relied entirely on athletics for its medal cabinet.
With the Olympics 14 months away, the country’s elite teams should have been identified and placed under residential training. Kits should have been ordered and flights booked. If we can’t qualify our under-23 football team for the Olympics, it’s unlikely we will ever qualify for the World Cup.
Talent must be nurtured at an early age, hence it's time as a country we started focusing on sports development, aimed to qualify at least 10 sport disciplines in the 2028 Olympics and to win medals in at least five.
There can be no better platform for sports development than our primary schools. We must invest in primary school sports as a platform to identify and nurture true talent. By the time a student gets to secondary school he/she must have identified their sport of choice and mastered the basics.
So, instead of mega stadiums, I advocate for primary school level infrastructure in every sub-county. Instead of high level international coaches, I advocate for every primary school to be staffed with third tier coaches in football, rugby, athletics, volleyball, basketball, swimming etc. Imagine the number of jobs we would create for our former athletes? If we get our development programs right, the elite levels will sort themselves out.