RINGSIDE VIEW: Why build new stadiums which will be underutilised?

Friday February 8 2019

Kenyan fans celebrate a goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification Group F match between Kenya and Ethiopia at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on October 15, 2018. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO |

Kenyan fans celebrate a goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification Group F match between Kenya and Ethiopia at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on October 15, 2018. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Steve Omondi
By Steve Omondi
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To the proponents of the ‘Jaza Stadi’ campaign, an initiative championed by media personality Carol Radull, nothing beats the mere sights, sound and colour of a fully packed football stadium.

Football stadiums are built to fill up with frenzied noisy masses from time to time, they keep arguing.

Sadly, it doesn't apply in here Kenya, where it takes something quite extra-ordinary to fill up even a tiny 5,000-seater capacity stadium, more so if the function is sports-related.

That in itself is a paradox.

Hence, the zeal of the ‘Jaza Stadi’ campaigners in their ever herculean task.

Thankfully, it’s gratifying to note that the mesmerising sight a fully-packed football stadium is not really lost in our collective memories.

Yet, the last two occasions when our national football cathedral was in ‘furi furi’ condition for a sporting event, the stadium wasn’t really sold out in the strict sense of the word.

On both occasions, all the 60,000 spectators who packed the Chinese-built Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani to the rafters had gotten a free pass.

Yes, none of them paid a single dime to go through the turnstiles.

First it was the IAAF World U-18 Championships in 2017, when Kenya actually broke the record for the highest attendance at the Championships, according to the event organisers.

A charmed IAAF was left purring like a cat, even terming the great spectacle as a “magical night in Nairobi”, never mind the fact that a waiver on the entry fee by President Uhuru Kenyatta during the event’s opening ceremony is what largely contributed to this huge turnout.

Then came the memorable 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match of October 14, 2018 when Harambee Stars swept aside Ethiopia 3-0 to practically end their self-imposed 14-year exile from the biennial continental showpiece.

This time it was the benevolent Ministry of Sports which flung open the gates for a free show.

You do get the drift here. On each occasion, the political class achieved what ‘Jaza Stadi’ brigade have been sweating over for all this while.

But if Kenya is truly the football-mad country that we so masquerade to be, then surely a packed Kasarani would be a given on Saturday when Gor Mahia hosts their eternal rivals AFC Leopards in this season’s first fixture of the feisty Mashemeji derby.

Radull and her ‘Jaza Stadi’ team can make their rallying calls to the fans till the cows come home, but rest assured that this Mashemeji derby – like so many other of the past – will be played to a largely empty gallery.

And so goes the sad tale of the numerous sports facilities in this country which continue to rot away even after billions of shillings have been sunk into their construction.

Our country has never been in short supply of derelict sporting facilities which for lack of a better word are a complete waste of valuable prime space.

And here we are – six years later – still whining about some unfulfilled political promise of five ultra-modern football stadiums.

This is a conversation we should have long confined to the gutters. We were duped on this by our votes-hungry politicians. The sooner we accept it and move on, the better.

It’s even worse when the development of such infrastructure is left to companies which are notorious for their dalliance with sports for as long as it serves their interests.

Ever wondered how the once dreaded ‘Old Trafford’ stadium in Naivasha and the well-manicured Mumias Sports Complex have so fast degenerated into grazing fields for livestock and wild animals?

Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not against the idea of building sports infrastructure.

But then, what purpose would it serve to implement such projects in the ‘middle of nowhere’ counties with no affinity whatsoever to sports?

Just my thoughts.