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To spur economy, sports should join the ‘Big Four’

Published Tue, May 22nd 2018 at 11:33, Updated May 22nd 2018 at 11:37 GMT +3

Next month, the world will be glued to TV screens watching the World Cup in Russia.

It is a great venue in that it has the same time zone as Nairobi, unlike Brazil or Korea that made us wake up at ungodly hours.

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With no blackouts, the World Cup this time will be a family entertainment, giving kids enough time to do homework and to sleep.

I have no doubt there will be lots of bets on the World Cup teams, but expect surprises.

One highlight of the World Cup is how the English Premier League (EPL) players will play for their countries, some against England.

It is a matter of conjecture when Kenya will get into the World Cup. I hope it’s in my lifetime.   Let us get our minds off the World Cup and think of sports in Kenya.

That we have not grown sports in Kenya is not contestable. With 42 per cent of our population aged 14 or younger, Kenya should be boiling with sporting talents.

Our leaders should extend the handshake and apologise to the youth who have gotten a raw deal in sports in the last 55 years. Beyond athletics, other sports have been forgotten.

Yet, it was not always that way. During the colonial period, with love despising, sports flourished. The Britons introduced soccer, golf and other sports, including Formula One racing. That is how Nakuru and Gilgil got Langa Langa.

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It was amazing to find a polo field in Wanjohi, in the middle of Happy Valley. It is now a potato farm. There were lots of golf courses, in different parts of the country. Some are now residential estates.

After independence, tennis and boxing were big. President Moi introduced gymnastics and rounders, some sort of baseball.

Today, all that has been drowned by the World Cup and when there is no such event, it is EPL. We cheer young men making money in the UK while making no money ourselves, except through small bets.

Football revenues in the UK totalled Sh662 billion in the 2015/16 financial year, according to Deloitte. Compare that with our annual budget. Why are sports not among the Big Four?

It is a low-lying fruit. The biggest input is the young men and women. There is no shortage of them unlike in Europe or Japan that have ageing populations.

The land on which sports are played is not imported.

Equipment is cheap; we can even start an industry to make them, like Yego’s javelin.

Why can’t we make balls, baseball bats, golf clubs, and other sports equipment and create jobs?

We can emulate other sporting nations. EPL is privately run, with foreigners pouring in tonnes of money into it.

In the developed world, the EPL and other leagues are privately run same as our flower farms and matatus.

The problem in Kenya is that investors are not sure they will get their money back if they invest in sports.

Who will buy TV rights? Who will buy tickets to watch our soccer, tennis or golf?

Will there be enough advertisers? Money is what makes the EPL attractive, not just the players. We can’t be like EPL overnight. We need to start somewhere.

Why not have inter-ward games, then inter-county, then East African games? Why can’t we emulate the school games? Where do great sportsmen in our schools go after graduation?  Why can’t we upgrade our school soccer fields into mini stadiums?

Most of the current great golfers, including Tiger Woods were university students.

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What do our university students do when not in class?

How much land do we need for boxing or tennis? What of swimming pools?

What of roller skating? What of table tennis? What of bowling? What of volleyball?

What of intellectual games like Scrabble and chess that can be played in our homes?

Why have we neglected water sports with an ocean, lakes and dams? Why is there no jet skiing on Ndakaini or Masinga dams?

What of bungee jumping, skydiving and kayaking? We can even invent sports like we have dances such as azonto.

Since sports are not profitable for now, we need the Government to come in and support the fledgling industry.

The best support would be by providing facilities, building stadiums, tennis courts and golf courses. These would then be left to individuals to run them.

However, very few private investors are willing to put their money in sporting facilities.

They prefer residential flats. Yet in other countries, new real estate developments have sports facilities. Turns out we are not as “indoor” as we are made to believe.

Some individuals with corporate support have done well with marathons like the Ndakaini Marathon.

Without sports, most Kenyans live incomplete lives, with few physical activities and commensurate health problems.

With so much many idle youngsters, crime and other vices soar.

Young men and women have a lot of energy that needs the correct harnessing. Believe me, crime will go down during World Cup.

Can the police report after World Cup? There is overwhelming evidence that sports should be part of the Big Four agenda to make it the Big Five just like the Big Five animals.

Most importantly, the new Big Five would touch the lives of the most vulnerable members of the society, including the youth who are ravaged by joblessness and hopelessness.

The World Cup will come and go, but what shall we be doing before the next one?

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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