Kenya: Fingers Crossed for Local Sports to Resume, Hopefully Sooner Rather Than Later

opinion

The game of rugby literally helped me keep my sanity during my playing days.

This was particularly so in my early years in the sport, as a university student and as a young adult looking to start a life-long professional career.

The game back then was wholly amateur. We never got a penny playing for club or country.

In fact, a player had to dig into his own pocket to fund his playing activities, from paying for your transport, nutrition, gym, training kit, name it.

But as former Kenya Rugby Union chairman Mwangi Muthee used to say so passionately and eloquently, we did it because "we love the game".

In retrospect, engaging in sports as a young man greatly contributed to my mental health, then.

Being a university student was stressful enough, with CATs (Continuous Assessment Tests), research assignments and end of semester examinations being the order of the day. I eagerly looked forward to our rugby training sessions every Tuesday and Thursday, and the game on Saturday of course.

The physical exertion on the pitch was a perfect antidote to the mental demand of academia. Also, fully aware that the physiological state of our bodies had to be at an optimal level to handle the stress of strenuous physical effort, we were very careful of what we ate and (especially) what we drank, and when. Friday nights out was a no-no.

After college, playing rugby kept many of us going as we searched for a job. Personally, the anxiety of being jobless was mitigated by my sports activities.

Fast forward to now. Even though the local rugby game has not fully achieved professional status, a number of players literally earn their livelihoods from it, and concomitant benefits.

In fact, clubs like Kabras Sugar, KCB, Nondescript and Impala have their core group of players on full salaries, while many other teams cater for training allowances, match performance bonuses, study fees and other expenses of their players.

These young men and women lost a means to earn and to keep their heads in this troubled world following the suspension of sports in the country. President Uhuru Kenya banned all organised sports activities last month as one of the measures to help contain the spread of Covid-19.

Several federations came out pleading with the government to allow them to resume their competitions within the recommended medical guidelines.

Kenya Rugby Union implored the president to allow sports to resume, arguing they had put in place stringent measures as recommended by the health authorities to fight the spread of the disease within their competitions, even releasing figures showing how the presence of the virus within the sport was way, way below the national prevalence rate.

Football Kenya Federation made an impassioned plea to the government to allow the game to return under existing health regulations. The federation, amidst a Covid-19 vaccination drive, resolved that all players must have an FKF-issued passport as proof that they had been inoculated against the deadly disease before they are allowed to play in the league.

I am neither a virologist nor a medical doctor, but what President Uhuru Kenyatta said last month when imposing the second suspension of sports in the country in a year made lots of sense to me. That even as he grappled with the problem of balancing between saving lives and livelihoods as he dealt with the virus, life came first. We can always rebuild our livelihoods later, he averred.

Kenya can learn from how other parts of the world are dealing with the problem.

Many nations in the developed world, knowing the importance of sports both in economic terms and as a social construct, expeditiously gave the green light to sports federations and league owners to restart their programmes.

The German government has let the top competitions in the country to run under stringent guidelines but eased or locked amateur sports and leisure activities depending on the shifting virus situation.

Encouragingly, all major world sports events are in progress or on schedule.

Major League Baseball even allowed the return of a limited number of fans (20 to 30 per cent) for the season's opening matches this month, which is promising.

I will give it to voluble FKF president Nick Mwendwa, for his enthusiastic messages of hope to hundreds of professional football players in the country, whose harrowing struggles during this pandemic are well documented.

On Saturday, following the start of a Covid-19 vaccination programme for all players and officials of the FKF Premier League clubs, he breathlessly tweeted to more than 30,000 of his Twitter followers: "Vaccine ....football back soon hopefully. Let's do it!"

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