The Government and Private Sector focus and increased efforts to reclaim Kenya’s lost glory in track and field events has caught my eye. After the withdrawal of betting firm SportPesa from sponsoring sports in the country early in the year, the government through Deputy President William Ruto announced that it would allocate Sh500m to sporting activities.
The new Sports and heritage CS, Mohamed Achesa has also promised to establish Sports Academies in 47 Counties besides overseeing the construction of Stadia in the country. As lofty as the dream may look, it is quite encouraging that Achesa is a former boxer hence he has a stakeholder’s view.
Achesa was appointed after Hassan Wario was ejected after costing Kenya a chance to host the 2018 Chan Championship and the Rio Olympic scandal that occurred during his tenure.
Kenya is known as a robust economic leader in East Africa, but the sports industry is marred by never-ending incidences of mismanagement and corruption. So far, athletics, rugby and football have re-emerged as the lead sports while boxing and other sports have slowly fizzled out.
I chose to take a special interest in boxing because of the influence it had in the 80s and 90s as the prime sport in Kenya. The national team was well known across the globe. For example, Kenyan boxers were Commonwealth games champions in 1982, 1990 and 1994. In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Robert Wangila made history by becoming the first African ever to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing when he knocked out Laurent Bouduani of France in the final.
In the 4th All African games of 1987 held in Kenya at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) all the ‘hit squad’ boxers overpowered their opponents one by one all the way to the finals. They won their bouts; netting Kenya a whopping 8 Gold medals!
Boxing standards have since then dropped drastically. In those days, there existed proper mentorship and training opportunities across the country. The existence of many Boxing clubs ensured the good management of the sport and production of many boxing greats. Many of these are currently almost non-existent.
Another factor that has led to the decline of the sport is the mismanagement of the national boxing league that contributed greatly to the pulling out of sponsors. Kenya has not won an Olympic medal since 1988, presenting the need to review the sport as a whole and analyze where we went wrong in order to return the sport to its glory days.
With the declining opportunities in boxing, many talents get frustrated and engage in crime or other detractors that ensure they never live up to their potential. Many of the boxers who come from Kibera and other estates in Nairobi cannot afford nor access modern training and coaching facilities hence the need for private sector support.
Top athletes like Christine Ongare who recently became the first Kenyan woman to win a Commonwealth Games medal in boxing when she claimed bronze in Gold Coast, is the fruit of private sector assistance from the gym outfit, Pump Fitness.
The outfit have organized a boxing tournament dubbed awakening aimed towards restoring the glory days of the Kenyan Boxing. The event endorsed by the Sports and Heritage Ministry is a step towards realizing a new fate for sports in general.
The private sector has a big role to play in promoting sports. The Achilles heel in terms of sports partnerships however is that most are not structured in a way that can attract sponsorship or partnerships.
The recent match in kasarani Stadium between English side Hull City FC and Gor Mahia FC shows just how good management can lead to essential growth. The upcoming boxing tournament at the Impala Grounds is a similar chance to awaken the sleeping giant (that once made Kenya a force to reckon with.
This is why this event and any other upcoming sports event is a must-attend for any patriot.
Denis Mbau is a Communications Consultant based in Nairobi