This government is clueless if not fraudulent with regards to sports

BY DAVID ONJILI

The just-concluded 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt has cast, expectedly, the spotlight on Kenya’s total lack of care for sports; a story of failed promises, neglected athletes and poor sporting infrastructure.

In their party manifesto; Transforming Kenya, Securing Kenya’s prosperity (2013-2017); Jubilee Government anchored several election pledges. 

The document had three key pillars namely; Unity, Economy, and Openness. Sports and Culture fell under the first pillar, the mission being to celebrate the best in the world. As the manifesto captured, the Jubilee Coalition envisioned to bring prosperity and opportunity for all and sports would be one of the vehicles. Sports, it must be noted, has never earned an independent docket, it has always been merged alongside culture and arts.

“Our collective love of sport and the arts is one of the strongest factors that unite us,” says the manifesto, poking holes into previous governments “that never appreciated sports and its potential.” The manifesto quotes the success of the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa and makes a promise to ensure that the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and 2019 World Athletics Championships would be held in Kenya.

Amongst the solutions that they offered in their manifesto included the establishment of a National Lottery Scheme that would be boosted by the national budget allocations. This would aid, fund and support professional local sporting leagues across major sporting disciplines. There was an assurance to pursue tax incentives for both individual and private sector investors in sports, arts and entertainment sectors.

The most colorful of them was the construction of five state of the art national stadia in Kisumu, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, and Garissa. There was also the vision to upgrade the existing sporting facilities at the County level to accommodate swimming, tennis, basketball, and rugby. To date, the majority if not all of these promises and so-called solutions remain beautiful on paper as sports in the country is in an abyss. 

“From the outset, I knew that the Jubilee government were not only insincere, they were also ill-prepared with regards to what they said they would do for sports,” says Robin Toskin, a seasoned sports reporter and editor at Standard Group. “You only had to look at the people this government appointed to head sports and their budgetary allocations to know the joke they were. Personally, six years down the line I am not surprised by their failures at all.” 

Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga some 40Km near Kruger Park in South Africa with 43,500 capacity ground cost approximately Sh10 billion to put up and boasts state of the art facilities like a fully equipped media center, lounge, restaurant, and auditorium not to mention ability to have a live broadcast of games to international standards. It is slightly larger than the estimated 30,000 capacity Nyayo Stadium that remains an eyesore of neglect; despite a deceptive front side facelift to hide the derelict structure. Bear in mind it was to be used to host some of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nation matches, which the Jubilee government promised in their manifesto. 

Interestingly, the Jubilee government allocated only around Sh3.8 billion to the entire sports ministry in the 2014/15 financial year. There were no known plans to attract private investors to aid, renovate or build any stadia. 

The Sports Act 2013, was intended to harness sports for development, encourage and promote drug-free sports and recreation. The Act established Sports Kenya and Sports Fund, the later being a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal, able to borrow money under the express permission from the Cabinet Secretary and undertake sporting related activities. The Sports Fund in itself is mandated to raise funds through sports lottery, investments, and any other means and disburse funds for the development of sports and recreation.

When it was revealed that some Sh12 billion lay idle in the Sports Fund, Treasury ran with the Sports (Amendment) Bill 2018 that would give them control of these funds. By taking these funds from the Sports Funds and handing them to Treasury, this was a clear usurpation of the intention of the Sports Fund and a clear indication of government priorities with sports being at the very back. Never mind sports betting is to be taxed 35% with the government claiming that these proceeds would be channeled into developing of sports countrywide.

Another telling act by the Jubilee government is when they reneged on their promise for a National Lottery. Instead, they chose to license betting/gaming companies; the sports corridors whispers that this was collusion for kickbacks and transfer of running of sports to individual companies as the Jubilee government absconds the duty to develop sports which they had earlier promised.

Close to six years into office and sportsmen and sports organizations in this country are in a perpetual cycle of neglect and begging. It is not new to see sporting bodies, from football, to rugby to the Paralympics teams staging protests over unpaid allowances and lack of finances to fund their travels. Most notable was when the rugby 7s side Shujaa, masked their jerseys to hide Brand Kenya during the Paris 7s circuit. This was a protest after the tourism ministry had failed to honor their promise to pay them Sh4 million.

If you consider what Lorna Kiplagat, Kenyan turned Dutch long-distance runner has been able to develop in Iten, a world-class running track, then contrast to the millions spent on neglected facilities like Nyayo National Stadium and the Meru Stadium, then it is clear that the Jubilee government has never cared for sports since it assumed office.   

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