Why do we treat our sportsmen and women so bad?
Is it in our DNA to blatantly disregard the immense contribution of sports to our beloved country? Why am I asking these questions?
I am appalled by the mediocre treatment given to our national teams. Not a day passes without us reading or reporting about how a national team was either abandoned, not given enough support or even vilified for poor performance.
To put this in perspective, the national men’s and women’s hockey team are on their way to South Africa for an Olympic qualifier. The ‘preparations’ have left a lot to be desired.
Firstly, they have been in a non-residential camp for the duration! No meaningful build up matches! Inadequate or no equipment! No kit...should I go on?
At the back of your mind, remember they have had to pay their way to the training venue and still find more money to replenish the many calories they would have burned during the ‘gruelling’ training session.
You would be lucky if there was even water to drink during the breaks. Add to this unpaid allowances and you can only reap what you sowed.
From what I gather, the players were required find their way the airport at 6.30 a.m. for the 8.30 a.m. departure. They had been given Ksh. 10,000 ($102) in allowances for the entire nine days or so in South Africa.
Players were reimbursed Sh. 4,200 for transport to and from the venue. They were only given kit which did not include other essentials.
When Harambee Stars faced Mauritius in the return match, players almost declined to step on the pitch because of unpaid allowances.
It took divine intervention for them to play. Foreign players have been asked to pay for their tickets with a promise of a refund which often is not honored.The players were reportedlly abandoned after the matches.
A Kenyan rower had to look for funds to train and travel for a competition!
The Paralympics team will miss the International Paralympic Committee, IPC, world athletics championships in Doha, Qatar.
Kenya could not send a boxing team to the world championships,an olympic qualifier!
Survival for the fittest
At club level, it is survival for the fittest for self supporting clubs. They literally live from hand to mouth or beg to survive.
AFC Leopards have not had a sponsor and players are owed salaries for as many as five months. Basketball clubs are in the red! Cricket is struggling!
The list grows longer by the day.
These are just a mirror of our limping sports. Tough questions need to be asked because we have a Sports Policy which seems to be gathering dust on the shelves of the Sports Ministry.
This document was supposed to be a blueprint to revolutionize the way sports was run and managed. Simply put, there should be a standard way that Kenya treats the national teams. They are our pride.
When a Kenyan wins a race somewhere, the 40 million or so Kenyans rejoice. When the national anthem is played, it is for all Kenyans.
Is it too much to have some bare minimum requirements for our national teams like:
- A standard allowance according to the magnitude of the competition, local, regional, continental or International.
- Provision of transport to and from the venue from a central point.
- Training and competition kit.
- Reasonable but standard accommodation while in residential training.
- Provision of a proper diet once the team is selected.
- Comprehensive insurance cover during training and at the competitions.
- Access to the best medical facilities at a national hospital.
- Access to training venues and gym facilities owned by the government.
There could be many others but these are the ones I could think of. It is important for the players and the technical bench to have peace of mind so that they can concentrate on the job at hand.
Do we really value our athletes?
These are basic needs and should not be a topic for debate every time. If we do not provide these basic requirements, more questions would be asked whether: We respect the flag? The Players? or What happened to our national pride?
Whenever there is mistreatment of national team players, there must be a scapegoat. Who do we blame? The officials or a structure which does not make it possible to deal with errant officials who are not accountable for their actions?
Or do we blame the media for sleeping on the job? Or the media houses for not equipping their foot soldiers with enough weapons to fight? Or do we blame individual journalists for abdicating their duties of informing their readers?
The answers to these questions could be a story on its own.
I could briefly touch on the sports journalists and pose to the media houses whether they give them a hoe and ask them to bring back gold from the bowels of the earth? A blunt axe and ask them to chop down a tree with it?
A canoe and ask them to cross the Indian Ocean to get an exclusive? Or do we leave them at the mercy of the same sports officials who would readily offer a ‘brown’ envelope so they turn a blind eye to the ‘real story’?
With all this chaotic scene, do we blame our sportsmen and women if they seek greener pastures and go where they are appreciated even when they do not feel at home?
This has been the song for many years and will remain so unless we look at ourselves critically and resolve to make bold steps to change the mediocre ways in which we treat our national treasure which is sports.
Time for change!
It is not right for sports officials to go to competitions and draw more allowances than the athletes who bring us glory. It is not cool to see sportsmen and women who have brought glory to this country languish in abject poverty while sports officials are building mansions.
South African jazz singer Hugh Masekela belted out “Everything must Change” and the time for change starts now.
We are tired of reminding each sports minister what is required. We are equally tired of empty promises by the same ministers! Change must happen NOW!