The time is ripe for expansion of the Kenya Rugby League

Nov 24, 2021

The happenings around the release of the Kenya Rugby League are simply distressing! The Clubs that perennially perform well in the League are dead set against the matter of expanding the top league. The primary argument is that due process isn't being followed.

Primarily, this is what meets the eye. The KRU Bye Laws outline the process that needs to be follows in the change of rules and regulations that govern the local competitions. Essentially, they decree that those rules and regulations ought not change will nilly and certainly not before 2 years.

There is a detailed procedure involved in changing those rules.Those same Bye Laws are also clear that substance must always prevail over procedure. In other words, procedure is not an end in itself. Procedure exists to serve a purpose. A substantial purpose. So, is there substance in expanding the top league?

Let us begin by saying that the age grade game is the primary feeder of the senior game. In Kenya, the age grade rugby is primarily operated by the schools. Most of the activity is in secondary schools. Indeed, this is where most of Kenya's rugby is played.

Over the last 10 years, the most intense activity in schools rugby has been in what has previously been referred to as the Western Province. As a whole, Western Province and their neighbours, Nyanza, have demonstrated admirable rugby at the age grade level. Unfortunately, this dominance is not translated into the senior game.

The factors that control the senior game are slightly more complex than those experienced in the school game. A key factor influencing the school game is that funding is much better guaranteed by the school fees system.

The senior game requires direct funding of the singular sport and so acquiring funds is more convoluted. In addition, post-school, the former students are much more concerned with improving their economic capacity through education and employment. This has led most of the players to the more urban areas and mostly Nairobi which has the most obvious opportunities (including the rugby game itself).

This fact has made Nairobi a net importer of Kenya's age grade rugby talent. So, where does this leave current league expansion conundrum that we find ourselves in? Now, it is clear that there is a dearth of senior playing opportunity in the environment that produces the best play in the age grade game - Western Kenya, that is, both the former Western and Nyanza provinces.

Some of the players end up in Nairobi and continue to ply their sport there. This kind includes the Emonyi brothers - Humphrey Kayange (St. Peter's Mumias), Collins Injera (Vihiga High) and lately, their younger brother Michael Agevi (Kakamega High). Others include Benjamin Ayimba (Maseno School), Andrew Amonde (Kisumu Boys), Victor Oduor (Agoro Sare), Lavin Asego (St Mary's, Yala) and so on. In truth, though, a vast majority of their team mates end up not pursuing the game for lack of opportunity.

This sad scenario is what game expansion, by whatever means possible, would begin to remedy. For the number of years this sad situation has existed, it has become urgent that resolution be found. Consider that Benjamin Ayimba is now a veteran category player and has already done a tour of duty as the Kenya 7s coach.

This is the situation that informed my making a proposal, to Club Representatives, for an expansion of the Kenya Cup League to 10 teams, in February this year. This was even before the KRU Annual General Meeting. I have been given the solution lies in regional leagues and an eventual, and gradual, integration into the Kenya Cup.I respectfully differ with this position.

The example of Kisumu in the ESS of 2010 and Kisumu in the ESS 2010/11 bears me out. In 2010, Kisumu was a much more competitive outfit playing against the Kenya Cup 2nd sides ending up creditable in the ESS semi finals. In 2010/11 having completed fixtures in the Western region, couldn't go beyond ESS quarter final while playing against the 4th ranked Kenya Cup 2nd side.

At the end of the day, teams only get better by playing initially better sides, week in, week out! Kenya shouldn't be shy of affirmative action. After all, our Kenya 7s side was a primary recipient of affirmative action by being named an IRB 7s core side. The team has gone on to repay the trust with great performances, on and off the field

. The teams in the Western region deserve immediate and guided elevation. In time, their rugby will speak for them. There is definite substance in expanding the leagues, including the Kenya Cup. There are clear options on how this may be done within the existing guidelines.

 

By Fred Ollows

The writer is Development & Technical Manager, Kenya Rugby Union but the opinions are solely his and not necessarily those of the organization