Chinese Sports Ensembles and Their Legacy

China is Super Super

If you are keen football fan, in 2017 you must have seen the kerfuffle the rumored move of one Diego Costa from 2016-17 English Premier League champions, Chelsea to some nondescript Chinese team and an even more nondescript football league.

Having lured Brazilian youngster Oscar with a multi-million deal from the same team it almost seemed a no-brainer that the Spanish striker (Costa) would follow suit without much ado. This was during the transfer window open within Dec-Jan mid-season break of the European leagues. However, the deal fell through but indeed the Chinese Super League – the top-tier football league had finally shone its spotlight to the rest of the world. This is a league which included some of the budding and former stars as Argentine Carlos Tevez, Brazilian Ramires,to name but a few. 

Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league - (Image courtesy of https://the18.com/)
Foreign football stars in Chinese Football league – (Image courtesy of https://the18.com/)

 

Interestingly this allure seemed to have attracted Kenya’s own striking talent, former Gor Mahia Michael Olunga who had plied his trade in Europe and seemed destined for the stars – who ended up with the Chinese club – Guizhou Zhicheng {he’s currently plying his trade in Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol}

Back to the Chinese Super League in football, thanks to the buzz created around it, it did get much coverage in mainstream media. This also forced the Chinese Football Federation (or should we say after a slight nudge of the ruling Communist Party…?) to introduce a quota, which forced the teams to limit the number of foreign players. A sampling of say 11 players, seven ought to be Chinese, two from the Asian continent in addition, two from other parts of the world or something close to that…

This was in a bid to curtail foreign players’ dominance (thanks to the allure of the monies involved). This also hastened introduction of a salary cap to ensure players will not run the clubs aground with extravagant pay packages. 

However, like some things Chinese, the Football League came with a bang – slowing down to a whimper. Early July 2017, 13 clubs in the top tier were in the red with claims of breach of financial regulations about pay, bonuses and players transfer fees. The Asian Football Confederation is in pursuit of these claims and hoping to iron the Chinese football scene; on sports infrastructure, Chinese cities have sought to bid for major sporting events with the highlight of this being the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games. This sports renaissance was an important milestone to announce the Chinese ‘dragon’ of the 21st century. 

Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of www.kenyastockholm.com)
Chinese-African alliance? (Image courtesy of www.kenyastockholm.com)

Beyond their local space, the Chinese made deliberate moves into Africa and other developing economies to form the core of infrastructural projects. With what critics call stadium diplomacy, the Chinese authorities undertake to finance the construction or maintenance of stadia, in exchange the government of the day signs off with Chinese contractors offering support and exposure to their own. There are over 40 stadia constructed or refurbished by Chinese contractors in the last 10-15 years in Africa alone!  

In contemporary times, the Chinese aid focuses on themes of “equality, mutual benefit and no-strings attached”, according to China’s Information Office of the State Council. This form of committing foreign aid and subsidized loans makes the Chinese attractive to Government functionaries’ especially in Africa. 

 This model revamped the Kasarani stadium right here in Kenya. There was an urgency to the process as Kenya had bid and won to host the last World Under-18 Athletics championships early in July 2017. A successful event depending on how you view, though not without heavy Government subsidies – like the ‘free entry which saw the stadium fill to capacity in the last 2 days of the event.

Old is gold?
We pat ourselves in the back for hosting, an event of such magnitude even as the country prepares for a momentous election in August. It is important to note what the legacy of such huge infrastructure projects is and how the Government of China would support African governments.
The only other major sporting event (of such magnitude) besides this that Kenya held was the Africa Athletics championships in 2010 and the All-Africa Games in 1987. Both events necessitated the construction and refurbishment of two of the largest sports edifices in Kenya. Besides the occasional tournaments such as the Safari Sevens, Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and athletics meets, the venues usually go for long periods unused and in disrepair.

Estadio 11 De Novembro - Angola
Estadio 11 De Novembro – Angola

The current administration had promised five state-of-the-art stadia by 2017 while getting into government. In 2014-5, a baseline study was done on which venues were likely to be constructed or repaired; the process was both tedious and mired in both national and county diplomacy. Choosing whom to believe, we would think this was an overkill. As much as Kenya is a sporting powerhouse in the region and indeed in Africa, it would be prudent to look at what are the priorities – new investments in sports infrastructure or refurbishment and appraisal of existing stadia and sports facilities.
This needs to follow with a deliberate effort to engage the youth and citizenry in sporting activities both as a recreational and career activity. Unfortunately, the disjointed efforts from the national government, county administrators’ as well as sports bodies has seen the country without a coherent sports and recreation policy guideline.

Legacy and not the Subaru…
Perhaps one thing we ought to learn better from the Chinese or other ‘benevolent countries’ while developing our sports infrastructure is the legacy of these venues.
Examples such as the London Olympics venues in 2012 which have either been converted into national sporting venues or sold out to clubs, there is need to have a commercial viability to our sporting venues and sports investments.  Committing investments such as was done for the World Under-18 Youth Athletics champions then leaving these to lay waste is unacceptable. IAAF, which provided some of the funds to the event, was satisfied with the Government support. Collaborating with higher learning institutions, which would host sports infrastructure like the High Performance centre proposed at Kenyatta University, is a step in the right direction. Again though, there has to be deliberate and calculated move to engage the public in owning and using such facilities.
This will ensure the legacy of major sports events is not lost on the public and a sense of despair and dishonesty pervades sports edifices and related investments.

Back to our Asian partners. With the entreaties to our national governments to engage in exploiting opportunities for investing in Kenya and indeed in Africa, remember the populace will only accept to be blind for only so long. If there is no genuine public good in investing in such infrastructure, it will be a matter of time before the same public revolts and openly opposes any investments.

To paraphrase Zig Ziglar, “You don’t build a stadium, you build people, and the people build the stadium”. 

Can this be the year of Rebirth of Kenya’s Basketball?

Many a times a sport in this country undergoes serious degeneration and gets swallowed in the mediocrity of the administration of our general affairs as a State. It is true we can continue moaning about this and sing to the birds till heaven come but nothing changes.

Pres Obam hoopswww.guardian.co.uk

It is with this in mind that some of the administrators in the game of Basketball have decided to change the perception of the game and give it a slow but gradual ‘rise from the ashes’. This process started sometime last year when the Kenya Basketball Federation experimented with the Friday Basketball games which became a favourite for those fans who were looking for alternatives in sports entertainment.

Though the Friday games eventually started attracting less crowds ( the idea was being disputed between the federation and a local entertainment company the latter which wanted to own the rights and larger parts of the revenue and not entirely for the interests of the game), this idea can be explored if fine-tuned and well-thought out.

Coming into the 2013 season, the Federation has been in talks and arrangements in place to screen live games from one or two venues as may be decided by the pay TV channels. This is one big shot in the arm that would go a long way in changing the way the viewed in the country. TV does wonders to a sport which is able to organise and attract favourable crowds and audience both ‘online and offline’. It would also attract some form of revenues in advertising and promotions which the Federation can use to rebrand and gave the game a new face.

Talking of online, there is also a new magazine developed by basketball enthusiasts who also felt it is about time to talk about the game in its entirety, challenges and all. Titled “Inside B’Ball” it seeks to reach a growing number of sports fans who consumer their dose of sports online. It will also give the game of basketball a wider reach that it has been yearning for. It also good for the Federation to work closely with such entrepreneurs who will offer commercial assistance on ways to generate ideas and revenues for the game.

It’s now for Kenya Basketball Federation to start engaging corporate firms and the Government where necessary to ensure that they get better infrastructure across the country – venues, training areas and exhibition areas. This can start with a refurbishment of the Nyayo Gymnasium – the place is need of a serious paint job, better lighting, sound systems and a scoreboard. The court and its surroundings also need a touch and markings to ensure it fits to world standards. It was embarrassing in 2010 when the venue hosted the Street Basketball exhibition games and there was a leak on the roofs.

The only venue which fits the bill is Kasarani multi-purpose gymnasium which is slightly away from town and might not be able to attract crowds as yet due to its proximity and accessibility. Other venues such as the Makande gymnasium in Mombasa would need expansion and better markings to ensure better experience for players and fans alike. Kisumu and Nakuru and any other major towns should look to developing indoor venues for such sports and this will offer alternative forms of entertainment and engagement with the youth.

College Basketball in Kenyawww.basket-in-africa.blogspot.com

Another mention should be the Zuku sponsorship of the Universities and Colleges Basketball League (UCBL). Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this league was very competitive and saw 2-3 teams from qualify for the national Premier League. This should be followed through by Kenya Basketball Federation to see that they separate college and university teams from the semi-professional and corporate-sponsored teams. This way it will be easier to have a purely professional league and one that has learning institutions. The two would serve a complimentary role with one being a feeder to the other. We have seen that work successfully in more developed leagues such as the NBA and the NCCA College Basketball  in the United States.

Finally, NBA is making in-roads into Africa and it’s about time that Kenya got a player or two representing a team from this famed league. There is a liasion office in South Africa closely watching what activities Kenyan basketball is undertaking. There are also the equally well-developed European Leagues in countries like Spain, Greece to name but a few which can come and recruit our talent and offer exposure to our players to the international game.

Can this be the rebirth that Kenyan Basketball has been yearning for?

Kenya v/s Malawi – 2014 World Cup Qualifier starts in Earnest

The qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup to be held in Brazil start in earnest in a week’s time and for Kenya this journey begins with the small step of facing Malawi at home. For a start, the fixture is quite significant given that the Kenya Premier League cleared its first leg of matches for the 2011/12 season a week ago. This ensures that the players have had fairly reasonable time to train as a unit.

Kenyan Football fan

A second feature is the fact that most European Leagues have ended and for those Kenyans who were playing for their respective teams, it is ample time to come back and do national duty for the game. But with the unresolved issues of McDonald Mariga’s refunds and the tiff between Dennis Oliech, EABL and Harambee Stars Management Board, you can rest assured the two will not feature in the upcoming game. Coach Francis Kimanzi will have the unenviable task of naming a team more likely to have new faces & local players as opposed to the over-reliance on the pros.
Third, we have the game taking place at the reopened and refurbished Kasarani ( or by the mouthful name of Moi International Sports Centre-MISC). The facility has ample space for parking, fans and teams alike as well as a great atmosphere for such a game. The venue has also been a good omen to the national team having played games there against big teams and going home victors in front of the home fans. Remember Kenya v/s Nigeria in 1996?
Lastly it will be a long weekend courtesy of a public holiday on 1st June thus providing the perfect excuse for the discerning sports fans in Kenya for a good weekend outing.
Thus said, all Kenyan football fans can show up and support the team to ensure they start on the right footing for the World Cup journey to the Samba country.
Tickets for the game shall be sold online for the first time as Football Kenya Federation tries to beat fake tickets peddlers and ensuring a more centralised and user-friendly mode of acquiring match tickets. You can access the site at www.kapstickets.com and pay via MasterCard, Visa or Airtel Money ( wonder why they never incorporated the more popular M-Pesa…)

Update:
As of Monday 28th May, Dennis Oliech had reported to the Kenyan training camp at Kenya School of Monetary Studies for the Kenya – Malawi game.  Word has it that FKF & EABL had sought to clear the small issue of using his image(s) for the Tusker/Harambee Stars promo. Hope it’s the last we’re hearing of this and look forward to Kenya making the best of the qualifications to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Statistics thus far:
Going into Saturday’s game, Kenya has played 56 games for the World Cup qualifiers; won 18, drawn in 12 and lost 26. A dismal performance indeed! But as they say, every day is a new day and the boys can rise up and rewrite history…time will tell!

Harambee Stars Woes, are we surprised?

It baffles the way Kenyan football fans are quick to put blame on one or the other for the team’s poor performance in recent times. Are we surprised by that? Not from our brief here.
It is always going to be tricky affair translating good league fixture games to national team performances. That FKL has always been joking when it comes to the national team is something that needs to end. How can a team train for 4 days and then leave on the actual day to play a fixture which is more than 6 hours away? And you expected to win?
You must also have read The Daily Nation’s- Macharia Gaitho’s story about our team draping in all sorts of colours thus no consistency there too!

Harambee Stars A.Makacha  in a Weird colour – (Courtesy of www.kenyafootball.com

Not even the presence of famed duo of MacDonald Mariga and Dennis Oliech could save the blushes the team suffered. What is amusing is that the technical bench found it fair to play Oliech as the captain for the day ( though Robert Mambo remains the captain) even though he hadn’t trained with the team. If players decided to have a go-slow on the pitch and thus lose the game, well they did just that and now complicate their qualification chances in a group featuring Angola, Uganda and Guinea-Bissau (who were labelled the under-dogs). The next fixture has Kenya facing Uganda in a month’s time (Oct 8th at Kasarani)…should be an interesting fixture…
But if we are to make a difference in the qualifications, the rot starts from the top and needs to be pruned soonest possible. No need to blame the Twahirs, Oliechs, or other excuses that we’ve sought. Or else we shall remain non-starters on the continental-stage!

Sports Policy : – Mr. Minister less talk, more walk , please, will get it done…

As is the case with every new Minister for Youth and Sports Affairs, there is lots to say but much more to do than portends to be. Mr Minister, as you aptly put it, there is a ‘big’ matter of the Sports Bill which ought to help administer sports bodies in Kenya some which have operated under rogue characters while others seem like monopolies tied to few individuals tightly running the discipline(s).

From our brief there are some more issues which though on paper are not being done. Our nosy selves found this little policy document which among others is supposed to have a National Sports Institute who’s vision is …”be a leading institution in sports training and capacity building in the country”. There are the following bodies (centres) supposed to be set up under this Institute;

  1. Centre for Sports Science
  2. Centre for Documentation and Information.
  3. Centre for Sports Marketing
  4. Sports Heritage Centre

None is in existence as we speak. Fair though we might say on the intended establishment of the International Sports Academy at Kasarani, Nairobi.
There is the other sporting body that is under your Ministry going by the name Sports Stadia Management Board – which has become like a dumping ground for political cronies. They may have spruced up two of the countries biggest stadia, but that doesn’t stop there. There are more 5 stadiums in need of reclaiming, renovating and generating the much-needed income that the Board is mandated to do. And no don’t give us the charade that was the naming rights of one of the stadias, you lost and LOST BIG in the past 2010 World Cup ( by not hosting a single nation even for a day!).
Mr. Minister, there is the small bit that we have tackled down there of alcohol and the ban in advertising and sponsorship(s). With Tobacco out ( which almost entirely killed Kenyan rallying), and now alcohol, what options are there for sports federations to pursue and what is the line Ministry doing to cushion our fratenity against this?
Mr. Minister, we are about to go to another major meet in the name of Commonwealth Games. Shall we have the usual retinue of 50 athletes and 100 officials ‘bloating our budget’ yet coming home with less than 10 medals? As a Ministry, please help us save this much-needed spending by sending ONLY those deserving to be there.
As a Ministry too, work with the Finance Ministry to help get tax holidays, tax rebates for those willing to invest in sport. As an example, please travel to Brazil and see what they are doing hoping to become one of the few countries to host the Olympics and World Cup back-to-back. Being an emerging economy, we can learn so much from their success and see what can aid our fledging sports industry ( You might also want to make time for Cuba seeing as it the lost glory in our boxing team, fondly named ‘The Hit Squad’.
Oops before we forget, there is the other matter of Football in Kenya…you know as we do, the ‘magnanimity’ of the world body FIFA in running the sport. We currently have a fairly organised local league which if well-managed and supported can see us become the ‘pride of Africa’. The elections are around the corner. We shall be watching your move and that of the prospective officials…burn the midnight oil reading all those statutes that FIFA might use against the country and this document from Transparency International on local sports but for goodness sake, save the sport.
Well as we said, the less talk, the more you’ll get the work done! Ours is to remain vigilant for the sake of the country and our sportsmen!

Kenya Football Woes: Ain’t bought that yet ….

Following what one FIFA official reportedly said as having resolved the KFF and FKL issue, I ain’t bought on that cr**! As they await the case to be resolved before the Court of Arbitration on who should run Kenyan football next week, the feebled FKL officials led by Mohammed Hatimy and his side-kick Titus Kasuve have been sending olive branches to the KFF ‘officials’ led by Sam Nyamweya.

No Bullshit !

Now I don’t know which devil to support but the situation needs to be resolved urgently. Here’s why;

1. 2010 World Cup – Missed opportunities – from missing the qualification and the coaching debacle that occasioned this. They have also not acted in the best interests misinforming the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs to undertake repairs to Kenya’s premiere sports venue, Kasarani Sports Centre. How now do you do this when the world is coming to Africa?
2. FIFA Goal Project (Youth Development Programme) – Office upon office has been telling us how they will work with the youth programmes through the FIFA Goal project. Last year we missed the grant again ,thanks to the FKL officials
3. Kenya Premier League – this is our only hope for now but the vested interests in the boardrooms might spill into the field. The latest is the refereeing scandal which saw a nervy game between Tusker FC and Gor Mahia end in a draw with both sides having shown indiscipline to warrant severe punishment. That players and officials alike can walk into a game when and if they feel like is an abomination in any league worth its salt. KPL should be no exception!
Plus what SuperSport and other major corporates have invested can not go down the drain in such stupid fashion.

If the likes of Mariga and Oliech are making it through the European Leagues, it should be because of their own drive and lots of passion to the game. But if we can clean up our act soonest, I don’t see why we should have a whole first 11 Kenyans playing for various leagues in Italy, France,Spain or even England ! Till then, FIFA please stop playing to the gallery!

Stadia Renovations – Are we that blind to opportunities?


Reading from the Press reports, initially I thought it was a joke but our Sports Stadia Management Board chair one Benjamin Sogomo ( guy always looks shifty from back in the days of the Kenyan education crises), confirmed my fears.
In a year when we shall witness a myriad of sporting activities across the continent and even expected to host some in our own backyard, the Board has decided to shut down the Kasarani complex for renovations. OK, there are some places that needed urgent works but that’s why we needed to have planned for these like 2 years ago and sort this by last year.
With the 2010 World Cup coming, this would have been a perfect pitch for selling the venue to at least one or two qualified nations to use for their residential training before proceeding down South. Gold-mine !
There are also continental championships coming up such as the junior athletics and continental volleyball games in July & August and swimming championships in the last quarter of the year. What do they say? “…they will have to held elsewhere”. I remember with bitterness how we missed out hosting the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations (I’d a free 2-months planned for it only for the Kenyan government to claim ‘they didn’t have enough money to host it,losing out to eventual winners South Africa – the words of then Minister for Culture & Social Affairs one Maalim Mohammed still ring in my ears ****!!!!)
If we look at the other possibilities that we’d have to host any meaningful championships, they can’t out-number the fingers of my hand…thanks again to our own internal wars in early 2008 (Afraha Stadium – Nakuru & Eldoret’s Keino Stadium) and sheer neglect coupled with the grabbing culture (such as is at Ruringu Stadium -Nyeri)
Is it that we have such myopic leadership in some of these ministries or is just a Kenyan thing to shoot ourselves in the foot every so often? It really hurts to see some sports generate some positive light and make huge strides only for the Government-managed bodies to stifle these developments and stagger our progress. At this rate we should explore possibilities of privatising the Sports Stadia Management Board. Remember the Nyayo Stadium & Coca-Cola fiasco? All the more we should hasten this…

African Women’s basketball comes to Kenya

African women club championships started in Kenya’s capital today. The FIBA affiliated championship will feature some of Africa’s powershouses, Angola, Congo and Nigeria. This comes at a time when Kenya basketball seems to have sunk to its lowest.
This should be an opportune time for Kenyan basketball officials to engage with the visiting coaches and technical personnel to see best ways of improving the Kenyan game. Interestingly just like their counterparts in volleyball, the Kenyan women have improved their game with the under 21 reaching the semi-finals of the continental championships even after going to a tournament with an under-strength team.

Angolan ladies train at the KCB Sports Den,Ruaraka on Thika Road -Photo courtesy of NMG

The corporate involvement too has been wanting but I can’t blame them, numbers have to be right for them. For the current tournament, Coca-Cola Kenya has decided to cool your thirst with a free drink on entrance. The games will be played at the Nyayo National Gymnasium due to accessibility though in my thinking, Kasarani sports centre would have been a bigger and better venue for the games.
With the KBF Play-offs taking a back seat before knowing the ultimate winners, the clubs involved had better send their technical teams there and take notes. Cameras and digital cameras are affordable these days so no excuses. Schools on holiday can send their players too to learn the basics of the game from Africa’s finest.
Let’s learn a thing or two and hope to see you all there !
Read more on this here .