Thursday, August 29, 2013

The buck stops with the President.

Long-distance runners in Kenya are national heroes. You would not know it to look at Athletics Kenya, the dysfunctionally managed institution at the heart of management of athletic sports in the country. If not for the international exposure Kenya's top athletes receive, and the fact that athletics, generally, are solitary sports, athletics would be in the shitter. This, sadly, is the situation the most popular sport finds itself in: football.

Football and athletics are the oldest and most popular sports in Kenya. Despite the on again, off again success of other sports - cricket, volleyball, swimming, hockey, tennis - Kenya is defined by its athletes' prowess in the marathon and long distance races at the Summer Olympics and other global athletics events, and its utter dysfunction in the management of football and development of top talent in the sport.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, in their manifesto, promised to make significant investments in the youth of Kenya, specifically in identifying, nurturing and promoting talented athletes. Their manifesto promises to invest in the development of athletics and sports programmes, and infrastructure, so that the youth of Kenya can develop other talents than those tied to offices or factories. The Sports Bill, 2013, is supposed to be a part of their strategy. It, however, epitomises the wrongheadedness of the Jubilee government's approach to youth development in general and sports management in particular.

A fallacious proposition has gained currency in Kenya: the solution to any problem is legislation. Football, and sports, in Kenya is in the crapper. To rescue it from total collapse, we must enact a new law to deal with the problems that bedevil the sport. Thus the Sports Act. The effect, however, is unanticipated. Instead of miraculously reforming the administration of football in Kenya, it gives rise to new bureaucratic fiefdoms.

Because of the incessant clamour for a law to deal with this, that or the other from the myriad of specially interested groups that collectively call themselves civil society in Kenya, there is a new industry too: the creating, and staffing, of new public institutions. This is the case in sports. When Kenyan athletes descended on Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport for the 2013 IAAF Championships, in addition to their coaches and managers, training partners and physicians, they were accompanied by an equally large delegation of government officials whose role in Moscow remains murky to date. Rather than restructure sports management in Kenya, or hold sports' federations' managers to account for their work, the Sports Act simply gave the erstwhile Youth Ministry the motivation it needed to create new positions and to staff those positions with career public officers with as much knowledge of sports management as a child has in neurosurgery.

More Kenyans than at any time in the past fifty years watch the English Premier League. It is more popular than the Kenya Premier League not simply because the EPL players are better, though many are, but because the KPL is not a joy to watch, its matches are not a joy to attend, and its reputation as a shambolic system overseen by a cabal of gangsters and petty thieves is yet to be sullied by professionalism. Many Kenyans live in the absurd hope that the budding relationship with Super Sports will clean up football management in the KPL. The election of the likes of Sammy Nyamweya to head Kenya's federation should swiftly disabuse Kenyans that sunny days in Kenyan football are ahead for the sport.

While it is laudable that the Jubilee government intends to build, or finance the building of, stadia around the country, the government coffers are empty. This is a promise that will not be realised in the 5 years that the government has. And if the government finances the construction of sports stadia, it is almost certain that during the tendering process, the graft that will ensue will rival Goldenberg, Triton and Anglo-Leasing. The public-private-partnership route is a route to disaster too.

The solution, as this blogger keeps harping on, lies not in enacting ever more laws to solve our problems. The solution lies in observing and enforcing the ones that we have now. The Sports Act is a fact of life today. Its repeal is not on the cards and probably never will. Therefore, why not implement its provisions properly for the good of sports in Kenya? The sports "managers" we've had for the past five decades have proven to be millstones around the sports' collective necks. If the Act can provide a way of replacing all of them with sports management professionals, that is a course we must zealously pursue. If the Act can ring-fence sports funds and sports revenues from the usual hyenas, that should be done. It is the responsibility of the President to ensure that it is done. if he hides behind weaselly words as "the Cabinet Secretary is responsible" or "it's the sports commissioners fault," we must call him on it. The buck stops with him. If he manages to ensure that all sports' federations are managed without the whiff of mysteriously depleting bank accounts or suspicious grumbles amongst sportspersons, whether he builds new stadia or not will not matter; he will have done more to rescue sports in Kenya than any other President in history.

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