On Kenya Rugby, Man City & The Power of Money

Kenyan sports fans have really spent the bulk of this weekend balancing on the edges of their seats.

Binti, one of my closer friends is among these. Aside from being one of the hugest Kenya Rugby fans that ever was or will be, she happens to be a Manchester United fan. So on Saturday, she was frantic and on edge as the Kenyan Rugby 7s Team kicked off a fairly important game against Russia. They were winning up until the last minute. In fact, as the clock hit 0, they had the win. All they had to do was stop game play. And somehow in that last play, they lost. Binti slammed tables and screamed frantically, emotions I shared with her fully.

The only other way for them to make a difference was to beat New Zealand AND Argentina. The former game was already written off as impossible; the Kiwis are beasts. And true to that, they spanked us merciless. But with the Argentine Pumas there was a chance. Again, that chance was squandered in yet another “so close” moment.

One can’t help but watch our local sportsmen – bar runners – and feel like maybe, just maybe, with a little more push and support, they’d be game changers.

The next day, Manchester United fans (99% of Kenyan football fans on Twitter) began tweeting optimisms early in the day. Last game of the season and they were a few goals behind. This meant either they either had to secure a victory while Man City lost on the other end. Or they had to win by an obscene 8+ point margin.

For 92 minutes, Man U were champions as Man City experienced the full dream killing abilities of QPR. But in that last minute, their world was turned on its head and Man City scored the two goals that would change the world. From where I sat I saw a table of Man City fans go haywire and quite literally flip their tables over in joy.

In the next room I could hear Man U fans screaming and weeping and cursing. There was some glass breaking and a large volume of profanity spewed. As the shots of the new owners of Manchester City – the billionaires that rebuilt the club – came on, there seemed to be consensus that that influx of money into City’s kitty is what made the difference. Then it was back to cursing and crying.

Only later did I begin to reflect on the happenings. 2 thoughts came to mind:

1. What if, hypothetically, the type of money pumped into Manchester City was pumped into one Kenyan Sport – rugby for instance? Would we be able to create champions? I mean, we already have the local talent in abundance. Why should we only restrict ourselves to athletics? And even if we say rugby doesn’t have a lot of fans, football (or soccer for the rest of you) does. Why don’t we pump money into that?

2. Why would the same bar be filled when a foreign club level team is on the pitch and empty when a national team is playing? It’s not because we don’t love our country, obviously. Is it perhaps because we’ve lost hope in it? I mean, do the masses really expect the extraordinary to ever happen with our national teams? Are their games not entertaining?

My theory is that it’s the power of money. If more cash was pumped into developing talent, building stadiums, training a national team to the standards we know they can attain, we would be playing a different ball game, in a manner of speaking. If some random Chinese company decided to dump billions into Kenyan Football for example, who wouldn’t want to watch the games? We’d start winning, gain international fandom, make history and the investors in question would laugh their way to the bank.

Or would they?

I’m not savvy on the matter, but I’m curious as to what you all think the problem is? When will Kenya Rugby, or Football have as many fans as Manchester United? What will it take? Or should we just keep cheering our runners and watching them get bought out by nations willing to invest in their talent?

Whatever the case may be, only time (and a huge injection of funds) will tell.

7 thoughts on “On Kenya Rugby, Man City & The Power of Money

  1. Money isn’t everything. When Kenya was actually playing well at that rubbish game called sevens rugby, there was actually less money involved than at present. As a fan demand high standards from the players and the men in suits.
    On a side note the first team that bought the English Premier League, Blackburn Rovers was relegated recently. Food for thought.

  2. Sports is just entertainment, and entertainment requires a lot of marketing. You have to create hype on the sport no matter how crap it is. Take for example, NASCAR racing. 300,000 people watching cars go round and round, or baseball. If you don’t get your marketing right, that sport will die even if you pump millions of dollars

  3. A fallacy that is repeated over and over is that Kenyan’s do not support local clubs and are just fixated on EPL and La Liga teams I don’t buy that, its just that Kenyan soccer is poorly marketed. Before the EPL final games I watched my local team Thika United trounce Mathare 2-1 at Thika Municipal Stadium. I am patriotic about my team but it is a labour of love starting with the atrocious stadium without stands and having to watch through a cage like animals in a zoo while standing. The state of the pitch also hinders free flowing passing game, the fans who want to buy replica jerseys cannot get them from the official source, etc. When you see the slick marketing EPL and Spanish teams do to endear themselves to the fans it is no surprise that we all rushed out of the stadium at 5:00PM to catch the game on supersport (at least the game had ended).
    On the Arab and Russian billions being pumped in the EPL its true that it helps the team win the league but does it get the teams more fans?……………. I don’t think so, true fans have kept Liverpool and Arsenal fans alive through their trophy droughts

  4. Paul up there is right. When the Kenya Rugby team was beating New Zealand (Man, I will never forget this) and when we were in the semi finals in the 2009 World Cup, it wasn’t about money. It was about passion and the love of the game. I have seen people play rugby earning only the bus fare to get them into training.

    However, at some point money has to come in to develop the game. We need feeder systems where we can continue replenishing our National team. We need the correct infrastructure to train our teams. We need funds to help make rugby equipment available in schools at an early age to create an interest in kids to build up these feeder systems. We need equipment. You get my drift. There are people passionate about rugby but without money, that passion won’t get us into the world stage. Also, there is more emphasis on the Sevens team while the 15s team is neglected. The two have to be developed together. Do you know I watched Brian Habana of SA play for their Emerging Boks here in Safari Sevens before he went on to play for their National 15s team?

    As for football, there is actually money getting into Kenyan football. It is being misappropriated and misused. Corruption and mismanagement is the order of the day. Watch how people flock to Nyayo stadium when there’s an international game. Football is big in Kenya, but we have useless people at the helm. I learned football from my dad when he used to support AFC back in the 80s. Every Saturday, with his friends, they would go watch games. Never missed. At some point the management messed up the game and people lost interest. But it’s picking up again, hopefully it will return back to it’s former glory. People watch foreign teams because of a lack of something better to watch at home. If it was a properly organized league, which in turn will feed into a properly organized National team, we’d be all over it.

    And finally, MMK is also right. The correct marketing strategy will help too. I think having Supersport come in and showing the games was the right step. Market, get in sponsors, build the hype.

    Interesting, I was earlier at a place where they were watching the Indian Cricket Premier League. The grounds were filled to capacity in the way the EPL is. They’ve owned their sport.

    Ok, my unladylike passion for sports is now showing so I’ll now stop 🙂

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