In Summary

  • Why is it so hard to make a living out of sports in our country?
  • The problems facing our sportsmen go beyond payments or lack of it therein.
  • When we consider structure, there is a big gap as compared to the structural arrangements abroad.

Ask every Kenyan Sportsman or woman what their biggest achievement in life would be. Many of them, if not all, will tell you to ply their trade abroad. A big problem for our country, right? It is true that every athlete, footballer, boxer, gymnast, rugby player or any other sports personality want to make money through their talent and hard work. The question we all ask ourselves is; why is it so hard to make a living out of sports in our country? Why do all footballers want to play in England (Barclays Premier League), Spain (La Liga) or Germany (Bundesliga)? All our athletes are working so hard just to compete in international races. We have witnessed a couple of our athletes trade their nationalities for big monies. There are so many possibilities of the motivations to play abroad. The lucrative deals our sportsmen and women get are irresistible.

The problems facing our sportsmen go beyond payments or lack of it therein. There is more than meets the eye. There is much to be done if we are to get to the standards required and fit for our sports personalities to stick around.

During last year’s Olympics, Africa despite all the challenges managed to scoop 45 medals. Kenya at number 15 topped the tables with 6 gold, 6 silver and 1 bronze. The best Olympic performance from the East African nation that is well known for its athletic prowess. Unfortunately, their success did not come short of disappointments, prior to their departure to Rio, team Kenya had been marred by the never ending incidences of mismanagement by administrators. Issues of tickets not being booked for athletes to travel to the Olympics, coaches using players’ accreditation, coaches being left at the expense of “joy riders” traveling to the Olympics, athletes not being issued with enough kit and most shockingly, athletes being left to stay in Favela in Rio after winning medals. The stories are endless both at the local and international level.

So why isn’t the sports industry viable and sustainable in Kenya?  Culturally, sports is considered a past time in Kenya. I remember growing up and my folks were always insisting that I should focus on my studies and not on sports because sports had no end goal. That was because growing up, sports leagues did not offer paying opportunities and also because there were no opportunities in other fields supporting sports like sports marketing, administration, finance, etc. You were not guaranteed a career in sports. Even today, sports is called an “extracurricular activity” in schools. It’s not a career that kids look up to.

When we consider structure, there is a big gap as compared to the structural arrangements abroad. The sporting leagues have no commercial value and this is because they are not structured in a way that can attract sponsorship or partnerships. Going around many sporting federations and institutions, you will quickly realize that many of them do not have a business structure and most of those that run the sporting institutions have other jobs and are not fully committed to ensuring the success of the leagues. Very few leagues are televised and without eyes on the games and “bums on seats” they cannot generate income. The Kenya Basketball Federation League is a good example. In 2013, they partnered with Super Sport and the league was aired live in East Africa for the 1st time in it’s history. In 2013, a sponsor Menengai Group came on board as a partner. Unfortunately however, there was not strategic intent and partnership crumbled. The federation executives all have other jobs that give them their daily bread and are not ready to set up a structural system that will allow the league to be autonomous and financially beneficial to the athletes and to key stakeholders. Sadly, when resources are set aside for sporting activities, and these are meagre. They rarely ever reach the most important stakeholder, the athlete. The culture of impunity has hindered sports from being a viable industry in Africa. Officials who have been given the mandate to develop and grow sport are quick to line their pockets at the expense of the industry. Case in point, Nike released 1900 kits for distribution to the Kenya Olympic team. The athletes received a fraction of the kits with most of it found hidden at the Kenya National Olympic Committee (KNOC) offices. These would have found their way to the black market.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the industry. There are success stories. The media has played a key role in changing perceptions. The custodians of sports need to work with other stakeholders to help them structure sports into income generating ventures. There are agencies that are now concentrating on developing sports solutions athletes, federations, teams and other sports stakeholders. The relationship between sports, media and sponsors cannot continue to be overlooked for long term success to be achieved.

The sporting landscape is bound to change in Kenya. With the right investment and structural reviews of the industry, sports is bound to become a sustainable local industry that will impact the lives of the sports’ personalities.