A Victory for the Players

Michael Onsando
4 June ,2019

14-10 at half time and 19-17 at full time we all held our breath as South Africa contained a fighting Australia to top their group. With just two points between Kenya and the Challenge Trophy this is the closest we have been to relegation and a far cry from that triumphant evening in Singapore in 2016.

“I don’t want to a part of when guys are saying, this is the bunch of players that took us to relegation”

Jeffrey Oluoch on Planet Rugby

Besides marathon running rugby 7s is perhaps one of our more successful sports endeavours as a country. We might not be dominant as the large Fijians, as free flowing as the All Blacks or as physical as our African counterparts, South Africa – but we have something going on there. We are the underdog that always has a fighting chance. The team that will ensure you keep on your toes or suffer a shock defeat (sounds like a certain Ruiz I know). We’re quick on the counter, strong in the breakdown and have wheels for days. Simply put, we have some top-notch rugby players in the country.

And everyone knows it.

“I mean it’s sad traveling and living in all the 5star hotels and coming back home to a locked house because you haven’t paid rent, I mean how do you expect results with this kind of environment??”

Willy Ambaka, on twitter.

I’m not going to go into the struggles at the Kenya Rugby Union at length. We all know that there is not much resource available for the sport and whatever is left is squandered, mismanaged and misdirected, leaving players to rely on their passion for victory as the main driving force. As soon as the passion begins to meet real life (injuries, bills and the like) the players are dropped, discarded and forgotten. Because we have a deep(ish) talent pool, we’re sure we will have someone to replace said player, even if the replacement will have less experience and will take a while to be skilled enough to play at that level. When players go on strike their patriotism is questioned. It really is a messy situation.

Knowing that there will always be players to play and a sevens circuit to attend is perhaps how we got here. Being a core team, the team just has to perform at an average level to keep the people in KRU happy. They are delighted with the victories but, as long as there is no serious trouble they are happy to continue to keep players unpaid for months on end – even though the average athlete can consume up to 5 amounts the food an average person does. Take this from Carey Baraka:

“According to Simiyu, the problems in Kenyan rugby are obvious, and one does not need a rocket science degree to point them out. First, he feels that there is a lack of proper governance within Kenyan rugby. The leadership is irrational, has issues with their integrity, and the people at the top have bought their way into the leadership of the game. Furthermore, Simiyu argues that several of the clubs are briefcase clubs (either owned by a company, or run by a few individuals, and, sometimes, just one individual), and the people use their clubs to advance their personal ambitions. “It will be more about sharing resources. That’s what happened with Kenya Sevens. They used the national team as a kitty to share, to secure votes, so that they can get elected.”

Stuck in a Ruck: The Perpetual Crisis of Kenya Sevens’ Rugby

And that electoral politics is at the heart of the issue is not particularly surprising. The single point of elections is a craze we have with 2022 presidential elections being one of the key conversations on the larger political scale. It’s like we move from election to election without any real focus on what matters, the work in between cycles. It is this kind of failure of policy has seen a series of rash decisions, each worse than the last, that has led Kenya7s to where it is today.

And let’s remember, that it is the playing unit that bears the brunt of the public outcry and consequences. We’ve seen quality coaches sacked for political matters with no back up plan in sight, pre-season training schedules have been torn up and key players suspended because they didn’t salute at the right people. The management of rugby 7s seems to be about everything else except what goes on during the 14 minutes in the 100 by 70 grid.

So today I want to spend some time celebrating the 30 or so men that are consistently rotating in and out of the sevens team. The men who spend hours in the gym, even when they are off the team, to ensure that we always have a supply of talented, fit players. The men who watch and rewatch every game, every step and every tackle on their own time with their own bundles, looking for an opportunity to exploit come the next time they face an opponent. To celebrate the players who take hits of up to 20gs of force, get up and run at their opponent once more.

I celebrate this because this weekend was not a victory for Kenya rugby – Kenya rugby is performing way below it’s ability. No, this weekend, 12 men took to the pitch and decided to impose their will on fate, despite the odds being stacked against them, and they triumphed.

And to those men today I have only one thing to say – thank you.

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