While rugby management in Kenya is probably not without its in-house squabbles, the Kenya Rugby Football Union has to be by far, the best run sports body in the country and is no doubt the primary reason for the current success enjoyed by the sport in Kenya.
The Union board is made up of individuals who are already well established in their own right. They are the top of the crop in their professional fields and are elected to lend their expertise to the running of the game of rugby in Kenya. Majority if not all of the board members played rugby at some point. Some still play the game at a non competitive level, meeting for the odd game of touch rugby. Having served their terms on the pitch, the directors now serve their terms on the board, familiar with the needs of the players and able to prioritize on delivery to them.
The board consists of a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer, a director appointed as the chairman of the National Squads Management Committee, Director in Charge of Sevens, Director in Charge of Fifteens, Director in Charge of Leagues and Fixtures, Director in Charge of Women’s Rugby, Director in Charge of Referees and the Director in Charge of Marketing.
The National Squads Management Committee consists of its Chairman, the Director in Charge of Sevens, the Director in Charge of Fifteens, the coaches and the team managers of the fifteens side and the sevens side and as such, there is a lot of involvement in the preparation of a team to represent the country in both versions of the game.
Even with the high placed contacts that its members have, the board’s functionality is not possible without the Development Manager and the project coordinators and project facilitators on the ground. These officers shuffle in and out of the Union offices everyday, running from school to school executing rugby development programs, ensuring growth of age-grade rugby and running school leagues and tournaments both in and out of Nairobi, ensuring the smooth running of the club fixtures and ensuring that the basic requirements of the various clubs and of the national teams are met.
Rugby is run by the love of the game. Board members are not paid a single penny for the roles they play in running of the game. Board members do not use the office as a stepping stone to political office. This is not to say that they are not forward-thinking, but rather that they have their sights set beyond the allure of the benefits of holding political office. Board members seek to make advancements in their respective dockets. They are elected on merit and have a maximum of two terms, each two years long, to prove their worth. The Union holds an Annual General Meeting during which members retire by rotation once their terms are up. Those who are up for re-election make it back in more often than not. Retiring by rotation allows for new people to take up the vacant positions, infusing new perspectives and ideas into the Union board. Elections are free and fair.
Programme coordinators and facilitators get compensation that is less than commensurate to the amount of work they put in every day including Saturdays and Sundays. Coaches and Team Managers get peanuts for preparation of our national teams to represent the country. Rewards are found in the conclusion of successful Kenya Cup and Eric Shirley leagues, Enterprise and Mwamba Cups, local sevens circuit as well as the annual Rugby Super Series and Safari Sevens.
For players in Kenya, rugby is more than just a game. Rugby is a way of life. Once they finish high school, players identify with particular clubs and progress into club rugby. Once there, players experience a sense of fraternity that is noticeable both on and off the pitch in the way that they relate to each other, the way that they work together, and the way that they look out for each other. Older club members take the younger players under their wings and mentor them on rugby and careers. This is undoubtedly the reason why once one becomes a part of the fraternity, it becomes impossible to leave.
Worldwide, sport is nothing without its fans. Fans can make or break a team. The support they offer is immeasurable. The incentive they provide cannot be flouted. Rugby has a great following in Kenya. Pot bellied fifty year old high school alumni can spend hours discussing the prowess of western province schools in rugby or whether Saint Mary’s school is still is a force to reckon with. Over thirty years since it was established, Mean Machine R.F.C Old Boys who call themselves The MOB, still keep in touch with the current crop of players, egging them on and supporting them within their means. The national sevens team has a fanatical following that caused a stir at the 2008 Safari Sevens when they booed off the Tusker Project Fame singers demanding to watch rugby instead. This was understandable considering the fact that the “entertainment” was brought on just before the next scheduled Kenya game. Anyone in their right mind knows not to clear a rugby pitch for half-baked performers to sing blues just before a Kenya team game!
The two major rugby tournaments in the country-the Rugby Super Series and the Safari Sevens, are run by volunteers. Officials are drawn from the rugby fraternity. Bank managers, lawyers, engineers, teachers and people from several other professions come together twice a year to form committees that sit for months before these major tournaments, complimenting the board to ensure that the tournaments are a success. The rugby fraternity is a tight-knit one and so when called upon by the board to volunteer time towards organizing world class tournaments, it is impossible to say no. It is this commitment that saw the inclusion of a Tanzanian side in the Rugby Super Series and the inclusion of Fiji in the Safari Sevens this year. It is this commitment that ensures that the tournaments bring on board sponsors whose support is vital to the success of the tournaments. And to that end I congratulate Bamburi Cement and East African Breweries Limited and other associate sponsors whose contribution to rugby in Kenya has been immeasurable.
Having said that, it is ridiculous that until the surprise visit from the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga and his deputy Musalia Mudavadi (who incidentally played rugby in his high school and campus days, earning himself the nickname “Phantom”, pronounced “Phandom”, for his ability to run through the defense without being seen) to the 2008 Safari Sevens, the Kenyan government has offered no form of support to rugby in Kenya despite the fact that our boys are making great strides on the international scene; despite the fact that Safari Sevens brings together over 15 different nationalities to our country; despite the fact that the management of the game has not been dogged by the controversies surrounding the likes of football; despite the fact that our boys are setting milestones in rugby for other African countries. One can only imagine the development that would be possible with financial support from the government. The union staff would get attractive remuneration packages, the workforce would be increased and this would result in faster development of the game and in particular the women’s game. The rugby grounds would be developed and its facilities would be improved to cope with the increasing number of spectators and the increasing number of visiting teams.
We can only hope that as is true of politicians, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister’s visit was a calculated move that we can comfortably interpret to mean that the new guard in government has a plan to develop the game of rugby. While we wait for that great day, the Kenya Rugby Football Union must continue to tirelessly play its part in advancement of the game in Kenya.