I do not agree with the Rugby Kenya blog argument on the poor maintenance of the rugby pitch at the Rugby Football Union of East Africa headquarters, postponement of games due to unavailability of players and suspension of league matches during the national teams international fixtures.
It is true that the rugby pitch that hosted the Safari Sevens was in fantastic condition. This came about partly as a result of the pitch being closed to the public beginning soon after the conclusion of the Rugby Super Series in early April. There was also constant maintenance that included watering of the pitch over-night as well as use of manure. This meant that everyone who used the pitch, which includes the mini-rugby boys and girls, the veterans who play touch rugby and even Kenya Harlequins, could not use it. The RFUEA grounds double as the home ground of Kenya Harlequins R.F.C. and anyone who follows any type of sport will appreciate the significance of having a home ground, and using it. We can therefore only imagine the sacrifice it took for the club to agree to absolutely no use of the grounds until after Safari Sevens was over three months later.
Now that Safari Sevens is over, the pitch will not be left to deteriorate, but rather, normal use of the pitch will resume, and with it will come the expected wear and tear which even regular maintenance by the grounds men on site can not prevent.
The obvious solution to this is to have a world class pitch for the sole purpose of hosting major local and international fixtures. This would entail relocation of either Kenya Harlequins R.F.C or the Rugby Football Union of East Africa Headquarters, or in the alternative development of the adjacent grounds currently used as a parking area to accommodate a second pitch so that one pitch can be used on an every day basis while the other is maintained for the major local and international fixtures. This of course requires funds and I cannot speak for the Union in terms of what revenue it earns and how it spends it.
Another option is to move our international matches and tournaments to Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani. The grounds are fantastic, and all that may be in contention is whether or not the pitch would meet all the International Rugby Board standards in terms of specifications for dimensions of a rugby pitch. Also, the distance from the Central Business District might dissuade some of the less enthusiastic rugby followers.
With regard to postponement of games due to unavailability of players, I venture to guess that one of the reasons that this decision to continue with fixtures was reached might have been the realisation that clubs have an obligation to play their part in development of the sport by increasing their player bases. I also venture to suggest that if two clubs set to meet each other in a league tie reached a consensus that it in all fairness, the game would be better postponed until the proposing club’s players came back from national duty, the Union would willingly postpone that particular fixture.
Clubs should scout for talent to ensure continuity of teams; indeed a few clubs already do this albeit through unconventional means like promises of jobs. The current number of active rugby players in the country cannot be much to speak of. The challenge should be on the clubs to sell themselves as the clubs of choice to rugby players fresh out of high school. Proper incentives should be given to players to join clubs and nurture their talents. Clubs should reach out to high schools, including those outside Nairobi. Whatever happens to all the Western Kenya high school players once they finish school for example? I stand to be corrected, but I think that the last time we had an influx of Western Kenya bred former high school rugby players into the club league was back when the likes of Derrick Wamalwa and Dennis Mwanja joined the league. Where are these Western Kenya players now? If they join Kisumu R.F.C or Maseno University then perhaps these are untapped sources of potential world class rugby players that some enterprising individual or corporate should exploit.
My point is this. If the Union and the clubs met each other halfway when it comes to development of the game, then the issue of unavailability of players because of international assignment would hardly ever come up. There would also be competition for spots on the national team as we would have a number of capable players vying for all positions and we would all be glued to our television screens in anticipation of the naming of the teams since the final squad would be unpredictable.
Last is the issue of there being no league matches on days when Kenya is playing an international fixture at home and vice versa. I don’t know about everyone else, but if I was a club player, on a day when Kenya was playing an international fixture at home, I wouldn’t want to be torn between playing for my club and watching my country play. Similarly, a rugby fan would not want to be torn between watching his club play and watching his country play. As someone who follows the local league keenly, I make no bones about admitting that I would rush to watch my country play-even on a day when KCB was meeting Impala in a Kenya Cup final. After all, international matches, unlike league games are not played in Kenya practically every weekend. With regard to league fixtures continuing on days when the national team is playing away, I bet the Union would give us all the day off if we convinced them that we were all travelling to Uganda or Namibia or wherever else to watch the game being played. When you think about how congested our fixtures are, it is only fitting that international home games be the only exception to the rule that local fixtures proceed at any rate.