There is an aura of complacency surrounding women’s rugby in Kenya. It is now time to take steps to move it to the next level.
Development of women’s rugby in Kenya has to become a matter of national concern. I want to be able to read about the girls’ rugby competition at the national secondary schools games. I want to read about a women’s rugby clubs league and I want that league to consist of more than three teams. I want to hear about a women’s university rugby league. I want to hear about Kenya hosting an international women’s tournament attended by teams other than Uganda.
When we do get to watch the girls and women’s teams play, we all remark about how well they play, how experienced they have become, how much exposure they need to get. Talk is great. But it needs to be backed up by actions.
Women’s rugby in Kenya does need more exposure and awareness. This means that we need to create opportunities for more games and tournaments for both local and international teams.
The women’s game needs to get local partners to assist in financing and supporting women’s rugby in Kenya. The arguments for how women’s rugby needs to be seen to be performing before corporates can come on board, and how women’s rugby cannot perform without funding are chicken and egg stories, which do not help the situation.
Perhaps Kenyan rugby should focus on appealing to philanthropic corporates other than those that only focus on immediate returns on investment. We can no longer look at women’s rugby as a product, which has to be packaged to suit possible investors. Consider the milestones that women’s rugby in Kenya has made thus far, the lives that it has affected, the ethos that it promotes amongst the players and then think of the kind of people or corporates that we want to help to promote the women’s game.
In 2009, I served as Team Manager for the women’s national team. During this time, I watched the players exhibit a great love for the game by diligently attending training sessions throughout the year for two competitive fixtures, in the Elgon Cup, which are sometimes uncertain. This year for example, the return leg in Uganda was dropped and the Elgon Cup had already been awarded to Kenya until it was announced that the Uganda leg was back on.
During the 2010 Safari Sevens tournament, local women’s teams were scheduled to play a game at about 9 or 10am on the final day of the tournament. The timing for the game was moved up to 8am and this was not properly communicated to the team. On arrival 8am, the women’s teams were informed that they had arrived late for their game and that they would not be allowed to take the pitch because the day’s schedule was extremely tight.
This was very unfortunate because the women had gone out of their way to invite friends and family to show up and watch them play at the Safari Sevens, which is a big deal. What was even more unfortunate was that although the women’s fixture had been cancelled because of a tight schedule, there was still enough time in the programme to have scantily dressed women run onto the pitch and dance for close to five minutes, three different times!
During my time on the Rugby Super Series committee, and particularly as Tournament Director in 2009, it took extra effort to get the women’s game to be played in the afternoon in front of fans. An early morning game might have made it easier to plan the day’s fixtures, but it would have meant that the women played to empty stands.
Despite the odds being against them the women’s rugby fraternity continues to tirelessly contribute to the growth of rugby in Kenya. Coach Sammy Kemmey, Assistant Coach Pritt Nyandatt, physiotherapist George Omondi and Team Manager Yvonno Makwali work endlessly to keep player morale up.
Members of the women’s rugby fraternity have been instrumental in running mini rugby programmes in Kenya. Also, some of the players perform administrative roles at the Kenya Rugby Union and others are IRB certified rugby referees.
Recently, it was announced that three sub unions; Western, Universities and Coast, had been formed by the Kenya Rugby Union. I hope that these sub unions have specifically included in their mandate, development of the women’s game.
We now have a director in charge of women’s rugby. This is a step in the right direction. It is also great to see that Pritt Nyandat, assistant coach for the national women’s rugby team, is part of a recently constituted National Squads Management and Elite Performance Sub Committee. I do hope that there are immediate plans for proactive engagement of the Union in development of the women’s game. I also hope that eventually, the KRU will appreciate the growth of women’s rugby in Kenya and allow the game to be governed by a separate body; Kenya Women’s Rugby Union perhaps?
Rugby clubs in Kenya also have their part to play in developing women’s rugby in the country. They can do this most effectively by creating a women’s section within the club membership and subjecting them to the same conditions as male players. This would give clubs extra members and with it, extra income from membership fees. Having women in the clubs will also increase the publicity of the club and improve chances of getting those elusive sponsorships and grants.
Finally, women rugby players in Kenya need to get out there and force the world to see them. Play hard and fight for what’s rightfully yours. You’ve earned it.