• Last year was full of ups and downs, with records tumbling, controversies abounding
• This year promises to deliver lots of great sports action and chances for glory
The year 2019 was a mixed bag for the sporting fraternity in Kenya on and off the field. While Kenyan sportsmen and women thrived on the field, off it some were found in compromising situations that brought shame to their sports.
The departure of leading betting firms from the local scene greatly affected the funding of sports entities. It will thus be another huge challenge, particularly in the prevailing economic conditions, for corporates to sponsor sports. Ingenuity and accountability will be key for any sport seeking to attract sponsorships.
Football was once again front and centre in the national psyche. Athletics maintained a stream of honours worldwide for Kenya. This year was when standards of record-breaking proportions were made, particularly on the roads where Eliud Kipchoge defied odds to become the first human to run a full marathon under two hours during the INEOS Challenge, breasting the tape at 1:59.40.
More records tumbled in Chicago, where the 16-year-old women’s marathon record was shattered by Brigid Kosgei. Geoffrey Kamworor also bested the World Half Marathon time.
Now more will be expected in 2020, as Kenya plays host to future track and field stars when the IAAF World U-20 Championships begin at Kasarani from July 7-12. The championships will be apt preparations for athletes as they train their sights on the main event of 2020, the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Kenyan women's volleyball team, the Malkia Strikers, will be out to qualify for another Olympics after a 12-year hiatus when the qualifiers are held in Cameroon between January 3 and 10. The national women volleyballers, who are currently in camp at Karasani, have finished 11th in their last two appearances at the Olympic Games, hence just qualifying will be seen as a massive achievement.
The Kenya Sevens rugby teams secured a second successive Olympics berth, and both Shujaa and the Lionesses are expected to give a good account of themselves in Tokyo.
In 2019, Harambee Stars qualified for the African Cup of Nations for the sixth time, only to be eliminated in the group stages. Revelations of alleged misappropriation of funds set aside for the tourney's preparations left officials of the federation with egg on their faces. The accusations have never been dealt with conclusively.
As the 2021 qualifiers continue at the end of August 2020, Stars will now hope not to be sidetracked by off-field issues as they seek another Afcon ticket. So far, Kenya have two points after a creditable draw away to Egypt was dampened by a home stalemate with Togo.
The 2022 World Cup qualifiers start in March 2020, and Stars will need to focus from the start if they are to eventually qualify for a historic first World Cup, the 2022 Fifa finals in Qatar.
Harambee Starlets' fairytale run towards a historic place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was ended by Zambia in the penultimate stage. That disappointment was erased by the heady triumph in the Cecafa Women’s Championship a fortnight later.
Starlets will be waiting to know how they performed in the Caf Women’s Awards this month. They have been shortlisted in the Team of the Year category, with coach David Ouma set to fight for the Coach of the Year award. There will be no respite for the women footballers as the qualifiers to the Awcon 2020 loom large.
The football elections cancelled by the Sports Disputes Tribunal must be held by March, according to orders by Fifa representatives, and Nick Mwendwa is determined to win himself another term.
The return of the Safari Rally to the World Motor Sports calendar was undoubtedly the greatest news for the nation in 2019. Memories of days of yore when world rally champions like Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankunen and Bjorn Waldegaard used to race on Kenyan soil against local heroes Patrick Njiru, Ian Duncan and the late Jonathan Toroitich among others will be rekindled. 2020 thus bodes well for Kenya in sporting terms as the world’s attention is once again drawn here from June.
For things to go smoothly, however, federations and sports bodies in the country have been urged to hand in their budgets early to ease the burden of disbursement by the Sports Fund. The government body received flack early this year, ostensibly for not releasing funds as requested by the several bodies.
A handful of disgruntled sports bodies went as far as petitioning the National Assembly, claiming refusal to send money to federations.
The order signed by Fund CEO Mark Wambugu that all federations submit their budget proposals by December 31st will nip in the bud the back-and-forth accusations between sports managers and Ministry officials.
This can only enhance cooperation between federations and the government, which is a key supporter of sports in the republic. The order also will help enhance accountability for public resources in the hands of sports federations. Reducing wastage will ensure the fund assists more sports as envisaged in the 2012 Sports Act.