October has been great for Kenyan sports. Eliud Kipchoge was the first man in history to run a full marathon under two hours on Saturday 12 . Brigit Kosgei won the Chicago marathon a day later and set a new world record while Lawrence Cherono was the winner in men’s race in the same course. Besides marathons and setting world records, our women’s rugby team qualified for the 2020 Olympics.
All these wins can be harnessed to turn Kenya into a great sporting destination and furthermore, to earn extra revenue for the government.
Sports Kenya is the little-known state corporation formed under the Sports Act, 2013 mandated to pursue this goal. But I am not aware of any plans it has set in motion to pursue sports tourism. Kenya is already a favourite tourism destination globally due to its diverse geography, nature and wildlife.
It is time to put in place a sports tourism strategy and aggressively market the country as a leading destination. The frequent Kenyan victories in long distance races have baffled researchers so much that several studies have been done. Some researchers have visited Kenya on fact-finding missions. Is it the diet, weather, genes, training or cultural influences?
Whatever the reason, Sports Kenya should take advantage of the global interest in our athletes. The corporation is charged with building stadium museums and this can be taken up as a way of enhancing sports tourism.
It would be a great dis-service to the country not to turn Kenya into a sporting destination.
During Kipchoge’s INEOS 1.59 challenge concerns were raised by the public on the role of Sports Kenya in the privately organised event. Perhaps the expectation was that Sports Kenya would have used this opportunity to further market Kenya.
During the event, patriotism was in their especially on social media and there was a lot of support by government officials who were physically present in Vienna, Austria during the marathon.
Sports Kenya has a very wide mandate in management of sports in Kenya. It is in charge of implementing international sports programmes and facilitating participation of Kenyans in sports. It is responsible for developing sports facilities in the country and collaboration with county governments in development of sports.
Sports is a devolved function meaning that both the national and county governments are responsible for its growth. Therefore there is also a responsibility on county governments to put in place strategies and mechanisms for the development of sports in their jurisdictions. Some counties have done a commendable job of building and revamping stadiums.
Last year funding for sports was placed under a Sports, Arts and Social Development Fund from the established National Sports Fund. This drew a lot of concerns from the sporting federations who also highlighted lack of clear structures and transitional issues as challenges faced in the sector. There was lack of harmonization between the various federations which further complicated sports structures in the country. This presents regulatory challenges if one sporting activity falls under different laws.
While we may not be financially competitive yet in the global sports industry, we have curved our competitive edge and niche which should be maximised for public good.