MAKORI: Is Kenya’s celebrated sevens rugby going the infamous cricket way?



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Kenyan sporting teams thrive on flattering only to deceive.

From the dizzy heights of an unexpected World Cup semi-final in 2003, Kenyan cricketers plummeted on a free-fall that currently sees them only appearing as footnotes in the global game’s history as England and Wales host this year’s World Cup from Thursday.

The memorable 73-run win over Brian Lara’s West Indies at the Nehru Stadium in Pune signalled the sensational arrival of Kenyan cricket on the one-day stage, with the 91-run semi-final loss to India at the 2003 tournament in South Africa seeing Kenya knock vigorously on Test cricket doors.

But lacklustre performances at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, coupled with management gremlins at the Kenya Cricket Association, saw erstwhile minnows Bangladesh leapfrog Kenya and earn the coveted Test status, and things have never been the same again in Dhaka.

In contrast, Kenya lost its One Day International (ODI) status with then lower ranked nations, such as Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland, Nepal, United Arab Emirates and Papua New Guinea, being elevated to the higher rungs of the limited overs game.

With the fall of Kenyan cricket came sponsor apathy, the national game that once celebrated an avalanche of endorsement deals, dumped like a leper.

Kenya’s sevens rugby is currently dangling on a precipice of such downfall, the national team on the brink of elimination from the prestigious World Rugby Sevens Series. To survive, Kenya must finish ahead of Japan to hang onto the coat-tails of the global game this weekend when the final round of the series is hosted in Paris.

The Kenyans have been drawn against Australia, South Africa and Wales in Pool ‘B’ of the Paris tournament and will have to punch above their weight to make it through the group for the vital points.

Things haven’t been made any easier for the team’s management by not-too-flattering tweets by national players lamenting playing conditions in the Kenyan game.

While the goings on at the sevens camp unleash a sense of déjà vu, having seen what transpired with the cricketers, the foundation of Kenyan rugby is firmer than that of cricket with a steady production line of players from the school ranks.

The national players might have valid arguments in pouring vitriol on the game’s management, but they too are partly to blame for holding the nation at ransom with a sometimes pedestrian approach to national duty.

Only if they had the patriotic fervour of the Fijian lot, some of whom train in squalid conditions and who started off on contracts half the amount Kenyan internationals earned five years ago, then they could spare us the blushes.

Failure by Paul Murunga’s charges to cling onto the series’ elite list will most certainly see current and potential sponsors in a stampede for the exit, sure that there will be little return on investment in backing a ne’er-do-well side that no longer has the allure of global appeal.

If only the national players, and Kenya Rugby Union, by extension, ponder the ramifications of a poor outing in Paris this weekend, then they will play a tournament of their lives at the Stade Jean-Bouin to avoid going the cricket way.


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