SOYA 2016: A spotlight on the glitzy gala lit up by Haile
Thursday night at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi was an absorbing scene as stars from across multiple sporting disciplines gathered to witness the crowning of the crème de la crème of Kenyan sport at the annual black-tie 2016 Safaricom Sports Personality Awards (SOYA) awards.
A one hour delay from the scheduled to start took nothing away from the spectacle as invited guests seized the opportunity to interact with their sporting icons; exchanging handshakes, hearty smiles and the now treasured ‘selfie moments’.
On this day, the competition between athletes and ball players was worlds away from the usual on-pitch and track endeavors as they strutted in fine fashion that illuminated the glowing lights mounted at KICC’s Tsavo Ball Room.
Sporting stars past and present mingled freely with their fans and other invited guests during pre-gala cocktail talking up their glory days or speculating who among the nominees would land the coveted gong at Kenyan sporting Oscars.
All chit-chat stopped and guests were ushered into the ballroom the moment Ethiopian distance running legend and chief international guest, Haile Gebrselassie arrived and was quickly escorted to the front row table by his long-time track rival and SOYA Awards founder, Paul Tergat.
His appearance drew applause from those in attendance, setting the mood for what would be a colourful ceremony.
In his glittering career, the athletics great now the Ethiopian Athletics Federation President, he broke the hearts of many Kenyans in beating them on the track and roads but here he was being acclaimed in enemy territory.
Unlike last year when local celebrities in music, comedy and social media were brought in to supplement the glamour in what was ultimately an epic fail, the 2016 Soya Gala celebrated sports personalities by fellow sports personalities.
The absence of these ‘celebs’ as they are known was hailed by all and sundry who felt they hijacked the event last year.
Who could forget how petrified world women 3000m steeplechase champion, Hyvin Kiyeng, who was named the Sportswoman of the Year for 2015 looked when pop band Sauti Sol attempted to serenade her on stage to recieve her prize!
What about the security detail assigned to another local star artiste, Nameless bumped over world champions Julius Yego and Asbel Kiprop as they bulldozed through to the ballroom?
Anyway, away from the 2015 shenanigans, Sarakasi Dancers were the first performers on stage, thrilling the crowd with an energetic display of acrobatic dancing moves.
Much to the amusement of the crowd, the Master of Ceremony and veteran sports journalist Torome Tirike warned the crowd not to attempt such moves at home before inviting Watson Karuma – the chairman of the Panel of Judges- who in turn introduced his team.
His speech began with a tribute to some of the sporting figures the country lost last year in a moving montage including Anthony Ndungu Macharia (photo journalist/motor sports), Chris Tsuma (sub editor sports/Daily Nation), Ian Mutuku (athlete), James Sianga (football), Ogeto Gecheo (rugby), Jasmeer Singh (cricket), Johana Maina (athlete), Mark Ouma (sports journalist), Victor Wayodi (rugby), Zablon ‘Pro’ Otieno (football) and Athletics Kenya President, Isaiah Fundi Kiplagat.
“These are people who have left a huge imprint in the sports society,” the chairman said before the gathering observed a moment of silence as their images flashed on the giant screen behind the main stage, evoking strong emotions from those present who were affected.
“We look more on the the things that have not been done but there are things we overlook that were accomplished. Collins Injera scored a decisive try that was not only beneficial to him but also enabled the rugby sevens team to win the Singapore leg and also the Harambee Starlets team that made it to the Awcon for the first time,” Karuma added.
-Tergat rolls back the years-
Next on stage was Tergat, the two-time Olympics silver medallist and five-time World Cross Country champion, and whose short sprint up the staircase leading to the main stage was viewed as a welcome attempt to roll back the years.
“This sports year 2016 we’ll go down as one of the most challenging,” he started.
“There’s still much ground to be covered to take sports to the level witnessed in past years where Kenya used to top Africa standings in terms of gold medals,” he went on.
He then paid homage to his old foe turned the best friend off the track Gebrselassie.
“I remember those days when we used to compete. That time when sport was sport with everything being fair and square,” he spoke with nostalgia alluding to the days when the doping scourge in Kenya and Ethiopia was the stuff of bad dreams.
Next on stage was Joe Ogutu who is the Director Strategy and Innovations from title sponsors and integrated communications giants, Safaricom.
“We are honoured to be part of such an event that honours sportsmen and women excelling in the field of sports,”Ogutu said.
He called on corporate investors to pour their resources into sport for Kenya to reap big.
“We’ve put about a billion shillings in varying sporting disciplines.This I believe will come into fruition in many years to come,” he added.
The Director of Administration at the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts, Haron Komen who was holding brief for his embattled Cabinet Secretary Dr. Hassan Wario who skipped the gala for the first time since he came to office offered some comic relief.
“I wish I could run as well. I would be training every day to make the team,” he added as he echoed Ogutu’s call for more sponsors to come in sport, a recurrent theme every year in a country where many blue chip companies shy away from an activity billed as leisure.
After he stepped down from stage with many feeling he had taken a huge chunk of the limelight, the awards rolled out and Jackson Omaido and Naftali Temu (athletics) were inducted into the Soya Hall of Fame.
Felix Oloo (rugby) then rose to receive the Community Hero Award for his tireless efforts to transform lives through rugby.
Jos Openda was then declared the winner of the Coach of the Year Award for the second time in his career with the nine-time African women hockey champions, Telkom Orange head coach meticulously took the fleet of stairs to receive his prize beaming from ear to ear.
There was a huge roar of surprise when Tennis Kenya beat Football Kenya to the Federation of the Year Award
The tradition of students lighting up the Soya gala saw girls from Kaya Tiwi (basketball) and Kamusinga Boys (hockey) were feted as the Girls and Boys school teams of 2016 as their students, in full uniform went on stage to receive their gongs.
It was also encouraging to see Nick Mwendwa the football Kenya Federation boss dressed perfectly for the occasion joining the team on the stage for a group photo when Starlets were named the Female Team of the Year.
The Kenyans Sevens team were in their usual swagger when they caused a stir on being named the Male Team of the Year yet again as they stormed the stage with the razzmatazz they display on the international series.
Then Haile who was resplendent in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie took to the stage to thunderous acclaim adn displaying the charm that won millions over in a glittering career that produced 27 world records, The Emperor took little time to get the hands warm in clapping.
“I’d like to applaud the country and Tergat for having such an event that honours athletes and their accomplishments.
“I think that the stiff competition arising whenever we compete, Ethiopia and Kenya is wealthy and the reasons we are all always on our toes,” he declared as he called on the Government to protect clean athletes.
And then the signature moment arrived when Vivian Cheruiyot and Eliud Kipchoge were declared the women and men Sports Personality of the Year winners amid confetti and fireworks on stage.
Cheruiyot then returned with a huge smile illuminating her face to accept the honour of being the Overall Sports Personality of the Year and few could argue with the outcome as the ‘Pocket Rocket’ was cheered to the rafters.
“I’m so happy since I have been running for the last 17 years. It was really tough but despite the competition I still won. I am graduating to marathon and my debut will be in London,” she announced .
She also gave the upcoming athletes a challenge urging them to follow her example and be disciplined.
“I didn’t see this coming since I was in a limbo not sure whether Eliud or I would win this award,” she declared.
As the event narrowed down towards its conclusion all winners and final nominees went on stage to capture the memories with group photos.
In this age of social media, the crowd then mingled with selfies being the order of the night as others took time to congratulate the winners, condole those who lost out, caught up on good old times or engaged in lighthearted banter.
The 2016 Soyas saw the biggest cross section of disciplines honoured than ever before, dispelling the notion they were an ‘athletics event’ with motor sports one of the major disciplines missing out in final nomination or award.
-Report by Mwangi Githinji.