SWILA: Government continued ban on contact-sports a slap on the face

The much touted sports return guidelines are eventually here with us after Sports Cabinet Secretary, Ambassador Amina Mohamed announced the measures in Nairobi last Friday.

However, with the sports stakeholders having held their collective breath for so long, six months since the first Coronavirus case was reported in Kenya in March, Amina’s announcement was an anti-climax of sorts, generating mixed-feelings among the industry stakeholders.

In the run-up to the unveiling of the return-to-sports guidelines, hope and optimism had hit fever pitch with many expecting the Ministry to lift the blanket ban on sports activities and open the door for all sports activities to resume albeit under strict health protocols.

However, what Amina announced last Friday left a bitter-sweet taste in the mouths of many, with the non-contact sports getting the clearance for resumption while the contact sports still staring at opaqueness, unaware when the government will lift the lid, or give a clear road-map for resumption.

According to the report, non-contact sporting activities including athletics, lawn tennis, weightlifting, badminton, cricket cycling, horse racing, golf, motorsport, fencing… are among the sports set to begin.

However, all contact sports such as rugby, football, karate, basketball, handball, volleyball, netball, etc, will remain suspended and so are water sports such as swimming.

Similarly, all sporting activities that involve minors under the age of 18 also remain suspended although special priority will be given to national teams.

Also in the detailed report, sportspeople will not be subjected to mandatory testing prior to events however when it is required, the cost will be met by the respective federations, sport organizations or the participants.

The report also gave some sort of reprieve to private fitness clubs including gyms who were given the green light to resume albeit under strict Covid-19 protocols.

As sporting activities continue to resume globally, Amina has also urged federations to forward their revised calendars to the Ministry before the end of the month.

Government Policy 

While the bold step taken by Amina and the government at large after such a long wait is welcome news, methinks otherwise. The government has simply slapped the athletes on the face while insulting the intelligence of Kenyans, by barring a possible return of contact sports.

Let me explain.

What the taskforce should have done was to borrow best practices and policies, as executed by the developed world, with solid sporting infrastructure, and see modalities of implementing the same here – critical analysis of what could/ not work for us.

Not once have I argued that “Project Restart” worked the magic in England, even in the face of the pandemic, so much so that they concluded their league last term, without a hitch, thanks to their dedication and discipline.

Germany, the leading economic power in Europe, on the other hand, set the tone for the sports resumption when it was hitherto thought unlikely.

The guidelines they rolled out including strict health measures – testing, social distancing and playing matches behind closed doors have been replicated across the world.

So why does it prove so difficult for us to borrow a lesson or two?

In Germany, UK, Spain, Italy etc …the process was systematic and strategic with the first phase involving players training in small groups, followed by group training, after which teams were given the nod to engage in friendly matches, paving a return for competitive matches.

Of course there were review meetings after each stage to take stock, something that the Amina formed taskforce, which birthed the report released last week, hasn’t done!

Apart from the concerns I’ve voiced above, here is the potential danger we might face shortly. Our teams are time-barred.

Important international club championships are looming, and the players need to get in shape, and this can’t be achieved if there is no action on the pitches and courts and boxing rings. You can’t give national teams priority yet clubs whose players form the national teams are not in action. It defeats logic!

The sixth point which needs to be considered is that these players have stayed for over six months without ‘working’, leading to no pay from their employers, thanks to Covid-19.

It’s just about time we put a halt to all this madness, Equally painful is that when these athletes thought there was a glimmer of hope, it turned out there wasn’t any after all!

Thrown Into Disarray 

Lastly, there are several corporates and partners willing to roll their sleeves, and pump their hard-earned cash into sports by partnering with these teams, however, with the new policy guideline by the government, all these have been thrown into disarray.

Take the case of FKF Premier League where a Sh1.2 billion sponsorship deal is already in place awaiting football return. For how long will the sponsors wait?

The same predicament bedevils clubs such as Gor Mahia FC, Sofapaka, AFC Leopards, the Women Premier League, just to mention but a few.

At individual level, some of these players, moreso the women footballers, had hoped that with the return of the league, they would have a chance of turning professional too, to break away from poverty and turn around the fortunes of their families. In the recent past, several have turned professional, with Portugal being the preferred destination.
This is not going to be possible, at least for now, when they are not featuring in matches.

Amina’s docket together with that of health should to do a soul-search, review the matter quickly, and come up with guidelines on how contact sports can resume.

With Kenya’s Covid-19 cases dropping in the last two weeks, there is no justification why they should be locked out.
In Europe for instance, the epicenter of the pandemic, countries such as the UK, Spain, Italy, France, and Belgium – all recording more cases than Kenya, have had their contact sports resume, thanks to discipline, organization and adherence to strict health protocols at sports venues.

They’ve also gone ahead to host international sports events such as the Diamond Leagues and it’s foolhardy to continue punishing our athletes to the limit by blocking their return to action.

The good Amina should put herself in the shoes of these sportsmen, to get a feel of their predicament. Probably, what the taskforce didn’t inform Amina is that at the grassroots – kule mashinani – it’s business as usual with contact sports going on unabated, even as his bosses in government also throw caution to the wind, engaging in roadside rallies where Covid-19 guidelines are disregarded.

-Swila is a two-winner of the MCK Print Sports Journalist of the Year award and a sports editor at RMS(Isaac.swila@royalmedia.co.ke)

The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of RMS.