The Presidential announcement on Friday 26 March suspending sporting activities in the country has dealt a big blow to rugby and by extension the greater sports fraternity.
While this directive was part of a series of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 which continues to cause havoc locally and internationally, it has left us in an awkward situation.
The suspension came at a time when Kenyan rugby was picking up after a year of inactivity occasioned by the initial lockdown and ensuing factors critical to getting the Government green light to return to play. This period of inactivity came at a cost. We lost revenues due to event cancellations, most notably the Rugby Africa Barthes U20 Trophy, the National Sevens Circuit and the Safari Sevens.
While the Government was gracious enough to offer a stimulus package for our national team players, there were those players outside the national team’s realm who were disenfranchised by the disruption of sporting activities countrywide.
Think about those men and women who contributed to the game as match officials, medics, service providers, vendors, journalists, photographers and broadcasters – their livelihoods took a hit and they, alongside their dependents have borne the brunt of the disruption.
We also subjected our employees to pay cuts as part of the mitigation factors brought about by this unique situation.
The Kenya Rugby Union had to take these measures at a time when our national men’s and women squads were preparing to fly the Kenyan flag high in sevens rugby at the Olympic Games. We received a reprieve when the Government allowed our national teams to resume training under a series of guidelines that we religiously adhered to.
We would a few months later, receive the green light to resume local top tier competition behind closed doors and under more guidelines from the authorities. The Kenya Rugby Union has again diligently adhered to these guidelines as well as those issued by the game’s global governing body, World Rugby.
At the time of the league’s suspension on Friday 26 March 2021, we had conducted a total of 1,551 COVID-19 PCR tests, 44 of which returned positive results. This makes for a 2.8 per cent prevalence rate.
We have subjected players and match officials in the Kenya Cup league to regular testing and have taken the necessary steps inclusive of contact tracing and re-testing in incidences where players test positive for COVID-19. We have gone as far as postponing fixtures in instances that we felt posed a greater health and safety risk. We have been prepared, and remain prepared to run the game during this trying time.
Going beyond the league, the opportunity to effectively prepare our national teams for a series of international competitions most notably the Tokyo Olympic Games, as well as the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup is being greatly comprised with each passing day. Kenya is also set to host the 2021 Rugby Africa U20 Barthes Trophy and preparations had indeed moved a notch higher with the formation of a Government backed Local Organizing Committee (LOC).
Rugby is a contact sport and the levels of strength and conditioning take time to attain. After the long break, players had just started getting into shape. With another possibly prolonged break, we will lose all the gains and ultimately be uncompetitive in the upcoming international assignments.
Sports federations have worked tirelessly to resume activity under the laid down guidelines. Many young men and women are additionally making a living off sport and have been denied opportunities to engage in meaningful income generating activities. Furthermore, the cessation of sporting activities poses a serious threat to the mental health and overall wellbeing of athletes and other sports practitioners.
It is our humble plea that President Uhuru Kenyatta rescinds his decision to suspend sports activities, rugby included.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Kenya Rugby Union (KRU).