Kenyan government must step up
The hubbub surrounding cricket in Kenya is nowhere near resolved, and last week the issue was brought up in parliament, with a few members accusing the Cricket Kenya (CK) board of segregation along racial lines.
The Member in question, Bonny Khalwale, claimed that players of Asian origin are getting special treatment as opposed to indigenous Kenyans. I for one don't know where he got this information from, as if you take a look at the 20 contracted national team players, 14 are indigenous Kenyans, four are of Asian origin and two are of European descent.
Khalwale may have been trying to say that there are more Asians playing the game in the country at all levels, and he would be right; however accusations of racism in this day and age, and without any proof, is uncalled for.
The fact that people of Asian origin in the country have more of an interest in the game has nothing to do with CK. These people have grown up with cricket in their blood. If you have travelled to India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, you'll notice the game is played wherever you look. It is played by all social classes. You can see people playing cricket on the beaches, in the street, in parks – actually wherever it is possible to play the game, using tree stumps as wickets and roughly shaved wood as a bat.
Is it the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), or the PCB (Pakistan Cricket Board) or even the BCCSL (Board for Cricket Control in Sri Lanka) that has got everyone interested in the game?
Let's take India for example. The government of India has always given their backing to the BCCI by investing in the sport in all areas. They have built world-class stadiums all over the country, with both indoor and outdoor training centres. Each facility has top-of-the-line equipment which allows youngsters to hone their skills from an early age. Ex-internationals are on hand to help coach the new talent as they attempt to find hidden gems who could be the next Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Meanwhile in Kenya, I don't think the government has done enough for the game. The Kenyan cricket team is the only national side to play in a World Cup. They haven't only done it once; they have qualified for five tournaments since 1996 – a phenomenal feat for any country, let alone Kenya.
And what do they have to show for it?
The answer is very little, if nothing at all. It seems that despite Kenya's achievement in cricket, the government is more interested in supporting sports like football and athletics. When the Harambee Stars (Kenya's national football side) play in World Cup or Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the politicians (which include the country's prime minister and vice president) turn out in their numbers to support the side, and some even pledge ridiculous sums of money for wins and/or goals scored.
In athletics, medal winners are rewarded with up to 250 000 shillings (approximately US$3 000) by the government for each gold medal. Yet there is no interest from them when it comes to cricket.
I cannot remember any MP let alone the president, vice president or even the prime minister attending any of the cricket matches that Kenya has played over the last few years. When the side left for the World Cup on the sub-continent last year, the Minister of Sport didn't even turn up to present the national flag, sending his sports commissioner instead.
For a side that has represented Kenya at five World Cups, the team do not even have their own home ground where they can train, and are left using clubs like the Nairobi Gymkhana as their base.
When it rains and grounds are flooded, the players just sit and wait as there are no indoor nets where they can practise. This is not how a national team that has excelled at the sport should be treated. It's no surprise that the likes of Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and Canada have improved considerably over the last few years. They have proper training grounds, which their governments have help set up and part of the allowance has also been used to develop and encourage the sport at all levels, starting with primary schools.
CK have tried to do the same with money donated by the International Cricket Council, by starting schools cricket in primary and secondary schools in Nairobi, the Rift Valley and at the Coast; however they do not have the funds to spread it even further. Instead of complaining and making baseless comments about racism in cricket, the government must step up and do more.
They need to support the game and develop it countrywide to all government-run schools, help the national side by giving them their own home ground, and encourage the sport at grassroots levels; after doing so, if there are still complaints of underperformance and/or alleged racism, they then have a right to speak out and ask questions.
Finally, I hope the issues involving the postponed CK elections are resolved soon. The Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association (NPCA) need to meet with the warring faction made up of ex-CEO Tom Tikolo, Tito Odumbe and others, and find an amicable way forward, and the sooner this is done the better for everyone.