How Sports Is the Game Changer That Can Transform Kenya’s Future

As we reflect on the recent Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) where Côte d’Ivoire tri­umphed over Nige­ria, and as we mourn the loss of glob­al cham­pi­on Kelvin Kip­tum Cheruiy­ot, it isimper­a­tive to rec­og­nize the profound impact sports can have on our nation’s trajectory. 

As the for­mer CEO of the 35th World Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships held in Mom­basa in 2007, I wit­nessed first­hand how sports can rev­o­lu­tion­ize an econ­o­my, instill pos­i­tiv­i­ty, and trans­form com­mu­ni­ties. Here are three piv­otal lessons Kenya can learn to har­ness the poten­tial of sports for unprece­dent­ed eco­nom­ic and social growth.

First­ly, the recent Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final demon­strat­ed that suc­cess in sports is not just about pop­u­la­tion size but also about strate­gic plan­ning and exe­cu­tion. For instance, Nige­ria, with a pop­u­la­tion of around 200 mil­lion, was out­played by Côte d’Ivoire, which has about 25 mil­lion peo­ple. Addi­tion­al­ly, Cape Verde, a small island state with a pop­u­la­tion of rough­ly 600,000, reached the quar­ter­fi­nals, show­ing that even nations with small­er pop­u­la­tions can achieve great suc­cess in sports. This high­lights the poten­tial of sports to bring sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ments to Kenya. To real­ize this poten­tial, I sug­gest that Kenya should fol­low the exam­ple of Cape Verde by invest­ing in robust sports infra­struc­ture, coach­ing, and tal­ent devel­op­ment pro­grams that focus on qual­i­ty rather than quantity.

Sec­ond­ly, Kelvin Kip­tum’s world record at 24 demon­strate that age is not a hin­drance in sports. What tru­ly mat­ters is the stead­fast focus and deter­mi­na­tion. Kenya pos­sess­es abun­dant youth­ful tal­ent ready for cul­ti­va­tion. We must also ful­ly tap into the glob­al sports tourism mar­ket, esti­mat­ed at around $600 bil­lion. My great friend Lor­nah Kipla­gat and her hus­band Pieter are already tap­ping into this through their High-Alti­tude Train­ing Cen­ter in Iten, which attracts ath­letes and sports tourists glob­al­ly. I urge the able Sports Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary AbabuNamwam­ba to con­sult wide­ly and enact poli­cies that will unlock the bil­lions need­ed to repli­cate and upscale what Lor­nah and oth­er sports per­son­al­i­ties are doing across Kenya.

Third­ly, delib­er­ate­ly host­ing local, region­al, and glob­al sport­ing events can cre­ate jobs and boost the econ­o­my. This was evi­dent when Mom­basa host­ed the World Cross Coun­try Cham­pi­onships in 2007. This event trans­formed the city’s econ­o­my, upgrad­ed infra­struc­ture like the Moi Inter­na­tion­al Air­port, road net­work, facelift­ed the Mama Ngi­na dri­ve and the Mom­basa Golf Club even as hotels were filled. The event also made Mom­basa glob­al­ly pop­u­lar, attract­ing more vis­i­tors out of curios­i­ty. Clear­ly, while not all sports require expen­sive infra­struc­ture, we must devel­op world-class facil­i­ties and improve hotel capac­i­ty to suc­ceed in this arena.

For sure, the finan­cial poten­tial of sports is evi­dent in the earn­ings of top ath­letes. Forbes report­ed that in 2021, the world’s high­est-paid ath­letes, such as Conor McGre­gor, Lionel Mes­si, and Cris­tiano Ronal­do, earned between $70 mil­lion and $180 mil­lion. By cre­at­ing a sup­port­ive envi­ron­ment for sports, Kenya can devel­op tal­ents who can com­pete at this lev­el and bring sig­nif­i­cant eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits to the coun­try. In Eldoret, there are numer­ous real estate devel­op­ments and hos­pi­tal­i­ty estab­lish­ments owned by cur­rent and for­mer ath­letes, demon­strat­ing that invest­ing in sport­ing tal­ent can yield a sub­stan­tial return on invest­ment. I inspire investors to seri­ous­ly con­sid­er invest­ing in the sys­tem­at­ic devel­op­ment of sport­ing talent.

In hon­or of our depart­ed cham­pi­on, Pres­i­dent Ruto direct­ed that a three-bed­room house be con­struct­ed with­in sev­en days ahead of his bur­ial in Naiberi next Fri­day. This swift action embod­ies what Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. called ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ I encour­age the sports fra­ter­ni­ty to adopt this sense of urgency to trans­form sports into an eco­nom­ic pil­lar. I sug­gest that both the gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor must take imme­di­ate action to move sports from the side­lines to the cen­ter of our economy.

I warm­ly urge pol­i­cy mak­ers to embark on the process of sig­nif­i­cant­ly increasing the bud­get for sports devel­op­ment in the com­ing year. Sim­i­lar­ly, I encour­age par­ents to sup­port theiryouth to focus on sports as a viable career and busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ty. Tusid­ha­rau michezo! Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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