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Sports & Its Potential for Development

by Matunda Nyanchama

Nyamira, Kenya, November 27, 2010


Ukiona vyalea, vimeundwa

I greet you in the name of national development of our national and common good.

I bring you greetings from the Kenyan Diaspora and affirm that they are watching our country with deep engagement. They are part of the re-awakening of the developments that the country needs; developments they have long-waited for.

As you are all aware, we are on the last lap towards the entrenchment of a new dispensation; soon, all of us Kenyans will start reaping the fruits of the long struggle for constitutional reforms. Let me add that the Kenyan Diaspora loves the way Kenyans at home are peacefully ushering in a new era. World over, we are a proud people, especially with respect to the peaceful manner in which we have conducted ourselves in laying the foundations of a long-lasting just society, to borrow Pierre Trudeau[2]’s words.

The sports gathering today must be seen in the new light; it must be part of the re-awakening that we all need to take our country to the next level of achievement. In the process, we would make Kenya take its rightful place in this world.

I commend you for your efforts towards sports development in the country, and specifically in our home area: Nyamira. I am glad that a large part of that focus is on the agenda for sports in the new order; and more so the role sports can play in national development.

Kenya is a sporting nation; and the world knows it. Indeed, most of the world thinks that every Kenyan can run or can play some sport. We need to live to that image, taking advantage of the world’s goodwill to us as sporting people. And in the process, we would help build Kenya, locally, nationally and globally.

As an illustration of our country’s famed sporting image, I once landed in the Republic of South Africa to take up a university teaching job soon after the end of the apartheid regime. On landing in Durban, I soon came to understand how my colleagues had bet that I would be an athlete; more so a long distance runner. As they waited for my arrival, those who were sure I could run like Kipchoge Keino or Ben Jipcho or Nyantika Maiyoro had made elaborate year-long plans of my involvement in local road races and marathons.

Rest assured that some people ended up with disappointment. Their consolation was that I could play volleyball and squash. They comforted themselves that I could do sports all the same!


We all realize that Kenya, in general, is perhaps best known for its athletes. The country has produced some star sportsmen and sportswomen in the world. Who can forget Kipchoge Keino, Ben Jipcho, Robert Nyamau, Henry Rono, Julius Sang, Robert Ouko, Charles Asati, Peter Rono, Elizabeth Onyambu, and many more

Many, like Nyatika Mayoro, Asati, Ouko, Ezekiel Nyamao, Elizabeth Onyambu, Mwebi and many others hailed from our place here in Gusii. The question is this: what happened? What happened that we are not producing athletes of the same calibre today? Did the genes change? Did the water we drink change? Did the air we breathe change? How come we are not producing as many sports people as we did before?

We need to go to the drawing board and ask “where the rain started beating us”.


There are many benefits that come with sports and I will highlight only a few of them today. These include staying fit and healthy; developing social and team skills; enhancing collaboration and cooperation and can also be a source of economic gain.

Health: In North America, some of the most debilitating illnesses come with inaction. People that are largely inactive are prone to obesity, heart disease, high-blood pressure and often suffer from stress than otherwise would be the case. Sports and exercise in general are known to counter such ailments and hence forestall ill health.

Your role inin sports and exercise is a contribution to our nation’s health. In the process, you are indirectly lowering our collective health care costs.

Social & Teaming Skills: “no man (and of course woman!) is an island”, the old adage has it. Social and team skills help make individuals work well with others. Moreover, these skills enhance collaboration among people aiming at a specific cause. It could be in the stadium or in a company or in a church, name it!

I once attended training in Japan and listened to one professor speak about recruiting new talent into companies. I was surprised to learn that many employers did not seek out the most academically accomplished individuals for job opportunities. Instead, these employers went to the playing field. Here they would watch potential employees in action at play with their peers. And what would they be looking for? Exactly how potential employees interact with others, the team spirit displayed and the collaboration among team players. They would then settle on those players with  best team skills.

The fact is that every workplace is more like being a member of a sports team. Here one has to play one’s role in order for the team to succeed. Individuals that are good team players are more likely to be more effective than those with fickle team player skills.

Now imagine how we select people for jobs in our country. Often we don’t worry much what kind of team kindred we are recruiting given we hire people based almost solely on academic qualification.

Cooperation and collaboration: there is an adage that sports are “war”, albeit  peaceful war. We take sides in competition as we do in war; tensions can be high in sports, as there is in war; in sports, as in war, often there are winners and losers.

There are differences, though. In war, the intention is to defeat the “enemy”, possibly through killing and annihilation. In sports, however, we play by the rules and the winner does so based on a given set of rules.

In the process of sporting, we ease any tensions there may be that otherwise would be vented elsewhere, perhaps in a very harmful way.

My view, and experts are at liberty to educate me on this, is that we probably wouldn’t be having as many violent crimes as we do in Kenya, if we engaged in more sports than we do today. Further, I believe that sports have lowered the chances of going to war as possible protagonists engage in constructive sporting.

Sports for Economic Development: In the western world, sports have become a central component of national economic development. Sport is a key source of income for many. It also makes money for businesses that invest in sports. It offers entertainment for many others.

We Kenyans follow especially European soccer leagues with a passion. I have seen cases where individuals nearly come to blows as they argue about what team would likely win or not win; or in case of disputed wins, people’s emotion can be heavily charged.

The fact is that we love sports. However, as we watch foreign competitions, we have literary neglected our own sports development.

I want to challenge all of us to consider the issue of investment (money, skills and organization) in sports and propose ways in which sports in Kenya can generate enough business that would, in turn, benefits our sports men and women.

What we Kenyans need are sports entrepreneurs to help us shape the nature of sports in this country so that we can have a better return on our potential sports men and women.

Personally, I see opportunity here and propose that we start the process of recruiting sports business people to work with us all. In doing so, this very important sector could start generating the much needed income and hence contribute to economic development.

Were it to be fully implemented, we Kenyans could see our sports men and women become well rewarded and hence encourage others to follow suit. In the process we would jump-start talent development.

There is more. We have heard of winners of such famous marathons like New York, Boston and Chicago that can pay upward of $100,000 (approx Kshs 8 million). And there are others, despite not winning big in this respect, who continually earn a living from sports. A good example is a number of our young people that participate in road races all across the world. Many of these have built beautiful homes, uplifted their families and found a source of livelihood from earnings in sports.


How do we then move forward to maximize the potential for sports in our country and region?

We need a multi-pronged approach, including the way we are organized, allocation of resources and implementing a far-reaching sports development strategic plan.

This plan, of necessity, requires that we build needed facilities: stadia, certified cross-country routes and more. We also need people that can the business of sports and a pipeline of sporting skills development. In fact skills development should start at a young age as one cannot bend an old tree.

Remember the Ghanaian Black Stars in the most recent World Cup in South Africa? They didn’t start practicing just before the tournament; theirs was an arduous journey that saw them compete for world junior competition titles and later graduated to the World Cup.

Clearly then, we must start early with respect to talent development. The children we train today would be tomorrow’s stars? Who knows? We could even be in the World Cup within the next ten years!

We need world class stadia that could attract competitors from across the world to come and battle with local talent. In so doing, they would be elevating our standards. And as they stay here, they would contribute to enh our tourism. And that too is economic development.

We need to be organized for sports promotion and become a pressure group for sports resource allocation. This is essential to ensure that commensurate monies are allocated for sports development.

This money would only be useful if it is properly used. And for this reason, all of us in sports need to be concerned with the levels of corruption there are. I will not tell you the stories I have heard since I started interacting with sporting folks here. However, I am shocked by the degree to which some people can go to mis-allocate and misuse resources meant for sports.

There is more. Some sporting club owners have been accused of misusing athletes; using them as cash cows in road races and giving the poor young people little or nothing.

We must change all this, lest sports will be a stunted rather than become a pillar for our national development.


Let me wish you well in your deliberations and I hope that the few words I have shared today inform your discussions. And that together, in this conversation, we will help strengthen talent development, elevate Kenya as a sporting nation and help families earn a livelihood.

And it can be done! Yes, we have the environment and the genes for sports capacity. We just need the right environment for the nurture and fruition of that potential.

And that is how we can produce the next Asatis, Oukos, Keinos, Ronos, Sangs, Onyambus and more. It is how we will get the next Maiyoro’s

And it can be done for, as the old adage goes “what man has done, man can do”! They have done it in North America, in South America, in Europe and literally all over the world, except Africa.

It is our turn to make it happen. Remember that:

“If you have the will to win, you have achieved half your success; if you don’t, you have achieved half your failure.” David Ambrose

And finally as we started: ukiona vyalea, vimeundwa! Things don’t just happen; they are created; engineered!


Matunda Nyanchama (

November 27, 2010

[1] Speech to Nyamira Sports Forum – November 27, 2010

[2] Late Canadian Prime minister popularized this term as he ran for the national leadership back in 1968.

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