When news of Corona Virus first hit, every one of us was convinced that it would be as short-lived as all the outbreaks before it. But we were all wrong. The virus has dealt a huge blow to industries all over the world and it continues to do so a year later. The sporting industry has not been spared either. This has been the biggest disruption to local and international sports possibly since the Second World War.
A few months into the epidemic, the pandemic levels had risen to a point where it was evident that there would be a significant number of deaths. Already, stadiums and sporting organizations began to adopt safety precautions in order to prevent any further potential outbreak. Teams from regions affected by the virus were banned from travelling long distances for matches and tournaments
In Kenya, The Ministry of Sports directed that all sports competitions and group activities cease with effect from March 2020. The Ministry emphasized that the purpose of the directive is to ensure protection of public health, and to minimize risks of transmission. It further emphasized that all sporting competitions and gatherings are a potential risk for spread of the virus. The directive was issued despite the fact that there were no reported cases of infection within Kenya at the time.
Although football is hugely popular among Kenyans, it was not spared from cancellation following the government directive. Almost all sports were disrupted and affected by this ruling. Most matches were cancelled and clubs were instructed to remain idle until further notice. The Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Amb. Amina Mohamed, explained that the government would not compromise on public health even if it means losing fans due to disruption of sporting activities across the country.
Affected by this ban has also been the football betting Industry. Kenyans who enjoy watching football also do enjoy betting on their favourite games. Some have even made money from providing betting tips and jackpot predictions. The ban now means that they can only bet on international games as the local games are no longer available.
In May 2020, the Chairman of Football Kenya Federation (FKF), announced that the ban on competitive football will be lifted after FIFA had approved the country’s bid to stage the 2026 World Cup. The announcement was preceded by a meeting between the FKF technical committee and FIFA’s Head of Competitions. The meeting was held in order to deliberate on the lifting of the ban which was implemented following outbreak of Corona Virus in March 2020.
The lifting of the ban came as a sigh of relief to Kenyans across the country. Almost all local football leagues had been on hold due to this ruling, and as a result a number of players were forced out of clubs due to lack of payment. For many fans and supporters, their favorite teams had been non-existent for over two years. Some people had even written off football as a dying industry in Kenya.
With the lifting of the ban, fans expected their clubs to be back in action with new sponsors and investors keen on being associated with some of Africa’s biggest teams. Their joy was however short-lived when in March 2021, the President imposed another suspension on sporting activities and meetings.
In his speech, President Uhuru Kenyatta stated ‘That all sporting activities are hereby suspended, similarly operations of sporting and recreational facilities including members clubs are suspended until it is otherwise directed.’ The president also imposed a travel ban on five counties with the most Covid-19 cases. Movement in and out of these counties is prohibited. Surprisingly, this ban does not cover international travel as people can travel in and out of the country upon production of negative Covid-19 PCR Certificate obtained within 72 hours.
This is how the National Football Team, Harambee Stars, was able to travel for their Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. The team was headed to Togo for their final Group G Qualifier game. The team did not proceed to the next stage but it would have been interesting to see how they would have managed to train with the ban.
Currently, all forms of sporting activities have been suspended. This has taken the entire sporting industry a year back as the leagues are yet to be completed. Athletics have been similarly affected as all running tracks and camps have been closed. The athletes are having a hard time as they have had to suspend their trainings. The National Olympics Committee hopes to send athletes to the Tokyo Olympics in July and August but this will be a challenge as the said athletes cannot currently train for the Olympics. It is still unclear whether the government will issue exemptions for this.
The Kenya Rugby Union has also suspended the Kenya Cup League games until further communication from the Ministry. This suspension came barely a month after the league had resumed. The men’s and women’s teams were set to participate in a Dubai 7’s event in April as warm-up for their Tokyo competition in November. The teams are currently out of the country and can therefore keep up with their trainings, albeit with a lot of difficulties and at great expense. The League is however suspended.
The ban has also affected recreational facilities including members clubs. This has seen the closure of gyms, private running tracks and boxing clubs. This has put a strain on competitive weight lifting, boxing and general fitness.
As the country continues with vaccination efforts, we can only hope that this will mean the lifting of the sports ban. So far, eleven FKF Premier League teams based in Nairobi have had their players vaccinated.
The President of FKF, Mr. Mwendwa, thanked the government for the vaccination efforts and said that he hopes this exercise was a forerunner for the resumption of the league.
Athletes in Kenya have been the most affected since the ban impacts directly on them. Teams are not able to pay player salaries as they are not getting any revenue from match attendances or endorsements.