For a short while in my youth, I was a professional footballer and gambler. Every Sunday after church, I would head over to the local public football field infamous for simultaneously hosting the local football team “Rising Stars” as well as a one-hole golf course. In my pocket, would be the 20 shillings that was given to me as my church offering. I denied to the good Lord for the important function of buying into the tournament.
I happened to remember this short episode in my life as I reflected on the recent tournament organised by Victor Wanyama. His lamentation about the lack of good pitches reminded me of the adrenaline rush of those Sunday afternoons. We only had a few hours before the rising stars team started warming up for their evening match. The matches lasted 5 minutes. The pot was agreed to before every game and each team had to match the amount to play. It never went beyond 10 shillings though. So, my 20 shillings would buy me 2 games to try and earn some money. Sometimes we would lose, sometimes we would win but it was always a good clean fun.
Goal number 9 of the Sustainable Development goals encourages us to “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”. This goal seeks to build habitats that people are happy living in. Sports infrastructure is an important part of any settlement. UN-Habitat recommend that at least 15 percent of urban areas should be set aside for open and green spaces as well as public facilities. Sadly, this is often not the case in Kenya.
“Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”
Of concern is the lack of safety infrastructure in public spaces meant for sport. Most of the public open spaces meant for sporting activities have always gained a bad reputation as hangouts for gangs. Others are used as neighbourhood dumping sites and many children end up playing in the filth. Our particular field was always clean and well maintained. Part of it was meant for the local football and the other part was meant for the golf teams which ensured a good playing surface. But the main reason why the field was well maintained, was because the local chief’s office was just next to the field. It was a safe and clean environment which remains so to this day.
Sports facilities are often the focus of city developments. Globally, cities are easily identified with their arenas and stadiums. The Maracana in Brazil, the bird’s nest in Beijing, Old Trafford, The Allianz Arena. These facilities have been developed as centrepieces of urban infrastructure. The impact of such facilities is even more profound to smaller settlements. It is not uncommon that entire towns grind to a halt every week for a game or a concert. They offer a platform for communities to develop and to innovate.
Building such infrastructure in urban areas requires goodwill and technology. Initiatives like IBM smarter cities which seeks to build responsive connected infrastructure that ties in together the aspirations of a community into actionable and measurable objectives. IBM has identified technology areas to focus on the improvement of the social infrastructure within our cities. Such areas include communication, waste management and service delivery. With the use of advanced technology, cities will reduce waste and increase resident involvement in activities such as sports.
This can be replicated in Kenya by starting out small. The very first thing we need to do is enhance security around our sports venues. This will ensure that the venues are used only for what they are intended and completely eradicate the culture of dumping waste in public areas. Secondly, we need to steadily increase our investment into the playing surfaces themselves so as to ensure good quality of sports activities. We also need to think of tournaments and other related events that can take full advantage of this facilities. Only then should we use the data to evaluate which areas need the kind of massive investment into stadia and related facilities. This should only be done with comprehensive and realistic data.
The fact that the National assembly raised the issue on the importance of improving sporting activity in Kenya through the motion on Establishment of a National Rugby Union Stadium in the Country was a very nice step. This was a good move brought to parliament by the Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter. Sport has a role in addressing the sustainable development goals. “Sport is not just physical activity; it promotes health and helps prevent, or even cure, the diseases of modern civilization. It is also is an educational tool which fosters cognitive development; teaches social behaviour; and helps to integrate communities”.
Sports is relatable to many citizens and development in this area will constitute a reliable investment and one that is highly visible. The role that sport can play in our drive to develop our Nation should not be underestimated. However, it should be done intelligently and with consideration of both culture and data. My dreams of becoming a professional footballer may have faded into the past, but we should not let that be the case for other ambitious boys out there who hope to make sporting a career for themselves in the near future.