NAIROBI, Kenya, July 3- After having their World Cup hopes dashed by harsh weather and England, the heroic national rugby sevens team can look forward to plotting how they will make history as the first ever Olympics Champions in Rio, 2016.
Fears that Englishman Mike Friday, who has turned the talented amateur side into a formidable force on the international circuit, would be sacked after the Moscow Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow were allayed during the colourful return of the team on Tuesday.
“Mike Friday is the coach of the Kenya’s sevens team and anyone who touches on the coach is shooting through my heart because that our strategy as the union,” Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) boss, Mwangi Muthee expressed while confirming the Englishman would see out the remainder of his two-year contract.
With a winning structure in place, the only thing that can impede the progress of the talented and capable team is if the old enemy of the country’s sport — in-fighting among administrators— does not rear its ugly head between now and the first Olympics that will feature the short version of the game.
It’s an open secret that wrangles and supremacy battles in the KRU Board almost saw Friday pack his bags and leave, when suspended Director of National Teams and Elite Performances, Phillip Jalang’o announced his sacking while the team was playing at the London 7s.
Muthee was quick to recant the decision and the country heaved a huge sigh of relief when Friday was given the responsibility of leading the team to Moscow where winger Dan Norton and typical English foul weather at the Luzhniki Stadium combined to beat Kenya 12-5 at the semi-finals.
His detractors point out to the fact the Englishman prefers to spend most of his time in his homeland despite the availability of a house and car paid for KRU as well as the failure to achieve the stated objective of achieving 100 IRB World Series points as enough reasons for the head coach to be relieved.
In their estimation, his assistant, Felix Ochieng, who was named as the interim boss in Jalango’s sacking announcement, is capable of taking the team to the next level since he is the one who is largely involved in the side.
While to some that may sound as a plausible argument, the naked reality is Kenya needs Friday since he has made the team believe in itself and the players who are not shy to say they would want to go on with Englishman also have faith in his ability.
Throughout the 2013/13 HSBC World Series, the team has taken victory and defeat as a unit and gone are the days when reports of certain elements in the squad not being in sync with the rest are gone.
Established players and newcomers who were drafted at the beginning of the season have gelled to make the side one of the most feared in the circuit as they shed their tag of unpredictability that used to be Kenya’s hallmark in the past, blowing hot or cold at various events.
While their semi-final run at the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens was a fairytale, this time no one felt they deserved not bringing home the trophy that was won by New Zealand.
“We must be proud of what we have achieved but the players also need to make money other than entertaining the world. The life of a player is very short since it’s between four to six years,” Muthee said during the lavish welcome for the team.
He was alluding to the long thought out plan to make the team fully professional as he appealed to more corporate companies to pump their finances in the side.
Kenya Airways, to their credit, were quick to declare the extension of their contract for a further two years.
Evans Mwaniki, Group Chairman of Kenya Airways said, “We embarked on a journey with Kenya Sevens in 2009 because we felt they had the potential to be great brand ambassadors for the country, and they have lived up to that.”
However, making the team fully professional and persuade the core players to abandon their jobs or studies to focus on making a career with the team will require more than a single firm.
For this dream to be realised which would mean Friday and his technical bench have a full compliment of players all season round, the attitude of Kenyan companies towards sport need a radical change.
In Brazil for example, 12 firms combined with Santos Football Club to pay star footballer, Neymar, 21, his astronomical wages before he was off-loaded to Barcelona in June during his last contract with the club that he joined at 15.
What we celebrate here is companies, individuals and indeed the Government giving token awards for excellence without the real investment in the sport or the athletes and players involved.
All said and done, the Sh900,000 given to the team by Kenya Airways for their Moscow success is not a bad figure but it is only a drop in the ocean to motivate full-professionalism of the sport.