By ELIAS MAKORI- www.nation.co.ke
The last two weeks or so have been extremely important for Kenyan sport.
Just over a week ago, the country organised the Safari Rally, a round of the Africa Rally Championship, and then last weekend, Nairobi’s Muthaiga Golf Club hosted the Barclays Kenya Open, a tournament on the European Challenge Tour.
The Safari Rally’s success holds Kenya in good stead as we prepare to host a World Rally Championship (WRC) candidate rally next year, seeking to eventually bounce back onto the global circuit in 2020.
The government-funded “WRC Safari Rally Project” team, led by Kenya Motorsports Federation President Phineas Kimathi as chief executive, deserve a pat on their backs for organizing an exciting rally around Naivasha.
With Oliver Ciesla in attendance, Kimathi’s team proved a major point that Kenya is ready, organizationally speaking, to get back our round of the WRC that once boasted being the “world’s toughest rally.”
Ciesla is the managing director of the WRC Promoter GmbH, the Munich-based company that handles the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and WRC commercial rights.
He was impressed by Kenya’s organizational acumen and preparedness for a WRC round, with the FIA’s main concerns, including safety and sponsorship aspects of the rally, well addressed by Kimathi’s team.
The FIA will have no doubt noticed the Safari’s disaster preparedness and efficiency in emergency response when Onkar Rai’s Skoda took a nosedive at Kedong and crashed out of the competition.
As a result of the accident, Rai’s navigator, Gareth Dawe, sustained back injuries and had to be carefully evacuated.
The speed of the medical team’s response should have convinced the FIA officials watching that indeed, a lot of ground has been covered by Kenyan organisers.
Within four minutes of the accident, the organisers’ helicopter was at the scene and in under seven minutes, one of the route ambulances had arrived and the medics were able to stabilise the injured navigator, with an air ambulance helicopter flying him to hospital.
Gareth was in his hospital bed in Nairobi less than 58 minutes after his car crashed, his life probably saved by the quick response (from ‘Nation Sports’ we wish Gareth a speedy recovery!).
Then came the Barclays Kenya Open at Muthaiga last weekend.
Again, the Kenyan organisers proved that indeed we are capable of organising a round of the main European Tour.
Save for the fact that Kenyan players were left clutching at straws, the four days of golf (six, including the pro-ams) provided scintillating, world class action.
That President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the government’s commitment by doubling its sponsorship amount to 2.2 million Euros (about Sh280 million) in order to elevate the Kenya Open into the main European Tour is further great news for Kenyan sport.
With such financial support, supplemented with proposals for a local “Safari Tour” for Kenyan pros and amateurs, there are bright days ahead for our golf.
However, as much as the government has made huge strides in loosening the purse strings as indicated by the latest show of benevolence, our players must match such magnanimity by making the cut in droves.
But Kenyan golfers cannot be entirely blamed for failing to make the final two rounds, especially with the absence of local tournaments that would otherwise afford them good match practice.
In the weeks leading up to the Open, Professional Golfers of Kenya chairman Charan Thethy made numerous, largely fruitless requests for sponsorship of such build-ups for the locals.
In the end, PGK had to make do with financing their own qualifying rounds, perhaps leading to the rather drab show by the home lot last weekend.
Rather that pose with huge sponsorship dummy cheques, grinning ear to ear, hours to the Open’s tee-off, local corporates need to support the build-up for local amateur and professional players much earlier to help them prepare better for the four rounds at Muthaiga.
The “Safari Tour” should be well supported and must start as soon as the last foreign Kenya Open pro has flown out of Nairobi so that our Kenyans tee of on an equal footing next March.
Meanwhile, with Treasury having assigned over Sh200 million for the Safari Rally’s WRC project, it should be all systems go as we push to get back the World Rally Championship status.
It was unfortunate to see a post-Safari Rally meeting between Ciesla, his FIA team, local organisers and top government officials, including the Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, fail to take off on Monday last week due to the absence of the top Kenyan government officials.
It’s sad because a world championship Safari Rally stands to benefit Kenyan sports tourism immensely, something that Balala and his team ought to know only too well.
It was gratifying to see Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa hold fort during Ciesla’s visit, flagging off the rally and engaging the top motorsports official during his stay in Nairobi.
We must learn to follow projects through to conclusion, rather than waste taxpayers’ money on half-hearted attempts.