Time to choose Kenya over Manchester and Arsenal
I do love football but the fanaticism attached to the highly monetised European leagues by some of the people I know (not Europeans of course) always fascinates me. I grew up during the days of “Football Made in Germany” that featured the likes of Ghana’s Anthony Yeboah, Nigeria’s Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha and Brazil’s Paulo Sergio.
Then somewhere along the way, the English Premier League (EPL) appeared and like the Nile Perch fish that was introduced in Lake Victoria, the EPL took over and has almost distorted people’s sense of self identity around here.
Many times, I have been asked to state which club I support in the premier league just like a doctor would ask for my blood group. My insistence that I support none always falls on deaf ears and may be construed as a lame effort to avoid mentioning a team that is performing poorly usually Liverpool or Arsenal depending on the time of the season.
Meanwhile, the European football converts are proud to identify with clubs that are miles away even in the first person. It is no longer rare to hear a Manchester United fan telling an Arsenal fan something like, “Why don’t you accept my offer for Robin Van Persie before his contract expires? You clearly won’t manage to give him the same wages that I am capable of.”
In other words the fans in Nyamirambo, Kamwokya, Cibitoke, Nakuru or Mwanza clearly see themselves as bona fide stakeholders of these football clubs that are not only miles away but also feature no close relative of theirs. They are reluctant to express the same attachment to local clubs like Yanga FC, Sofapaka or Rayon Sport.
Now that the Olympic Games are in our faces, sports loyalty for most East Africans has taken a tricky twist. If you are Ugandan, Rwanda, Burundian or Tanzanian then most probably, a lot of what you have been hearing concerning the London 2012 Olympic Games has been far from positive news. Tales of another of your country’s representatives leaving the games without stepping on the much coveted medal podium are now too common.
The Olympics now offer us a chance to position ourselves not just as East Africans but actually Kenyans. Who of you is not envious of Kenya’s dominance of the long races at the games? The Kenyans went into the games with the confidence of a mature lioness going after an aging antelope.
The other day on Citizen TV the sports presenter was boisterously talking about how “we export great talent.” He then went ahead to mention some of the Kenya runners who have switched citizenship to feature for countries like USA, Britain, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey and Poland among others.
In short, when it comes to the long races at the Olympics, Kenya is almost the FC Barcelona here. Did you for example know that a Kenyan has won the 3000m steeplechase race at every Olympics since the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles, California. And although other East African countries were hoping for any medal, the Kenyans were hoping for 1-2-3 finishes for most of the long races.
That is why I totally understand what columnist, Charles Onyango Obbo meant when on Friday he tweeted, “If Uganda wins two Olympic gold [medals], I will remain Ugandan. If not I will become East African and share in Kenya’s medal glory. Either way I win.”
Soon after seeing the above tweet, I decided to follow the 10,000m race where Kenya collected its first medals. For most part of the race it was compared to the El Classico games between Barcelona and Real Madrid only this time it was between Kenya and Ethiopia.
At the end of the race, Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba managed to remind the Kenyans - Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot who came in second and third respectively - that she was from the country that produced Haile Gebrselassie. The important thing about that race was that the Kenyans had opened their medal collection with silver and bronze.
And for the rest of us who are not Kenyans, this is the best time to remember the love we invested in Arsenal, Barcelona or Manchester, the deeper love that we accorded Ghana during the World Cup in South Africa. The time to invest the same love in Kenya, after all we are all East Africans. Maybe one day we shall compete as one country just like Great Britain is doing.
Contact email: Email: ssenyonga[at]gmail.com Blog: www.ssenyonga.wordpress.com Twitter: [at]ssojo81