Technological advancements have turned the world into a global village. Countries all over the world are always in competition at different levels. It is like a teenager coming of age and always aware that other people are noticing them each time they step out of the homestead.
Besides the usual political (often military) and economic rivalry, sports tends to offer a rather more levelled ground for countries to step up and show their best. With sports, countries can achieve a brand image that appeals more to the human aspect of competition. If we took sports out of the equation then some countries would never even get a chance to be mentioned at an international level.
On sports grounds, traditional super powers have to put in as much work if they are to find a spot at the podium where medals and trophies are dished out. The US may have the strongest army and economy but over 100 meters a much weaker and smaller Jamaica will walk shoulder to shoulder with and even take them to school occasionally. If you doubt then ask Justin Gatlin about that tall fellow called Usain Bolt.
Closer to home you wonder why Kenyans had to waste their internet bundles telling CNN instead of simply waiting for the next big athletics event like the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing. Even the noise about sugar imports could not hold on to the front pages when David Rusisha crossed the finishing line or when Julius Yego made that javelin throw and Ezekiel Kemboi did what he does best - winning and dancing soon after.
At the same event, East Africa continued to shine even when the Kenyans didn’t. For example during the marathon, a race that is often seen as a competition between Kenyans and their arch rivals the Ethiopians, a Ugandan named Munyo Solomon Mutai, took bronze in a race that was won by a young Eritrean, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie.
Away from Beijing, the post primary Schools Cricket Week in Uganda came to an end with Busoga College Mwiri waking away with a record 16th trophy. Of course on a personal level I was proud of my alma mater but what really caught my attention was the fact that a select team of Rwandan students not only took part in the tournament but also scooped some big wins against schools like King’s College Budo.
To cap it all, some Rwandan boys were scouted by Ugandan clubs and I understand a one Eric Niyomugabo, 17, is now set to feature for Wanderers Cricket Club. As I was still thinking about how much the game of cricket has developed in Rwanda, I landed on a news story about a young Emmanuel Sebareme, a Rwandan refugee who is now set to play cricket for South Africa in the Africa Twenty20 Cup.
In Kenya, the biggest football game is always the one between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards. The rivalry between these two teams is so strong that many a time the games end in chaos especially when a controversial decision is made by the referees or even when it is not controversial but the fans are not pleased.
The last game between the two ended when Gor Mahia awarded a penalty that was to be taken by Rwanda’s Meddie Kagere.
Through the likes of Kagere or Niyomugabo, Rwanda’s flag flies high at the regional level and will certainly do so at even bigger levels as time goes by.
Even Burundi got its moment to shine during the recently concluded East African Community Post Primary Games when one of their students won the 10,000 metres race beating even the Kenyans. I admit I did not follow the games so keenly but that win by a Burundian got my attention.
I strongly think we need to invest in sports the same way we invest in other sectors because the gains are clear; from huge prize awards and endorsement deals worth millions of dollars. The Kenyans now know this quite well and many of their runners have invested a lot of the winnings back at home.
From the examples of the Uganda schools’ cricket tournament that features a Rwandan side or the football leagues in the region we can all learn so much from each other and turn the whole of East Africa (not just Kenya), into a hotbed of champions. Yes we can.