Home Sports Basketball What Rwanda is doing towards Sports Development that Kenya should emulate

What Rwanda is doing towards Sports Development that Kenya should emulate

Ng'arua Kamuya

Sometime in early April, I was having a breakfast meeting with a client who is about to change the basketball landscape in Kenya. As we were discussing our agenda for the day, he casually mentioned that we should plan to attend the 2023 Basketball Africa League Finals in Kigali in May.

Anyone who knows me knows how I rarely pass on an opportunity to consume live sports, so I agreed. Moreover, the only world class events I had been to were the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England and the 2022 7s Rugby World Cup in Cape Town. I thought to myself that it would be a good idea to check out the buzz that has been in Rwanda for the last 3 years.

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So my client made the travel plans ( and I am eternally thankful for this) and come last week, off we were to Kigali for the 2023 BAL Finals.

I arrived in Kigali on Thursday, but there was nothing much I did. On scrolling through social media, I came across a sports tech conference that was being hosted by the Rwanda Development Board at the Marriot. I immediately cringed because I remembered that two years ago, we (my partners and I) had suggested to a local federation about doing a sports tech conference that would lead up to the federations’ flagship tournament.

In it, we would also infuse the tourism aspect and have participating teams officials also enjoy what Kenya has to offer in terms of tourism. Here I was in Kigali and they were doing exactly what I had thought out for this tournament. On Friday, I had a meeting with a gentleman from the NBA Africa team.

While I cannot get in to the details of our discussion, it was evident that the NBA, and many other investors in sports, would really love to set up in Kenya due to its potential in terms of athletes but more so due to the commercial viability. You want to guess why they are not here??? Your guess is as good as mine. Successful governments have failed to appreciate that modern sports requires money, and that will either come in through the exchequer or private investment.

These international multi billion sports businesses would love to set up in Kenya but there is no incentive neither is there goodwill from the Kenyan government when it comes to sports.So the first thing that Rwanda has done right is that their government is an active participant in the sports economy. Inscribed on the walls of the BK Arena at the entrance is a quote by Rwanda President Paul Kagame on the contribution sports has in a society. I am informed that his sport of choice is tennis, therefore he would fully grasp what sports does to an athlete and in turn a society. Maybe that is why he supports sports fully.

That afternoon, I went to the BK Arena to watch the 3rd/4th playoff. Before we talk about the masterpiece that is the BK Arena, you cannot help but notice the adjacent Amahoro Stadium that is under renovation, and think of what will be come of it when done. I am informed that the stadium is being built by a Turkish firm, the same firm that did the BK Arena, and if the BK Arena is anything to go by, then Amahoro Stadium will be a wonderful sports stadium. Now to the BK Arena. Honestly, save for the size ( BK Arena sits about 10,000 people), I had the exact same feeling I thought I would have had I gone to watch an LA Lakers game. The Arena is gorgeous and user friendly. As I have said repeatedly, arenas and stadiums are not for the athletes, but for the fans. Stadiums have to be consumer friendly if you expect to sell out games regularly.

The final was set for Saturday. We had been told to expect traffic because of the crowds but mostly because Paul Kagame was going to be in attendance. Truth is despite these two facts, the traffic was handled well. The fan fare was what you would expect for a final. Court side you had Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, actors Boris Kodjoe and Forest Whitaker, South African actress Pearl Thusi, our very own hip hop artist Octopizzo amongst many other celebrities.

Sports and Entertainment always go hand in hand, and it was good to see global names there. It got me thinking about how many Kenyan celebrities go for sports events here. I do not blame them though, because our fan experience is terrible to say the least. About 10 minutes to tip off, Mr. Kagame walked in to cheers from the arena. He walked up to his seat accompanied by BAL President Amadou Gallo Fall. While Mr. Fall was expected to be there, it was the next two gentlemen who shocked me. Mr. Fall was sat to Kagame’s immediate right and to Mr. Fall’s right was Tope Lawani, Managing Partner of Helios Investments. I came to learn that his presence was occasioned by the fact that Helios is an investor in the Basketball Africa League. To Mr. Kagame’s left was Patrice Motsephe, President of CAF.

Mr. Kagame has made it so attractive for investors to put their money in to sports projects that everyone is rushing to Rwanda, a USD 14 billion GDP economy, and bypassing Kenya, a USD 100 billion GDP economy. After the game was done, I bumped in to a long term friend who knows I work in the sports field. He asked me “ Ng’arua, is there anyone from the Ministry here?? I mean, what do they do benchmarking in Europe? They should be here seeing how Rwanda is doing it.” Sadly, there was no one from the ministry of sports, let alone the Government of Kenya, who was in Kigali for the BAL finals.

When we were in primary and high school, we used to learn in business education that one of the factors that dictates the ease of doing business is the political situation in a country. Most of us interpreted this to mean peace, but there is also goodwill from the government. Governments of the day have to be willing to understand that sports is a massive contributor to the socio-economic fabric of a society and should therefore make it easy for the owners of capital to invest in sports.

Governments ( in this case Kenya) should also realise that in areas like sports, we know nothing compared to the developed economies, just like in many other sectors. So if we are willing to listen to developed economies on the new trends when it comes to agriculture, why are we not willing to listen to the NBAs, NFLs and sports private equity funds on the best practices when it comes to monetising sports???

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua mentioned at the early stages of this administration that this government is not a monopoly of knowledge and that they are willing to listen to those who know. Well from what we are hearing from outside and from what we know on the inside, when it comes to sports, they are not listening to those who know. In the end, as I said earlier, the two most important stakeholders of sports in Kenya ( the fan and the athlete) are the ones who lose the most, but the country also loses out on added revenue from what is currently a non-existing tax base.

The European Union reports say that 2% of those employed are employed in sports. While we will not attain these numbers in one year, one should really thinking about all the pluses and no negatives that come with commercialising sports in the right manner. I came back to Kenya on Monday and passed by the WRC Safari Rally offices at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani. I felt embarrassed based on what I had just witnessed in Kigali, and asked myself “ when will they do anything to modernise these stadiums if at all we want to attract global sporting events”. Only time will tell if this government is at all serious on monetising sports.

The article is the writer’s opinion and doesnt represent KBC’s view.

Ng’arua Kamuya is the Chief Executive Officer of 270 Degrees Sports.

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