Feature: Kenya catches World Cup fever despite absence

Source: Xinhua| 2018-07-02 17:45:05|Editor: Xiang Bo
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NAIROBI, July 2 (Xinhua) -- The chilly weather in Nairobi is at its crescendo as Juliet Wanjiru wades through the traffic to her favorite spot in one of the crowded restaurants in the town center. Wanjiru is not on a day-off, holiday or hungry, she has just snuck away from work to catch the action as Senegal takes on Colombia in the World Cup in Russia.

The contagious World Cup bug is spreading fast across the country. Many people have caught the fever and results and performances in Russia have become a major talking point in offices, saloons, barber shops, markets and at home.

"I work as a marketing executive and will always sneak out to catch my favorite team. My job involves working in the field, so I have to give an excuse to walk out. I can't miss it and I am here to support Senegal. Let the Teranga Lions...be African ambassadors," Wanjiru told Xinhua in a recent interview in Nairobi.

Sadly for Wanjiru and by extension many Africans, Senegal lost 1-0 to Colombia and caught the flight back to Dakar together with 15 other countries, who have exited the World Cup. This leaves Africa without a team in Russia.

"A few egos have been crashed. But not many will be watching the remaining teams with a chin in their hands. The zeal and enthusiasm of fans is increasing," said Thomas Omukoya, an ICT executive. Though Senegal, together with Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria and Morocco have been eliminated, the continent's fans have kept a close eye on the proceedings in Russia.

Human Resources firms globally have estimated that the World Cup could cost a country 250 million working hours through staff absence, late arrivals and poor performance due to frustration at not being able to monitor games.

But social spaces and public television viewing areas in Nairobi have continued to record huge numbers as fans turn up to cheer on their teams. Kenyan football experts believe it is a matter of time before the country's national team, Harambee Stars, joins the fray to compete at their first World Cup.

Philip Orwa, an ardent fan of Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia raises an accusing finger at the government for not having direct support for local football. "Our league is sponsored partly by SportPesa and other corporate companies, with many of the clubs depending on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ... or meager gate collections during match day. More needs to be done on sponsorship rights and airing of the matches," said Orwa.

Nicholas Musonye, the Council of East and Central Africa Football Association (CECAFA) secretary general, says misplaced priorities are to blame for Kenya's absence at the World Cup. "There is zero support from the government. They want to wait and come in at the last minute to support the national team in their campaigns at international level. They do little in supporting the team's preparations for qualification for the World Cup. Though lately, the government has shown commitment and [they] have helped hire a professional coach (Frenchman Sebastien Migne)," Musonye said.

For Kenyan sports journalist Ben Ouma, professionalism is lacking in the country's football and is the only thing missing that would otherwise catapult the country to the top echelons of the sport. "We need to get our players on long-term contracts and pay them enough to take football as a career and not just a part time event. However, our football is full of officials who use it for political gain. This has left our league running pathetically with no plans. The government has not been supportive and will consider other projects and not sport," Ouma said.