Wednesday, December 11, 2013

South Coast Pirates Game and Walkovers

Rubber Match with South Coast Pirates
Malindi RFC is now preparing for our great friends, and I dare say sister-team on the Coast, South Coast Pirates (SCP).  We will be playing them on Saturday at 4 pm.  I’ve been arranging for accommodation for the team as they will stay the night, quite a nice proposition as it means we can finally have a post game event after the match! 

As those fans who have been following know, we’ve played South Coast twice this year in Nationwide League build up friendlies.  The first Match South Coast won in Ukunda 30 – 19.  I believe that was the first match either team had, and South Coast had some players from Spartans which really gave them some experience.  Our boys were much younger and smaller and probably tired from the trip down, but we loved it!  The second match was much better for us and we won with a 22-13 scoreline.  South Coast was significantly stronger, although they did have at least one Spartan’s player on their team (maybe more I don’t know).  I’ve written about  Kadenge, he’s one of the best players in the league I’ve seen so far, and I have a lot of respect for him, I can’t begrudge his participation, but hopefully he won’t be there this week!

So Saturday is the Rubber match, and this time it is for League points, not just bragging rights, although there will be bragging rights in abundance!  From what I’ve seen, there are four solid teams in this year’s league.  We have played two of them, Spartans and last year’s champs TUM.  Add to that Masaku and Athi River (who in my mind should be playing in the Central Region) and you have the top four teams.  Voi is also strong but has not been honouring their games (we allowed them to try and reschedule but I fear even this will be a walkover!) and this means that we are playing for at least the fifth spot in the league despite being first year teams. Currently SCP is in fourth and we are in Sixth, but if we are awarded the two walkovers deserved for the two games we have not played yet, we would be in third… so it could be said that this game is for third place in the league!
This is the part of the blog where I put my head down and drive into the big guys!

Too Many Walkovers
This brings me to another point, this league has now had a number of walkovers.  Part of the problem is that some of the teams are not organized, many teams it seems have formed just to benefit from the KRU’s travel subsidy for the Nationwide league.  Other teams are school teams and were not available to play for the last two-three weeks (see our missed games with Voi and Pwani) and probably knew that before the season started. Malindi RFC for one, has not played a match in the last four game days, two home and two away.  This has really lowered the morale of the squad, it is pretty self-evident that players are less likely to train if they know that they won't be playing.

Changes in Scheduling process
I think that most of these no-games could have been avoided if First off, the KRU had engaged in a more participatory approach to scheduling.  I would have proposed for instance that the league start earlier which would bring many benefits. 
  1. The weather is better for playing rugby.  The later in the year you get (and into the new year) the more likely you are to encounter hot dry conditions and cement hard pitches and therefore increased likelihood of injuries. In September/October, the pitches are soft and wet and benefit from the short rains and the residual of the long rains in much of the country.  I’ve also lobbied to have the school rugby season pushed back to May-June-July for this very reason.
  2. December/January is traditionally a holiday month with lots of movement, people travel to their home places and are more likely to get seasonal jobs elsewhere.  Also, as mentioned earlier, November/December are exam periods for most of the students (school students leave on holiday end November/December) and it is no secret that many of the teams in the Nationwide league depend in large-part on Student players.  This is positive as it means that we will have players in the future, if we manage to get them to play regularly.

I think for those two main reasons, the league would do well to move next year’s nation wide league up a bit.  I understand that this conflicts with the Sevens season, but perhaps that could benefit from being pushed up into July (also wet and cool) and at any rate, most Nationwide league players do not participate in the Seven’s Circuit which mostly includes Kenya Cup teams. At any rate, participatory planning could have avoided many of these issues as many teams were scheduled games in periods when they already knew when the season started that they would not be able to honour them.  We rescheduled our second and third games, our third and fourth I would have liked to reschedule but how can I reschedule one month’s-worth of matches?   NB. The rescheduled matches have yet to be actually rescheduled to any given date!!!!

Travel Subsidy
The travel subsidy is a contentious issue.  Two of our games were cancelled by the other team's coach because they "didn't receive the subsidy". In some way it seems like it is the elephant in the room that nobody would like to talk about.  Up to this point (and believe me I’ve done my best to find out) I have yet to understand how much is meant to be allocated to any given team, what the allocation is for exactly, how the amounts are calculated and where the money comes from.  I presume it comes from the Union’s general budget fed financially through some sort of sponsorship deals.

Subsidy a Great Investment
Now don’t get me wrong, I think that the Subsidy is essential.  Unfortunately, especially here on the coast, the rugby constituency is far from vibrant.  It is made up of a relatively few, committed players mostly lead by ex-players from up country.  If teams are to get any kind of competition, they need to travel, and traveling costs money, although if planned properly it doesn’t need to be that much. The subsidy is thus very important in growing the game here on the coast as it will allow for players to be exposed to more game time. Also, as with any sport, travel is a great incentive to young players to improve… it's almost like a special bonus for gifted players. Unfortunately, the way the schools system works, the average player plays probably 4 days of rugby a year.  One of the reasons why Malindi High dominates the Coast Region is because their success in tournaments exposes them to 16 days of rugby a year (not including training of course). So the Subsidy should ensure that many more players play more quality rugby with quality refereeing and will exponentially increase incentives for players to invest in their own development.

The problem in my view is transparency.  I can only hope that the KRU has solid plans and budgets for this money.  I respect the officials that I deal with, but I can only ask myself questions about the integrity of these plans/budgets because despite many queries, I have never received an answer to the questions I posed above (are they secret?).  Further, I received a text from the KRU last week (to my delight) that they were sending us some money.  Again, I asked how they arrived at the sum, only so that I may plan my budgets better for the future, and I still have not received an official response.  Now, let me make it clear, I don’t want to criticize and point fingers and my aims are in no way political.  I think that readers of this Blog understand to what level I am committed to growing rugby selflessly on the coast.  But I must say that this lack of transparency is killing Coast rugby.  My queries are almost always met with “it is only a subsidy and not meant to be the whole funding of the team”.  Fine, I get it, but what is the plan? At the beginning of the season, team managers I called often said that they would not be able to play because the Union had not sent the subsidy…. 

I think that if these two issues were addressed openly, the Nationwide league would be much more successful in having more rugby played on the coast.  To be honest, the number of Walkovers and lack of games has certainly diminished the enthusiasm of our team here, and certainly made it difficult to raise support from potential donors.  It also makes it difficult to get fans to the pitch when you cannot promote a game and be sure the other team will arrive.  On most occasions, it was not confirmed that the game was cancelled until the day before.

I sincerely hope that the Kenya Rugby Union will address these issues and I pledge my full support in everyway to better the way Rugby is administered on the coast.  Cheers!

Ps:  I hope David Nolan doesn't wimp out and actually plays against us this time around!!!  (even if he is just an outside centre!) :) Karibuni!!!!!!!