Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) is sweating over the sustenance of the national sevens team, Kenya 7s, arguably its biggest asset, as the 2022/23 HSBC World Sevens Series kicks off with Hong Kong 7s on Friday 4 November 2022.
Kenya 7s will go into the new season, unless otherwise, with neither a shirt nor shorts sponsor for the 10-leg HSBC World Sevens Series across 10 big cities in the World.
Between November 2022 and May 2023, Shujaa will play in Hong Kong, Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Toulouse, and London.
KRU Director of Rugby Thomas Odundo, while addressing the press on Wednesday 26 October 2022 as McGrath named the squad to Hong Kong 7s, the opening leg of the 2022/23 HSBC World Sevens Series, pointed out the challenges facing the Union.
“We are in the final bit of the contract signing with 20 players selected by the coach. Details of the contracted players will be available before the new season but it's close. We are still looking for the main sponsor as we didn’t have one on board since Bidco left,” said Odundo.
“You’ve heard the coach talking about the lack of facilities. This is the only one training ground (RFUEA) we have. There has been a massive drought in the country. We all know that. There are no training grounds even when you look across at Impala, it’s been a struggle.”
“In terms of the sponsors, who comes first? Success or sponsor? It’s difficult to answer. The coach is doing his best within the circumstances, we keep looking for sponsors. It’s difficult. You need to speak to 50 people to confirm one so it’s a bit time-consuming.
In spite of the challenges, Odundo was however optimistic that the players for the season will put pen to paper prior to the season kick-off; "On the issue of contracts, I’m sure they (players) will leave with them signed.”
Head Coach Damian McGrath plans to contract 20 players with 15 more set to form part of the feeder system. Raga House understands Kenya Rugby Union is stretched in trying to offset what's owed to players and the coach throughout the season.
Raga House understands KRU values the Kenya 7s shirt at Ksh100m considering the global exposure a brand will receive in participating in the World Series and additional tournaments such as the Rugby World Cup, Commonwealth games, Africa 7s, and the Olympics.
Apart from Kenya 7s, KRU has to find ways to send the Kenya Simbas to Dubai in November for the Rugby World Cup repechage tournament, and the Currie Cup campaign in 2023 in South Africa. Kenya Women's 15s team is also preparing for the Rugby Africa Cup set for Uganda.
For a team like Kenya 7s which has no sponsor heading to the new season, it will be difficult to compete with professional sides like Blitzboks of South Africa, Team GB, New Zealand, France, and the USA among others.
McGrath, who took over from Innocent Simiyu in May, knew the challenges Kenya 7s players face before agreeing to become the head coach but admits the last couple of weeks have not been easy.
“I knew life wasn’t gonna be straightforward here in Kenya but I had no idea the last couple of months would be so difficult. These guys deserve a lot. If you look at the facilities of the guys we are in the same group with i.e Ireland and Argentina, Canada (is sleeping now but) they have amazing facilities,"
"Money is not the answer to everything but those guys are preparing in a way we can’t. They have got nutritionists, psychologists, and all these guys to push for high performance. We are fighting to find a field we can train in, the gym is not fit for the purpose, and yet the country is expecting us to go out there and go toe to toe with these guys.”
“Since I have been here I have realized we are punching way above our weight. As I said, the golden generation (the likes of Collins Injera, Andrew Amonde, Biko Adema, and co) has over-performed given what they have to do. These guys are so proud to represent the country, they push themselves high, and yet they can’t get to train because they don’t have the money to get here.”
“I know things will change and the board is working hard to get things on the right track but I think we just need a little bit of patience over these first couple of months. We can get everyone feeling better about life and we can train properly and I’m sure of what these guys can do.”
World Rugby pays for the traveling 13 players per leg but it’s up to the individual units to take care of things like training, allowances, extra technical officials, and any other cost.