Why politics and sports are nasty blood brothers

Sports and culture CS displaying his skills [Photo: Jonah Onyango]

 We are often told that sports and politics do not mix, that politicians should not meddle in sports, and most sports organisations should discourage governments from encroaching on their turf.

But sports and politics have remained bonded together like uneasy bedfellows. The national and county governments are the suppliers of infrastructure to all sports organisations.

There isn’t a single football club in Kenya that owns a stadium. All the stadiums are now owned by county governments after devolution took root.

That means that few clubs or sports outfits can run without government assistance. Football Kenya Federation (FKF) receives a sizable chunk of revenue from the government to run its affairs.

Athletics Kenya (AK)  receives funding towards  participation at the Olympic and the  Commonwealth Games.

Politicians know the political capital that can be squeezed out of sports. No one can blame them. After all, sport movements never shy from sleeping around with politicians. In any case, sports provides a stage for public visibility, attention and awareness.

For a politician, virtually all publicity is good. More significantly, sports can help solidify a politician’s reputation, identity, and social status demonstrating that a politician is just one of the common guys (girl).

The relationship between football and politics is a reservoir of opportunity. Just ask Stanley Matiba, Clement Gachanja, Alfred Sambu and Peter Kenneth who all jumped into politics from sports administration.

 Even former President Moi had the Moi Golden Cup that shored up his connection with soccer fans, while President Uhuru has a thing for the Kenya Sevens rugby team.

Stanley Okumbi, the Harambee Stars coach was invited to a tournament in Othaya by area MP Mary Wambui, while in Nairobi, there is the Governor’s Cup which is sponsored by Dr Evans Kidero in conjunction with FKF.

It is meant to curb alcoholism and drug abuse among the youth, but one can clearly see the pending elections as having a foot in it.

Sports and politics have similarities. In both, there are role models and inspiring figures. Both share a constant command of the limelight, a huge following, an intrusive media and a fierce loyalty from supporters. At certain moments, both have the ability to unite a nation.

In Liberia, for instance, guns of civil war went silent every time George Weah, the tireless forward for the Lone Star, the national team, played. 

But sports have caused wars as well. A qualifier match gone awry for the 1970 Fifa World Cup led to the world’s first ‘soccer war’ between Honduras and El Savador, complete with armies and tanks!

Besides war, sports can be a source of human rights violations as is evident from the measly pay for footballers and acts of hooliganism which have left death and destruction in their wake. Yet, politicians can rectify them through active legislation.

It was this connection between politics and sports that forced some sports people to gun for political office. Gor Mahia team captain Jerim Onyango, is eyeing the Ugunja MCA seat and even invited Raila Odinga to his launch during a football tournament, while marathoner Wesley Korir entered politics during the 2013 elections and is now  Cherengany MP.

The 2012 Boston champion was part of the parliamentary committee that unravelled the distasteful corruption rot at the National Olympic Committee of Kenya during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Indeed, sports and politics are interlinked like the Olympic rings!