Rugby on a Tuesday morning in Kenya! One of the strangest thing you’ll hear that happened this year. It was interesting yet different. Obviously, there was more than meets the eye.
With most people deciding to stay at home as it was a public holiday, the roads were clear. Others were keen on attending the president’s inauguration on the other side of town. As you may have guessed, it was easy to get to the venue.
The match was well attended with a good number of rugby fans showing up to watch SportPesa Quins take on Menengai Cream Homeboyz at the start of the Kenya Cup campaign for both teams. It had been rescheduled from Saturday 25 November and the high scoring, end to end encounter at the RFUEA Grounds did not disappoint.
It was worth the Tuesday morning sacrifice.
The final score was a 41-39 win in favor of the Menengai Cream Homeboyz but one of the things that stood out is how Kenya rugby has changed. Sponsors have come on board and you get a clear feeling that much of this growth within rugby wouldn’t have been possible through such commitments.
How has club rugby changed?
The first thing you notice nowadays are shirt sponsors which tells you a lot about the confidence that is growing with the sport. Gone are the days where players played club rugby “at their own risk”. There were few medics available and technical benches were shallow. The clubs mostly relied on donors and very few team sponsors were present.
The venues were not very welcoming and you had to be a die-hard rugby fan to go watch your team. Otherwise, you would easily skip the game and wait to hear the result later.
This had a direct effect on the quality of the game with many of the players dropping the sport to pursue their careers and leaving the game to a younger generation of players who do not directly benefit from the experience they should have been exposed to.
All that has changed now with investment in to the sport. Among the most notable sponsorship of Kenyan club rugby that has happened in the recent past is when gaming firm SportPesa and Kenya Harlequins signed a 10-year sponsorship deal.
Enter SportPesa Quins
On November 4th 2016, Kenya Harlequins, one of the oldest rugby clubs in the country, signed a partnership with local gaming firm SportPesa who were made the club’s shirt sponsors for an initial five-year period, with room for a further five-year extension.
Neither did the club nor did the sponsors disclose the exact amount involved but word has it that the deal might be in the region of over Sh50 million, with a percentage increment every year.
The deal covers a range of things in the club from salaries, allowances to kitting and infrastructure and as part of the new deal, the team changed its name to SportPesa Quins.
SportPesa also committed to rehabilitating and upgrading the Kenya Rugby Football Union grounds along Ngong’ Road, the facility which also doubles up as the Quins home ground.
The team is set to contract 40 of its 73 players as semi professionals and they will be entitled to better salaries and allowances.
Meanwhile, Quins is adopting two lower tier clubs, Dagoretti Bulldogs and Kitale RFC as part of their Community Social Responsibility (CSR) projects, giving them kitting, technical and financial support.
Indeed, club rugby has changed in Kenya and the clubs have got balls to play club rugby on a Tuesday morning. Literally.