The joys and sorrows of Kenyan volleyball
25 June 2013, 16:04
Nairobi - Kenya this week earned the wild card for the women's team to this year's Under-23 FIVB Championship scheduled for November in Mexico, owing to the good run in the senior and junior women volleyball competitions.
Though impressions have never been an appreciated art in the history of human culture because of the time honored maxim that they don't last, for so long the Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) has adorned them like badges of national honour.
Branded as one of the few national sports, it is a double-edged compliment that fans have to endure the sweet and bitter tales of Kenyan volleyball. The chasm between women and men volleyball makes an awful reading.
While the men have adorned the under-achiever label for so long, the women have sustained good performance that creates the impression of a sport on the glide.
Trying to understand the chasm between the two is to take a peek into the administrative ineptitude, corruption, subterfuge and acts of terror that sports administrators have visited on Kenyan sports and which can make a perfect study for any scholar' s thesis.
Bluntly put, the development of men' s volleyball has been sacrificed at the altar of condescending zeal and single-mindedness of successive administrators at KVF, whose singular mission is opting for shortcuts when dealing with the complex matters of volleyball development.
It is not so often that one reads anything about men volleyball in the Kenyan media.
Similarly, while everything about the women national team and clubs in public domain, little is known about the men and their forays in international and even local championships.
"It is only laymen who say that women volleyball is more developed than men's," KVF First-Vice Chairman Charles Nyaberi told Xinhua Monday, denying suggestions that it was the federation's policy to favor women.
When Waithaka Kioni took over the reigns of the federation in 2006, his first assignment was to hire a foreign coach for the national women team.
Not that it was a bad thing, but apart from Sedatoshi Sugawara being hired to prepare the women for the 2006 World Cup Championships, it was startling that KVF failed to extend similar succour to the men.
Kioni failed to lay out a programme of action to invigorate the dearth of men volleyball.
Volleyball's unfair system germinates partly from the federation's leadership that has for ages promoted the philosophy of conditional love.
Teams are only recognised and appreciated at the moment of glory, and yanked as soon as signs of poor performance emerge.
Women have proved that these favors are not in vain. They have won virtually all continental titles in the last decade, and their reign at the top of African volleyball is assumed as the natural order of things.
Buoyed by the women's achievements, KVF has always claimed credit for the ladies' performance and promoted it as the federation' s flagship.
Nature has also given the ladies an advantage; their physiques are the pillars from which coaches have constructed strong, attacking teams, which have spiked many an opponent into eternal submission.
What the women from North Africa miss out on the physique, they have filled it up with class and tact, and to provide the stiffest challenge to Kenya's domination.
And while the Kenyan women pioneered the sport in Africa, the northerners, who are mostly Islamic, were bogged down by cultural and historical values that have shackled women from active participation in social life.
Using women to showcase their "administrative achievements" has been an entrenched element of successive KVF regimes.
But men volleyball is ignored. In spite of these women achievements, volleyball is yet to take significant root in Kenya, where the league matches are as free as sunshine and the well-being of all clubs is dependent on the goodwill of the sponsoring institutions.
According to Nyaberi, the federation suffers from pecuniary embarrassment like other sports.
"The only funding for the federation comes from the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) and the global governing body, FIVB, all of which finance specific projects and not sustainable for long term programmes."
Nyaberi says financial problems are at the heart of the current divide between the men and the women.
"You will have noticed that most of the women's tournaments have been hosted here, unlike men's. This has not only been advantageous but easier for the women teams."
Advantageous because playing at home has guaranteed them victory, and easier because logistics for participating in a tournament hosted at home are much easier than when one is to travel abroad.
"It is these victories that have propelled the women to the top ranks, both in popularity and institutional goodwill that is instrumental in securing sponsorship."
Most people interviewed told Xinhua they cannot remember when Kenya last hosted a volleyball tournament for men, that is, if it ever has.
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