Sports ban effects will be profound, in some cases, irreversible

Sports ban effects will be profound, in some cases, irreversible

Harambee Starlets' midfielder Corazone Odhiambo (left) dribbles past Ghana midfielder Grace Acheampong during their Fifa Women Under-20 World Cup qualifier match at Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos on November 19, 2017.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

This week, the women’s national football team’s friendly match against Zambia was cancelled owing to the blanket ban on sports activities, yet that could have been Harambee Starlets’ first international assignment in two years.

The cancellation is not new, but it has put the brutality of the Covid-19 containment measures in bold. The ban on sports activities is wrong, not just on paper, but in principle.

In years to come, stern questions will be asked about the effectiveness of this cancellation of sporting activities, which seems to have been made without any consideration for the complex sports ecosystem.

We’ve been so hung up on rules – both adhering to them, over-adhering to them, and roiling with seething rage when other people don’t adhere to them, that we seem to have lost focus of why we crafted the rules in the first place.

We have all learnt to keep our heads down and meekly obey them, or quietly break them, but time is coming when we shall have to take stock of the damage done.

For some reason, the Ministry of Sports has failed to convince the government to look at the bigger picture. If Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed supports the government in sacrificing athletes’ aspirations and Kenya’s sporting excellence at the altar of puritan rules, the sporting fraternity might quickly and pitilessly turn against her.

Look at it this way. The ban means that I can walk into a mall or a supermarket in a large building on a Sunday, and be surrounded by, say, 200 socially distanced shoppers, but my favourite local sports stars, who will soon be fully vaccinated with two Covid-19 jabs, can’t train as a team or continue with the league even in the absence of spectators.

I know that Covid-19 is a fiendishly clever critter, but can it really distinguish between shoppers in a mall and spectators at a rugby match?

This subtle brand of cruelty has only heightened athletes’ misery and exacerbated the financial burden on clubs while disrupting another league year.

I pity the Starlets who have essentially been denied a chance to play their first international game of the year. How many players and technical bench members are sleeping hungry now that the stadiums are closed?

There is no excuse for these restrictions. From where I sit, Covid-19 poses a negligible threat compared with the unfolding horror film of players living in squalor, clubs folding and athletes abandoning the sport altogether.

Players are anxious and suffering, and while anxiety can’t be extirpated, it can be inflamed to destructive levels. Closing entertainment joints, and then all sports activities, yet mass vaccination is ongoing and is projected to reduce infections and deaths, is playing a dangerous game.

The explanation for the blanket ban is presumably the advice that drove it; that there could be a real risk of people having Covid-reckless sherry after matches and start hugging the people they love then the whole purpose of social distancing will be lost.

In their panic, the purse-lipped puritans have effected rules that are misleading, illogical and self-defeating, in effect, keeping athletes from the sport, which, essentially, is both their life and livelihood.

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