The inaugural Gusii Sevens tournament was a much hyped event, at least for the better part of last week, eclipsing the expectations of many matters publicity.
A debut rugby Easter Bonanza at the Gusii Stadium, that seemed to attract 16 participants from across the country, 12 male and four female, a combination that could have spiced up the event.
Big names like former Kenya Rugby coach Benjamin Ayimba and the director of youth in the office of the Deputy President Antony Kibagendi involved in the organization of the tournament.
In fact, as at Friday evening, the #Gusii7s hashtag was trending at number 3 as Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) picked it up for all the positive reasons, statistics stating that 641,604 people could have seen #Gusii7s since its first mention until it became a Trending Topic.
With all this, just how and why did Gusii Sevens end up a disappointment?
It all begun on Friday, 19th April 2019, the date the tourney was scheduled to kick off. A few minutes to 9 AM, I was at the Gusii Stadium only to meet kids playing football. The situation was the same, no signs of a tournament until somewhere around 3PM when a pickup drove into the stadium with a few poles that started being erected in for the tourney that could reasonably not kick off on the said date.
Confronting Kibagendi with a few questions his response came; “We are sorry we did not communicate effectively. We decided to move it (kick off) until Saturday since people said they would be travelling on Friday, hence they could not make it to the stadium.”
Concerning the budget slashes and participants, this is what the former Kitutu Chache parliamentary aspirant offered;
We had planned to use one million shillings in cash money awards where the winner was to get half a million shillings, the first runner up 350,000 Kenyan shillings and 150,000 Kenyan Shillings for the second runner up. But due to financial constrains we have slashed that for the winner to get 300,000 Kenyan shillings, 200,000 Kenyan Shillings for second place and 100,000 Kenyan Shillings for third place.”
No goodwill from the locals
The event got backlash from a number of locals especially on social media platforms, who argue that they had been sidelined in the arrangement of the debut event. Some questioning why the organizers had to get artistes from Nairobi.
For instance popular actress Rose Nyabhate says the event did not by any chance aim at benefiting the locals.
“They would have looked for influential artistes in Kisii. Remember we are the ones who did the campaigns, we are the ones who would have rallied people to the event. Because that is another way of bringing tourism home, but you cannot claim you are scouting for talent yet you are not giving locals a chance,” charged the ex-Hapa Kule actress.
Low fan turn out
The attendance was way below average with only a handful of fans being spotted on the otherwise empty terraces. The organizers admitting to the fact.
“Expectations were higher but I believe you know the negativity that was hauled at us. That may have had a hand, but again we started the publicity late, people had already made plans for Easter,” said Kibagendi.
The pair (Ayimba and Kibagendi), however remains defiant that for the first go, the attendance is not a bad indicator, quoting figures of 1500 and 800, day one and day two attendance respectively.
“It is a first time we are having a proper 7s tournament here and it will take time before it gets to where it should be. Hopefully this is going to create that excitement so that in future we have more fans coming in,” said Ayimba.
Referee complaints on pay
Due to the pay disputes, the final day tournament began late behind schedule with the finals and the award ceremony being conducted in darkness, as some of the referees angrily lashed out at the tournament director, Benjamin Ayimba.
“They are killing the tourney. But all I can say you (Ayimba) are a bigwig. I have used my money to come here and you refuse to pay me. What do I use? God is watching, let me use my cash and go,” ranted one.
Another added; “Just be fair to the game. You been at the Kenya Sevens for all this long, is this what you were subjected to?”