Kenya 7s relegated! that was the story that made headlines for the better part of Sunday evening following a 12-7 loss to Canada in the playoffs played in London.
The loss to Canada in the playoffs final confirmed their relegation, and the players’ reaction showed their understanding of the gravity of the situation.
Relegation can have both negative and positive impacts on a team. While it is a significant setback, bouncing back immediately from relegation is crucial to prevent further detrimental effects. Prolonged stays in lower tiers have proven to be disastrous for many teams.
As Kenya 7s awaits the 2023 Africa Men’s 7s, where they will compete for a spot in the 2024 Challenger Series, which serves as the pathway for promotion, several potential impacts of relegation come to the forefront:
Loss of Kenya 7s sponsorship and funding
Relegation could result in the team losing existing sponsorships and the funding they used to receive from World Rugby as a core team in the series is gone. This loss of financial support can have implications for the team’s operations and player salaries. With funding in sports already being a challenge, attracting new sponsors while no longer in the top tier could be difficult.
Previously, we have seen Kenya 7s drop from having front shirt sponsor, back shirt sponsor and short sponsor to having no sponsor while still on the series, it might be tough to convince more sponsors to come on board when no longer in the top tier.
Reduced exposure and development opportunities
Kenya 7s used 24 players last season and 21 players this season with up to eight earning their debut. From the debutants in the recent season, we have seen the likes Kevin Wekesa, Vincent Onyala, Johnstone Olindi, Daniel Taabu, George Ooro and many others turn out to become regulars.
The team also had at least 40 to 60 matches to play per season giving players proper exposure and preparation for tournaments such as World Cup, Commonwealth games and Olympics.
With relegation here with us, it means fewer tournaments and reduced opportunities to compete against top-ranked teams regularly. This could hinder the growth and development of players and the overall 7s program in Kenya. The loss of exposure may also impact the team’s ability to attract new talents and provide them with the necessary platform for development.
Decreased international visibility
While a core side, Kenya 7s were assured of 10 tournaments in 10 different cities across the world. Shujaas were one of the biggest sports brand in Kenya representing the nation weekend after weekend but with relegation 2024 might see Kenya feature in the Challenger Series (if they qualify) and some invitation tournaments only.
Relegation means Kenya 7s may have limited international exposure, which could impact their brand visibility and potentially make it more challenging to attract sponsors and maintain support.
The team’s ability to represent the nation regularly on the international stage will be significantly reduced, leading to a potential decline in interest and support from fans and sponsors.
Potential loss of players:
In 2023, we saw Collins Injera retire from Rugby, a week later Willy Ambaka retired in the middle of the series. Earlier on, Alvin Otieno and Bush Mwale left the sevens program to pursue their personal interest, with Otieno later returning to play the remainder of the season.
Despite being a big program in Kenyan sports, we have previous lost the likes Eric Ombasa and Sammy Muregi who relocated to the USA.
Relegation might make it more difficult to retain and attract talented players, as some may opt to pursue opportunities with teams in higher tiers or even retire from rugby altogether. This could result in a talent drain for the team. The ability to retain experienced players and attract new ones would be crucial to maintain competitiveness.
Motivation for improvement and formation of a formidable team:
On the positive note, relegation can serve as a motivating factor for the team to regroup, reassess their performance, and work towards improving their skills and strategies. It can also provide an opportunity to build a strong and youthful squad that can compete strongly in the future. The team can use the next few months to create a strong and cohesive unit by focusing on player development and selecting a complementary group of players.
Opportunity for strategic restructuring and improving the 7s circuit:
Relegation could prompt a reassessment of the team’s structure, management, and support systems. This could lead to strategic reforms, investments in coaching, facilities, administration, and grassroots development, with a focus on long-term growth and sustainability. Strengthening the domestic 7s league and investing in local competitions can enhance the overall competitiveness of the sport in Kenya. This can help create a stronger foundation for the national team.
Addressing complacency and finding proper replacements
‘Some players are too reluctant because they are guaranteed a place in the Shujaa squad’ this has been the cry on social media week in week out as Kenya struggled this season. There are a number of key players in the National team who last played for their clubs in 2019. Then there are players who worked hard in local tournament hoping to earn places in the National team but missed out on a call ups.
Relegation may encourage the selectors and coaching staff to address complacency and create a more competitive environment. By rotating players more and giving opportunities to deserving players, the team can avoid overusing certain individuals and ensure a more balanced squad. It would also provide an opportunity to identify and groom new talents who can step in and fill the gaps left by retiring or departing players.