Why Cancelling The 2019-20 Season Was The Right Call

The Kenya Rugby Union yesterday announced the cancellation of the 2019/20 season, due to the novel corona virus pandemic that has continued to rein havoc across the globe.

Action from KCB vs Kabras (Photo Denis Acre-Half)

The union had earlier suspended league fixtures on the 13th of March, following a government directive that banned public gatherings including all sporting activities.

Internationally the pandemic has had a similar or worse effect on all sporting events including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics which have been postponed to 2021, the London and Boston Marathons have been postponed to later in the year.

All F1 races have been suspended until June, with the season opening Australian Grand Prix cancelled. The 2020 Wimbledon tennis championships have been cancelled for the first time since World War II, with the entire pro tennis tour being suspended till June.

The NBA, EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, Six Nations, Super Rugby, the PGA and European Golf Tours are all in the long list of sporting events that have been affected by the pandemic.

To highlight rugby, the Irish and Welsh unions have since cancelled their domestic leagues, World Rugby has since cancelled all the U20 championships, including the Barthes cup that was set to be hosted in Nairobi, with the rest of the world sevens series calendar on hold.

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The decision to end the domestic rugby season for 2019/20 has not been made lightly. All options were discussed and the IRFU is satisfied it has arrived at the only equitable solution. These are challenging times for us all and we know clubs will be impacted by this directive, but we will look back at this season as one where we put the physical welfare of our rugby community above all else. – IRFU Director of Rugby Development, Colin McEntee.

At the time of cancellation, the 2019/20 season had just concluded the fifteens league phase and had five game weeks to go, that is the league play offs, the league and cup semi finals and the final of the two competitions.

Teams could literally smell their league titles and promotion slots, others had already fallen to the axe that is relegation. This cancellation will sadly see all their efforts go down the drain.

To fully understand the decision to call off the season, I need to first take you through the typical 27 plus game week calendar which kicks off with the national sevens series and includes the mens fifteens and women’s tens competitions.

The 2019/20 season was set to last 287 days or 41 calendar weeks, it kicked off on the weekend of 20th July 2019 with the Kakamega Sevens and was set to conclude on the 25th April 2020 with the Enterprise and Mwamba Cup finals, after the postponement of the play off fixtures on 12th March.

The International season was set to commence a month later where the Kenya Simbas were to play a total of three home fixtures this year; on 30th of May, 11th and 18th of July 2020.

Shortly after that, the 2020/21 season was set to kick off at the Kabeberi sevens on the 25th of July 2020, with the national sevens series culminating with the Prinsloo sevens on the weekend of the 12th of September. After which the 2020 Impala Floodlit would take centre stage between 26th September and 10th October, quickly followed by the Safari Sevens on the 23rd to 25th of October, and back to the fifteens. 

With this in mind, let us look at what KRU must have been facing when making this decision. The options on the table must have been, wait or act! 

See, we are in unchartered waters, no one has ever experienced anything of the sort, we are in the midst of a war, against an enemy we can not see and have no way of telling when we will beat them.

We will all take a hit, it depends on when we are willing to take it, KRU made the call to take the hit early and move on when this thing subsides. 

Action from Mwamba vs Nakuru

The air of uncertainty means that we have no way of telling how long we would have to wait and the true impact that waiting would have. While other more established leagues have opted to wait, we need to remember that we are an amateur league, we literally play for the pride that comes with a piece of tin, firmly placed on a wooden base.

The professional leagues have player contracts, sponsor contracts, TV, tickets, suppliers and a million more moving parts to consider, we don’t have that headache.

While the pain that clubs must be feeling right now having invested so much into the season, is understandable. I am sure that they will put the longterm safety of their players, fans and stakeholders ahead of any short term gains that holding on to this season would have gotten them.

To paint a picture for you, let us assume that this thing clears up end of May, which is being overly optimistic. We would have to wait for the government to give the clear for sporting activities to resume so that teams can start training, give that a 3-4 week period, another very optimistic projection.

The teams would need a minimum of a month of ‘pre-season’ training, we are in late July now, we play the five game weeks, which brings us to early September. Do we cancel the sevens season or move on with a shorter version? Remember we still have Safari sevens, and the new season.

For the sake of argument, we play the sevens series into December and early January, where does that leave Safari sevens, remember the HSBC season will kick off in the last week of November.

We are in February, we have to kick off the fifteens season, as the Simbas need to maintain their Gold cup status, with their sights firmly fixed on the 2023 World cup. Do we also change the format of the leagues, seeing as Rugby Africa has already announced the dates for the 2021 test fixtures, starting in May. 

This thing goes on and on, the perfect domino effect, we are in 2024 and are still struggling to get our calendar back in order, we have literally had no off season as we are caught up in this endless fall, why, because we failed to make a call, early on and decided to wait.

This cancellation gives us the opportunity to comfortably wait for this thing to pass, plan accordingly and move on from whenever it is we will be. Rugby will still be here for all of us to enjoy.

Till then, keep safe, wash your hands and see you on the other side!

KWISHA… NIMERUKA NJE!!!

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