Bring Back Our Sevens!
Growing up, the then Tusker Safari 7s, was as good as rugby got. I remember my big brother and his friends planning on how they were going for sevens months before hand.
I didn’t know much about rugby then, but I knew about the sevens, and I knew one day I would go for one. When I finally walked through the gates of the RFUEA, as a class 8 student who had snuck out of home (a story for another day), it was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced, then.
I never stayed for long, the risk of bumping into my bro and staying out past my curfew was far too frightening. The memories though of that first sevens, live on to this date.
When in 2009, we lined up at the village to dance to Soulja boy’s Crank that with total strangers and made it look like we had rehearsed for years for that performance. When in 2010 we partied in the rain on a Sunday after that Ashioya try, that was the magic of the Safari sevens, Africa’s premier sevens tournament.
If the last couple of years is anything to go by, I am afraid that future generations, including my twin boys, will not get to experience that magic.
The 21st edition of what we once referred to as the greatest sevens tournament south of the Sahara and north of the Limpopo, took place in front of a virtually empty Safaricom Kasarani stadium.
So what happened between the magical days of 2010 and the gloom that is 2016? The jury is still out on this one, there have been an array of reasons thrown around trying to explain where we dropped the ball. I will not go back on those, all we need to ask is, how do we pick up that ball and get back to where we were?
To try answer this, I got my two bosses, James Wahome and Skarra to share their sentiments, which I now share with you :
James had this to say :
Starting off in 1996 the Safari Sevens tournament held at the RFUEA grounds grew to become a festival attracting rugby enthusiasts and more importantly party goers and good time hunters. This blend was the heart and soul of the tournament. It was at this point that conversion happened, the fun became the fan. It was the ultimate introduction to Sevens Rugby.
The Union wants to see the tournament become a premier Sevens destination, the goal is to eventually make a bid for the tournament to be incorporated as part of the world sevens series. This in principle would not only be beneficial for the game, it would uplift the profile of Kenya as an international rugby destination, and would provide Nairobi with an opportunity to host the thousands of travelling fans.An audacious, visionary motive whose time is still a long way to come judging by the level of participation this weekend.
There are some positive notes to think of, though , we now have a Board in the Union that has reinstated confidence in the sport, as well as a secretariat that has pulled out a miraculous string of tourneys across the country and the premier tourney back to back. They need your feedback and are open to seeing this tournament return to the fan levels pre 2014.
Sponsors, however, must act for the benefit of the game and offer a fan experience like no other. Let us mix things up and give the ticket payers what they are asking for. A good and secure time, an opportunity to watch their stars in home action and a way to create awesome memories. Tusker Safari Sevens to this date was the only title sponsor that hit this note. Safaricom tried to change the game a bit too drastically a move that has been largely criticised as the destruction of the experience Funs were used to.
If there was ever a plea to any good loyal rugby fan out there, it would be that the game has grown regardless of the difficulties we see, the players are putting in considerable effort, and their bodies have been stretched this past 15’s and 7’s season. We, therefore, need to appreciate them, especially when they play their hearts out as they did this weekend.
We are in the woods but not lost at sea, we will surely find our way to the promised land, but first as rugby persona Fred Ollows puts it, We must Reboot.
Then the ever colourful Skarra :
It has been an interesting year for rugby tournaments. Masaku, which in 2014, I had bet on as the future of Festival Rugby in Kenya just fizzled out in 2016. Another betting firm tried entering the rugby scene but fell victim to ill advise. Will we ever see them come back to rugby? I doubt.
Fast-forward to what used to be the ‘Premier Sevens Event’ in Africa and what we have now is ‘Premier Disappointment’.
Without a doubt, the RFUEA had become ‘small’. But couldn’t we try creating more seating space within? I laud the TelCo for building the Ngong Road stand to allow more comfort in the RFUEA, but what if more stands were built on the Ligi Ndogo side, the Harlequin Suites Hotel side and the Main stand rebuilt to allow for more?
What if other aspects like parking & sanitary amenities were built and maintained to quality during the event? Nyayo was a good venue to some, maybe centrally placed et al, but the rugby fan yearns to touch the action. Barbed wire and red tape blamed on ‘Terrorism’ could be an anchor on which security will always hold on to, but my biggest question is; are your point of entry screening systems full of flaws?
Sad is the naked fact that our Union and Committees think short term, they seldom take feedback in the spirit of Kaizen. They view policy criticism as insurgence which must be blown up by a billion thundering typhoons and rain of bullets. I also brame the man who stood up before camelas and arrowed the sport to be auctioned to a Corpolate, who cared more about banner space than fan expelience.
In the run up to the 2016 Safari 7s, the @osbke Twitter handle carried a poll on which venue 98 fans felt delivered the best Safari 7s experience. At the end of the poll, an impressive 64% voted for RFUEA, 19% thought Kasarani was a good fit, Nyayo only gathered 11% and 6% believed none of the choices made the cut.
Maybe Twitter polls meant nothing like a social media influencer told me sometime back. I believe it is now time for him and his team to swallow huge mango seeds enroute to explaining the empty seats even after an ‘aggressive’ social media campaign to achieve footfall.
If you are clever, you will not judge me by how I am trying to root for the RFUEA, but on how Kasarani is NOT a rugby friendly venue. The venue, like many say, is awash with amenities and makes it easy for security to do their job but it is a logistical nightmare for vendors, fans, cab drivers, media and even sponsors themselves. If I had the chance, I would forever rule out Kasarani for any rugby related event.
The organization around the tournament this year looked haphazard. Wasn’t it the other day that we were at Christies? Didn’t we need a break to at least talk up the event for longer?
Fans come in to watch the teams, they come in for the exciting action, not expired 7 week-old and worn out dances that irk more than entertain. The scrapping of tiered pricing within stands was a grand idea in the initiator’s mind, but they forgot one aspect: Consumers won’t buy a washed out product, no matter how cheap it gets. I have one word to those who told me, ‘Si ungekuja na ma friends wako ten, tujaze Kasa’. Good luck with that brothers and sisters.
What if we’d put our best feet forward in Rio? Would the fan follow Kenya 7s to Kasalani? The sooner we accept that our performance in the World Series affects foreign team interest in Safari 7s, the better.
Swallowing one’s ego is difficult sometimes, but we have no option. There is no shame in pressing the reset button and going back home. There is no vilification in accepting failure.
So 2017 Safari 7s? RFUEA or any other venue other than Kisirani? Yes?
So how do we bring back the magic? According to me, first make sevens a festival, if you remember in 2013 there was the Safaricom live tour, which culminated at the Safari sevens. This way you attract the ‘fun.’
Get top teams to play at the Safari sevens, this way you attract the ‘fan,’ those that are the rugby experts within their circles. If they say Safari 7s is worth going to, everyone around them will want to join them there.
Lastly and probably most importantly build up to the tournament, months before, market the tournament far and wide, above, below on the side, all round the line.
If we can get these three aspects right, it matters less where we host the tournament. We could have it in Timbuktu and people will still board busses and planes to the end of the world to attend. P.S Please don’t take it to Timbuktu, at worst let it be Kasarani, thank you.
I know you have shared your opinions a million times over, on how to get back the Safari 7s to what it once was. Feel free to copy paste the same in the comments section below. I might not be compiling a report, or sending them to the Chairman, but hey you never know who you will reach, hehe.