In my previous article, I fronted schools as the way to go when it comes to football development. I mentioned that one of the reasons this strategy will work is that most schools already have the required infrastructure, the key component being an open space usually marked with two goal posts facing each other. Infrastructure is indeed a key component in any development agenda, and it is not any different when it comes to sports, especially football. That is why I came up with a new word ‘infrastrategy’. Hopefully one day I will define this word and it will make it to the Oxford Dictionary of Language. For now I will just explore the idea behind the word.*
On the early morning of July 22nd 2009, I was aboard Swiss Air Flight LXXXXX, window seat. This was the first time I was setting my sights on the European continent. I was impressed by what I was seeing – great organization of infrastructure from roads, farms, to residential and commercial buildings – it all looked so well planned out. However, I found myself particularly excited by one thing: football pitches. I realised at some point that that was all I was looking out for and I was not disappointed. Every 2 or 3 minutes as the plane came down, I spotted a well-trimmed football field; flat green lawns just like I had imagined. I have to confess that I was more excited about the prospect of playing on good football fields than I was about having my own apartment for the first time in my life.
On the ground it is even more impressive: well-planned sports facilities in almost every commune, each with at least 2 football fields, changing rooms and a modest restaurant. Well, once again, I do not want to compare but to learn; see what it is we can pick out and implement back home. One thing I have noticed is the attention they give to the playing surfaces, of which a good number are synthetic. Sitting areas are minimal if present, at most a four or five level concrete terrace on one side of the pitch. Actually, most football facilities just cater for standing fans. Of greater importance is the rectangle of grass.
The ball or the side?
A very common practice in football all over world is the toss of the coin before kickoff. The winner of the toss gets to pick the side of the pitch while the loser gets to kickoff the match. Now, back in Kenya, there was a peculiar debate on which side the captain should take if he wins the toss, “…tuanze na kupanda ama kushukisha?” – loosely translated to: “should we start going up or down (the slope)?”. Usually teams preferred the former, reasoning that it would be easier to go down the slope in the second half as fatigue kicked in.
This situation brings to focus the state of football infrastructure in Kenya, the key component being the playing area. Apart from the slope, players had to contend with uneven playing surfaces, rocks, dust, etc. I remember in the field where I won my first trophy – Weche Cup Under 13 – there was a huge manhole right in the center of the pitch, which tackled a few players to the amusement of fans. On the positive though the creative minds, masters of the terrain, would on occasion play a quick one-two with the protruding manhole. It is indeed difficult to envision the sport flourishing, while the very basics are lacking. So what is the way forward?
We need to develop football fields to acceptable standards in order to support the development of football. And I am not talking about the huge stadia of international standard, with huge sitting capacity. Reason being, having these huge stadia does not conform to the Value For Money principle of Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness (3Es). My proposal goes down to the constituency level as a start and this perhaps is a good project that can be managed from the county budget, which has an allocation for sports. Why do I say so?
A few weeks I go I decided to go watch an amateur league match. As I sat there enjoying the match (and my beer), I noticed a signboard at one end of this modest sports facility, which read “Une Installation Ville de Genève” – A Geneva City facility.
This facility consists of 2 football fields, a small restaurant and changing rooms. It is one of a number of such facilities spread around Geneva. I could not help but think such a model would work perfectly in Kenya; an idea I recently shared with a friend. She proposed selecting one primary school and one secondary school in each constituency, as a start, installing adequate sports facilities – minimum of 2 playing fields, with the focus being on the playing surface, which should be of high standard: level and well covered with quality grass. In total we would be looking at at least 400 good quality playing fields.
It was equally interesting to discover that our very own pennisetum clandestinum is one of the best grasses to use on playing fields. That is Kikuyu grass for those of us who do not play in the field of binomial nomenclature. For a moment I thought, “If the idea of installing these fields were to be taken up, then Kikuyu grass farming and laying the turf would be a lucrative business.”
Value For Money – A Case for Kikuyu Grass
A concept commonly referred to as 3Es – Economy, Efficiency and Effectiveness – should serve guide for in any strategic undertaking, in this case focusing on infrastructure.
Economy – minimising the cost of resources. Installing 2 Kikuyu grass playing fields in selected schools in each constituency is affordable and sustainable in the long-term.
Efficiency – performing tasks with reasonable effort. Kikuyu grass requires minimal lawn care apart from frequent mowing. It also grows and repairs quickly.
Effectiveness – the extent to which objectives are met. The objective is to have quality playing fields. This is important for the development of football talent, especially when instilling basics such as ball control and passing. Good pitches also reduce the risk of injury especially during the formative years of bone and muscle development.
In future articles or perhaps in another platform I hope to analyse actual infrastrategy projects, which can then be used as blueprints for similar projects.
*Actually when I started writing this article I honestly thought I had invented a new word, but Google disappointed me! In this context infrastrategy is portmanteau of the words “infrastructure” and “strategy”.