Category: Sport

Our World is Round

Our World is Round is a short film by Kenyan filmmaker and artist Mũchiri Njenga about the country’s star cyclist, David Kinjah. It chronicles how Kinja discovered the sport and turned it into a professional career. Kinjah’s efforts to transform the lives of the people in his village through the power of the bike is inspirational, and has resulted in an initiative called the Safari Simbaz Trust. The organisation gives underprivileged youth in Kenya the opportunity to develop their athletic prowess.



Blessed with the running gene

They call them the sub-seventies: those few people on earth that can run a half marathon (21 kms) in less than 70 minutes. Japhet Kiplagat is a sub-seventy and a friend of mine.

His last half-marathon time on the international circuit was 62 minutes 11 seconds, his personal best, and it took him to the winner’s podium in last year’s Spark Marathon in the Netherlands.

In the recent Nairobi Marathon, Japhet took eleventh place, running among some of the best in the world. In the 1500m trials for the London Olympics, Japhet came fourth, but failed to achieve a qualifying time. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’m a marathon runner!”

Japhet is 29 years old, so the time to make his name on the international scene is running out. He laments the fact that Kenya’s government supports only the very best and he knows he could be among them if he didn’t have to hustle a living every day from friends and willing supporters. It detracts from his ability to take running as a serious career.

Japhet lives in a modest house, on a very modest budget, at the top of the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi. Here, the altitude ensures that the air is thin and lungs have to strain beyond what they would at sea level in London, Boston and New York marathons. Japhet is among the “elites” for the Vancouver Marathon in May 2013 and has set his sights on gold. To achieve it, he aims to become a sub-sixty.

Japhet doing what he does best: running.
Japhet’s rigorous training schedule begins at 6am every morning. (Brian Rath)

Japhet’s next-door neighbour is a marathon runner and so is Maureen, who lives in the house behind his. Maureen is running in Paris in the spring. Their training regimen has them up at 6am and back in the house by 8am, following a rigorous schedule of stretching, running, stretching and running. If they can make the time, they do it again in the evening.

They are all from Kenya’s Kalenjin community, reputed to have the ‘running gene’ that is shared by the best of Kenya’s long distance runners. The Kalenjin are notable for their very dark complexions, slim build and long limbs. Japhet is 6 feet 2 inches tall and his legs seem to make up two-thirds of his body, ending in an ever-present pair of Nike trainers.

Ngong is their training ground, but ‘home’ to Japhet is a small village at the top of Morop Hill, one of the highest points at the edge of the Rift Valley. I was invited to join Japhet and a few of his friends for Christmas. On our way up to the heights, Japhet excused himself from our entourage at Nakuru, still in the southern part of the great Rift. Japhet stayed overnight in Nakuru while we soldiered on up the heights.

He had arranged an appointment with Curtis Pittman, an American marathon trainer who has been funded to train Kenyan runners. They met, and Japhet came beaming up the hills for Christmas, bearing news that Curtis agreed to take him on for 2013.

That Japhet is aiming for greatness is obvious, and, despite the distance, there’s a very good chance he’ll get there. Running is Japhet’s life, and Japhet can run.

Brian Rath was born and raised in Cape Town. He now lives and writes in Kenya, and has a novel due to be published shortly.

King of fong kong football

In my wildest dreams I never thought I would own a soccer team. But here I am at 29, possibly the world’s youngest team owner. And the most stressed in Botswana, if not the world. It’s no joke to run a team. Ask Jomo Sono, Patrice Motsepe and Roman Abramovich.

Of course I’m still waiting to become as rich and powerful as they are. My team is just a social soccer side playing in an informal league known round these parts as the “Sunday Times” because of when we play.

The Sunday Times “league” has taken Botswana by storm. Matches are organised mostly by word of mouth and the teams include a few old men, but the bulk are wild and badly behaved youngsters — some as young as 15.

My team — Industrial Super Stars, so named after the scrapyard area in Itekeng where the majority of our players live — is made up of disgruntled and uncontrollable alcoholics without any soccer skills to boast about. My bunch was rejected by other Sunday Times soccer clubs.

In my quest to be Motsepe, I took the opportunity to name and organise the team. But finding them before a match is more complicated, especially at the end of the month. After payday, the team owner has to endure moving from one drinking hole to another in search of his players.

One of the unique things about the Sunday Times soccer league is that the usual football rules and regulations are relaxed. So relaxed, most of them don’t apply. A player can be substituted and come back into play later, as many times as he likes. A referee might smoke a cigarette during the game. The referee can also be substituted if one team feels he is biased in favour of the opponents. When this happens, the ref is likely to express his disgust at the decision by donning the kit of the team that stood by him when he was subjected to insults.

Alcohol and dagga abound and the players use them with abandon. Because most players are unemployed — especially in my team — pints of Chibuku, a traditional brew, are a regular feature at the games.

These players don’t care if team “owners” and officials such as me are present when they take their dagga. They are very uncouth. They spew venom. They don’t want to be shouted at like professional coaches shout at their players. They threaten to decamp to another side and there are plenty to choose from at the bottom of the league barrel.

In the worst scenario they threaten to form their own team that will be run and controlled by them without being subjected to civil behaviour lectures. The most foul-mouthed will tell you to your face that you don’t own them and that just because you occasionally buy them pints of Chibuku, this doesn’t make you better than them.

I have been told to go and write shit in the papers whenever I called some of my players to order. “Just because you write for newspapers doesn’t mean you can lecture to us about good behaviour,” I have been told countless times.

It is a bit unfair because other football team owners, such as Sono, Motsepe and Abramovich, are not subjected to this treatment. By the same token, just because my bank balance hovers close to zero most of the time, it doesn’t mean I should be subjected to this sort of treatment, I mutter to myself.

Although I’m not given the respect that I deserve, the team is happy to use the water in my house to wash the kit. I’m also the custodian of the kit, which is a raw deal. Come half time nobody listens to the coach. They don’t want team talk. They just want alcohol and that foul-smelling green stuff.

One of the Industrial Super Stars officials is my younger brother. One recent Sunday we Mosikares were accused of having hijacked the team.

Drunken debates ensued. I came up with the idea of forming a rival team to the neighbouring Itekeng Soccer Club when I realised that the majority of my present players were not being given a chance to prove themselves.

To explain the set-up for a South African audience, let’s put it this way: if Industrial Super Stars were a political party it would be Cope; Itekeng Soccer Club would be the ANC.

My breakaway plan was hatched in the middle of the month when I did not have money to buy a team kit. So one of my cousins — among those now accusing me and my brother of hijacking control — went and bought the kit at one of the Chinese shops in town. It is a “fong kong” kit costing less than P200 (about R250).

I wanted to refund him so that I could be left to run my Industrial Super Stars the way I liked, but he refused. My cousin can be difficult to deal with. On the field he will agree to be substituted only when he wants to smoke a cigarette.

In our way my team is like a close-knit family. And like all families, we bicker. It’s just as well we hardly ever win any matches — when we do, the boys drink until they drop.

Oarabile Mosikare is a reporter for Mmegi and Monitor newspapers. He lives in Francistown, Botswana. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper.