Very soon, the real effects of the coronavirus pandemic will dock in our sports shores.
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Already, athletes have lost millions of shillings in anticipated performance income through the cancellation of hundreds of road races and other competitions globally.
Principally, this will require a richer and more vibrant domestic calendar that would ensure our athletes eke out a living from local competitions.
There could be no better lessons on resilience and self-reliance for Kenyan sport to learn from than Qatar’s experience since the economic blockade by its neighbours.
On June 5, 2017, Qatar’s neighbours – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – severed all diplomatic ties with Doha, accusing Qatar of “fermenting regional instability and aiding terrorism.”
The embargo, that saw the cutting of Qatar off of all land, sea and air links by the quartet, meant Doha had to seek alternative means for survival as they erstwhile relied heavily on their neighbours for produce.
In the short term, it meant Qatar’s emir (ruler), Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had to dispatch his foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani on a charm offensive with Iran and Turkey turning into close allies.
But, for the long-term, Doha had to inject measures that would make them self-reliant as efforts by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in mediation bore no fruit.
“With Qatar Airways struggling to handle the travel restrictions and grocery stores fast running out of supplies, the spirit of nationalism and support for the emir galvanized a sense on national identity,” Doha-based Al Jazeera network narrated.
Qatar firmly refused to cede ground and would not cave in to the 13 demands by their neighbours, that included the closing down of Al Jazeera, shutting down of the Turkish military bases and scaling down of Doha’s diplomatic ties with Tehran.
Doha immediately injected over $40 billion into the local economy within the first two months of the blockade, with Qatar having to critically re-examine its independence and long-term sustainability.
Qatari deserts were transformed into farmlands and a fully-fledged dairy industry was established, with thousands of Holstein cows flown in for good measure.
Visa restrictions were also relaxed and laws requiring non-Qatari businesses to have local majority shareholding changed to allow unfettered foreign direct investment in all sectors except banking, insurance and finance.
Today, Doha-based Baladna, one of the largest cattle farms in the region with 1,650 employees, holds up to 24,000 cows and satisfies 95 percent of local milk and dairy product demand.
Also, greenhouses producing lettuce, mint, eggplant and tomatoes have augmented Qatar’s local food security solutions.
“Qatar is now meeting 30 percent of its requirements for vegetables, and if we can get full support from the government, we can make that 80 percent within three years,” Fahd bin Salah, a Qatari agronomist whose farm spans 74 acres, told Washington Times last month.
Qatar used to rely on imports for 90 percent of its food, but now, the vibrant Gulf nation is fast heading towards total self-reliance, with its Gross Domestic Product expected to grow from 1.6 percent in the year the blockade was effected in 2017 to 2.9 percent between 2021 and 2022.
Doha will rely on its natural gas, infrastructure projects, foreign investment and the 2022 Fifa World Cup to realise this growth, with the global sports industry growth, initially projected at $614 billion by 2022, expected to take a beating from pressure piled on by the coronavirus outbreak.
Remember, it is during this period of the blockade that, against all odds, Doha successfully hosted last year’s World Athletics Championships.
The moral of the story is we must throw into motion systems that will make Kenyan sport not too dependent on foreign schedules.
For instance, a well-paying domestic track and field series will allow our athletes earn regular, good income from the local calendar.
The same applies to other sporting codes that must run their leagues and competitions professionally and interact more with sponsors to grow their prize purses.
It’s gratifying to see the steps the Eldoret City Marathon, still in its infancy, has taken to increase its prize money and make it the richest race locally.
With men’s and women’s winners earning Sh3.5 million each, the Eldoret City Marathon – the brainchild of marathon legend Moses Tanui – is motoring in the right direction.
The arrival of the Golazo Diamond Run 10-kilometre road race series is another welcome addition to the domestic running calendar.
If we had 10 marathons similar to the Eldoret City Marathon locally, then our world beating runners wouldn’t be flying to Asia and Europe that frequently to put bread on the table.
And they would be adequately cushioned against such unexpected global disasters as that which the coronavirus has visited on us.
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