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What is the role of sports in Kenyan society?

Feb 23, 2017 | 0 comments

Feb 23, 2017 | Essays | 0 comments

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  1. Introduction

Kenya sports are comparable to the culture in Kenya and are very old as like the origin of the mankind. According to Hall (221), different traditional and indigenous sports have been in existence in Kenya as a way of life or as cultural elements since the mankind history. Some of the indigenes sporting activities that have been in existence, in Kenya, and is still prevalent since antiquity include wrestling, stick fights, racing exercises, hunting using arrows and spears, bull fights, board games and dances among others. The British who colonized Kenya also is credited for introducing some of the modern sports that are seen in the country. The British colonialists and the Asian contractors formed some of the professional teams that were seen in the sports clubs before the formation of the formal schools. Mählmann, Asembo and Korir (102-107) observed that the introduction of sports to the schools started as early as 1925, and it was superimposed in physical education syllabi or the extracurricular activities. Furthermore, Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2005 on Sports Development (21) pointed out that athletics which formed the track and field events and football were the first sports in Kenya to be organized professionally. Many sports in Kenya are nowadays popular and are played both leisurely or professionally. Amongst the popular sports in Kenya include athletics, football, rugby, motor sports, basketball, volleyball, swimming, netball, handball, baseball, rounder, softball, martial arts. Bicycling, racket games such as a tennis ball, squash and badminton, canoeing, golf, board games such as chess, horse riding, goal ball, water polo, wrestling, weight lifting. Roller sports, archery and mountain sports. Kenya is known globally for her dominance in long distance and middle distance races and in recently in rugby and swimming (Achola, 128). The article will discuss the role of sports in the Kenyan society because of the roles sports play to unite the multiethnic tribes in Kenya, the prowess Kenya shows in different sports globally, and the economic growth the sports bring to the country of Kenya.

  1. Geography of the Kenyan sports

The Kenyan sports are equally distributed in the whole country. The common phenomena are that particular regions and economic social classes are identified with particular sports. This section will briefly discuss the particular regions, the popular sports in the regions and the reasons behind the popularity in the region in Kenya.

  1. Athletics (field and track events)

Athletics together with football are some of the modern sports in Kenya that were organized formally. According to Michener (36), Kenya has produced regularly participants in the commonwealth and Olympic Games champions in different long distance and middle distance races in 10,000m, 5000m, 3000m steeplechase, 1500m and 800m and the marathons. The Kalenjin community found in the rift valley region, in Kenya, produces most of the Kenyan athletes, and they continue to show dominance in the world distance running sports. Parker (223) pointed out that despite the dominance in the global arena in athletics, Kenya faces stiff completion from countries like Ethiopia and morocco and this has challenged the Kenyan supremacy. Some of the best known and notable Kenyan athletes include a two time woman world champion and four time Boston marathon women’s champion Catherine Ndereba, former world record marathon holder Paul Tergat, two time world champion in 800 m David Rudisha and three time world champion in 300m steeple chase Ezekiel Kemboi among others (Hall, 102). The explanation to the impressive performance of the Kenyan runners in the long distance races has always lacked explanation and even eluded the individuals who are curious. Some hypothesize that it is the weather, diet or even the structure of their bones. The popularity of the Kenyan athletics and dominance in the Rift Valley parts of the country is attributed to the genes of the kalenjin community, they way of lifestyle which encourage walking and running for longer distances, and the geographical terrain of the area which is mountainous, hilly and full of valleys (Mählmann, Asembo and Korir, 102-107).

  1. Cross country

The Kenyan athletes have also shown dominance the IAAF world cross country competitions for those three decades, facing up with Ethiopia who has also showed dominance for the past two decades. Kenya has won 24 world cross-country championships with 18 consecutively. This has elevated the social status and the economic value of the country in the global sports arena (Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2005 on Sports Development, 42).

  • Marathon

Accordig to Achola (335)Kenyan athletes have participated and also showed dominance in world marathon and won most of them in New York, Boston, Berlin, London, Tokyo and Chicago.

  1. Soccer or football

Soccer is the most popular sport in Kenya which drives and attracts most of the spectators. Kenya’s dominance in the football was notable, but it has been reduced because of the recent wrangles within the Federation of the Kenyan Football. The football is mostly a popular sport in most parts of the country, and this is evidenced by preoccupation of the locals in football across the country in different tournaments; furthermore, the school extracurricular activities has football as one of the competitive sports among different regional schools in a locality. Michener (162) observed that the football dominance in Kenya is also seen from the community football clubs in the country such as the Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Bandari FC, Sofapaka and Ulinzi stars associated with the military. The introduction, nurture and embrace soccer, has from the primary school level can explain its popularity in Kenya.

  1. Rugby

Rugby is also another sport gaining popularity in Kenya especially with the safari sevens tournament that is held annually. In the IRB sevens World Series, Kenya team was ranked at position seven in 2006 (Parker, 85). This sport is popular in major towns, in Kenya such as Nairobi and Kisumu, and was associated with the urban population. However, the introduction of rugby in high schools and other institutions of higher learning have made to gain popularity nationwide.

  1. volleyball

Hall (117) pointed out that Kenya has dominated and showed prowess, in the in ladies volleyball in East Africa and Africa as a whole. The ladies volley clubs and the national team have won various championships including the regional and continental in the past decade. However, theory completion in the world stage has not borne any fruits. Volleyball is also part of the extracurricular sports in primary schools, high schools, and institutions of higher learning.

  • Cricket

Cricket is another successful and popular sport in Kenya. The Kenyan team has competed in the cricket world cup for the past decade. In 2003, the Kenya cricket team showed her prowess by disappointing best teams in the world and reached semi finals. However, the Kenyan cricket team is associated with the Asian community in Kenya and is considered one of the elite sports sin the country (Mählmann, Asembo and Korir, 102-107).

  • Motor sports

In Kenya, the motors sports is governed and administered by the Kenya motor sports federation. The body is affiliated to different global motor sports bodies. Rallying was the fists motor sport that was professional Kenya. The east African safari rally has been in existence since 1953(Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2005 on Sports Development, 28). Some of the notable legends in motor sports as observed by Achola (192) include Ian Duncan, Shekhar Mehta, Joginder Singh, and Patrick Njiru among others. Motor sports are also considered one of the elite sports in the country but gains many spectators across the country

Motor cross is also another motor sports in the country with six categories. Other motor sports include Enduros, Autocross, Grand Prix Karting and Cross Country which Kenya has participated in the continental and global level. The motor sports are considered elite sports because its mains participants are the Asian community, the whites and the elite Africans. Furthermore, it is not wide spread throughout the country but done in specific areas (Michener, 56).

  1. Water sports

Kenya is a dominant force in the international arena, in swimming sports, especially the individual sports. Other water sports include canoeing, rowing and sailing. Rowing which was founded during the colonial era in Kenya, in Mombasa. The rowing sport is linked to the Mombasa rowing club which also functions as a rowing club. The competitions include the Kenya navy and also the British navy (Parker, 264). The Kenyan rowing team has also participated in African rowing championships, in South Africa. The rowing sports are found along the coastal line because of the vast Indian Ocean at their disposal. It is important to note that the rowing sports are mostly participated by the Kenya navy with no local participants. This is because of lack of modern rowing equipments, land disputed with between the club and the locals and lack of popularity in the world stage (Hall, 142).

  1. Shooting sports

According to Achola (121), the available shooting sports in Kenya include target shooting and archery. Keya has also participated in shooting sports worldwide with many interruptions but the sport has remained one of the minority sports. The sport is also participated by both kea Africana s and the Asians. Its unpopularity is attributed to lack of clubs, underfunding, lack of coaches’ and firearms laws that are outdated

  1. Martial arts

Mählmann, Asembo and Korir (102-107) observed that in Kenya, the sport of martial arts encompasses kick boxing, boxing, karate, judo ad taekwondo. Kick boxing and boxing have gained fame in Kenya since 1990s. Kenyan kick boxing team has been a champion in the region of east Africa for many years and also participated in the international championships. Because the sport has seen Kenya wining many gold medals, the sport has raised the social status of Kenya in the region and continent. The sport is mostly popular in the urban areas because it is not well established in the rural and remote areas.

Similarly, karate in Kenya has embraced the art and is growing rapidly in most parts of the country. Recently Kenya has seen the introduction of Matsubayashi karate style and has been embraced by the jobless ghetto youths. The sport is mostly popular in the ghetto and slum areas of the urban towns because karate helps in self development, community service and self defense (Michener, 129).

  • Mountain Sports

Kenya has many mountains like Mount Kenya, mount Longonot, and Mount Elgon among others. Mountain sports according to Parker (223), it is one of the newest sports in the country and is a combination of sport related team challenge and individual challenges including abseiling, mountain climbing, high ropes course and distance running which are all done in the jungle. The sport is most done around Mount Kenya region because of the existence of Mount Kenya school of adventure and leadership which deals with outdoor pursuits. Similarly, the sport is gaining acceptance in other mountain regions such as Naivasha,

  • Individual Sports

The individual sports in Kenya include cycling, fencing, floor skating, gymnastics, wrestling and roller sports. Most of the individual sports athletes do it for leisure as there is no advanced association for worldwide or regional competition. However, skating has of late started getting popularity in most urban areas and has established governing body (Hall, 114).


  1. The Economic, Social, Cultural and Political Role of Sports in Kenyan Society


  1. Economic role

Several Kenyan companies have also invested in the Kenyan football teams like the Mumias sugar company which sponsors AFC leopards, Tuzo milk company sponsors Gor Mahia , East African Breweries limited which sponsors tusker FC and Sony sugar which sponsors sony sugar FC. These sponsorships raise the economic level of the players, teams, companies and the Kenya at large (Mählmann, Asembo and Korir, 102-107).

Economic status of the country is also seen when some of the players go abroad to play for the European football clubs. The Kenyan government is paid some tax by the host clubs, the local clubs are paid some money and the players rewarded accordingly. This is economic growth to the Kenya at large.

Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2005 on Sports Development (19) pointed out that when the local matches are played in the stadiums, gate fee are always collected and these are used to boost the functions of the football clubs. With the stadiums capacities of 60,000 people and gate charges per person ranges from $4 to 6$, this brings a large amount of money to the country.

The Kenyan long distance athletes are also taxed by the government on their millions of dollars earned from the races. This improves the economy of the country.

The fact that sports has an effect on the population’s health shows that it is the most important ways of efficiency of other non sports activities. Achola (249) pointed out that the preparatory sport work require a considerable amount of mastery and preparatory of certain sporting fields, social experience for it to obtain concrete results significantly which are assessed by the society positively.

In the Kenyan society, it has been noted that there in an ever rising sports popularity. Michener (342) observed that sport also serves as a fertile ground for the successful development and growth of relations between people and nations.

Soccer which is very popular in Kenya drives people nuts in Kenya. Football crosses remarkably both class lines and ethic groupings. The streets and roads are always empty during the world cup when many millions of Kenyan’s watch football in their TVs

  • Cultural roles

Sports and other physical activities are social values that form a significant component of the human culture. Parker (171) explained that the use of physical training in labor processes perfection many years ago shows that the ancient man engaged in sports and physical training. .in the Kenyan society, all social activities that are value related and their positive results satisfy some of the societal needs and represent the integral components of the national general culture of the whole mankind.

Kenyans tribes are always associated with specific sports and this promotes their culture. They feel proud when one of their own excels in certain sports. This is notable when the kalenjin tribe with their elders welcomes their community members from international athletics with spur milk associated with the tribe at the airports (Hall, 397).

Similarly, bull fighting associated with the Luhya community brings the community together and promotes cultural cohesion during such events.

Sports tourism is also gaining momentum in Kenya in sports like football and hiking. Golf, water sports such as snorkeling, fishing, dhow races and cricket has also seen an influx of the international population joining it. This brings economic gain. This brings social interaction and cultural exchange (Mählmann, Asembo and Korir, 102-107).

  1. Political roles

Sports in Kenya are also associated with politics in Kenya. It is common to see politicians attending the local club match which has a large fan base to drum their political ambitions. Some of the notable politicians include the Nairobi senator, the former prime minister, members of parliament and cabinet secretaries.

Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2005 on Sports Development (76) outlined that politics is always also seen when politicians sponsor local tournaments and sports festivals to drum up their support among different age groups. These meetings forms avenues for sporting and cultural meeting

  1. The future of sports in Kenya and comparative discussion of the role of sports in Kenyan and American society

According to Achola (392), the future of Kenyan sports is bright basing from the past events and glories. With the internationalization of their football and other sports, Kenya will be another sports hub in Africa. Furthermore, because of their prowess in long distance athletics which is unchallengeable, Kenya might remain at the helm for many years to come; influx of sponsors will also boost sports and also open up other sporting opportunities. Moreover, the establishment of talent identification centers, and research centre in Kenyatta University, this may advance sports in Kenya and even technologies it in the near future.

Comparing sports and USA brings about some similarity and differences. In US, most of their athletes participate in field events compared to track events which Kenya dominates. This as Michener (236) suggested may be attributed to the physical body, genes and the physical geography of the athletes. USA also perform impressively in short races compared in Kenya which performs well in long distance races

Another difference is that USA is much advanced in elite sports such as heptathlon, hummer, cricket, archery whereas some of these sports has not been introduced in Kenya. The technological advancement in sports is high with many advanced sports facilities compared to Kenya. USA has also had cases of doping and use of drugs to enhance performance unlike Kenya (Parker, 271).

Some of the similarities between these two countries as elaborated by Hall (170) include good performance in Olympic Games where both countries win medals. Both countries also has a large fan base of the spectators who watch their games and this increase their GDP.

According to Mählmann, Asembo and Korir (102-107), both countries also get sponsors from large companies who sponsor their sports and this helps in elevation of the economic status of their athletes both locally and internationally.

  1. Conclusion

In conclusion, Kenya has impressive performance in sports I various field and this has been shown in different fields. Technically, All parts or the country is sporty and all also along the class lines. Sports in Kenya bring economical gain, social interaction, cultural interaction and political advancement. Kenya sports and sports in United States have some similarities and differences. Despite the technological advancement in United States of America, Kenya is a sports hub to reckon for many years to come.


Work cited

Achola, Hesbon O. Koch Life: Community Sports in the Slum. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2006. Print.

Hall, Sydney O. The Role of Physical Education and Sport in the Nation-Building Process in Kenya. , 1973. Print.

Mählmann, Peter, J.M Asembo, and M . Korir. “A Target-Oriented Analysis of Sports in Kenya.” Journal of Eastern African Research and Development. 24 (1994): 102-117. Print.

Michener, James A. Sports in America. New York: Random House, 1976. Print.

Parker, Philip M. 2007-2012 World Outlook for Sports Watches, the. ICON Group, 2006. Internet resource.

Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2005 on Sports Development. Nairobi: Ministry of Gender, Sports, Culture, and Social Services, 2005. Print.

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