Rugby enthusiasts will from Friday throng the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi when the Safaricom Sevens kick off through to the weekend.
Everything has been put in place to ensure a great tournament. The Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) says nothing has been left to chance.
“This is one great opportunity to market our country as a sports tourism destination and also to improve the standards of the sport,” says chairman Mwangi Muthee.
KRU is slowly piling pressure on the International Rugby Board to include the Safaricom Sevens in one of its circuits and Muthee says only a good organisation can convince the IRB.
Ten teams have confirmed participation in the event among them Kenya, New Zealand (Samurai), Zambia, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa (Emerging Boks), France (Grenoble), British Army and the Bristol Barracudas.
Muthee says Safaricom Sevens is playing an important role in transforming Kenya into a sports tourism attraction centre.
“Of course we have the Safari Rally and the Kenya Open Golf. Safaricom Sevens is now one of the biggest foreign attraction sporting events being held in Kenya,” he said.
It may take years before the Safaricom Sevens matches the top IRB circuits in the world but Muthee says with improved organisation, media and corporate interest, the event may find its way to be among the top.
“We believe with continued growth of Safari Sevens and interest from stakeholders, it may become the richest annual sporting event in the country,” he says.
From what was started by a group of rugby enthusiasts, the status of tournament today confounds its critics. It is one of the biggest annual sporting event attracting more than 20,000 spectators with over Sh20 million in gate collection.
KRU decided to move the competition from its traditional Ngong Road grounds to Nyayo Stadium to attract more fans and boost revenue.
The success of the tournament, which started off as Tusker Safari Sevens and now Safaricom Sevens has seen the national team become one of the best in the world. The team reached the semi finals at the 2009 IRB World Cup.
Until the 1990s, Kenyan rugby was largely docile. At the time, fans would only look forward to tour of leading UK rugby clubs. In the 1980s, these teams included Pontypool, Swasea, Richmond, Dungannon and of course Public School Wanderers. But with the entry of professionalism in the early 90s, the tours dried up.
Frustrated by the lack of international rugby exposure, a group of EGORs (elderly gentlemen of rugby), while on tour, came up with the idea of bringing top rugby talent to Kenya as part of a sevens tournament.
And so the Safari Sevens was born. In 1996, the RFUEA grounds hosted the maiden tournament. Sixteen years on, the country is reaping its benefits.
“Safaricom Sevens is a perfect example of sports tourism,” says sports commissioner Gordon Oluoch.