Republished from www.gosports.com.my
Sylvia Knight Okuku wants to see equal chances for the women as the game of kabaddi grows in Kenya.
“The men are given more chances in the sports. Most internationals and leagues are only for women and we need more chances,” Sylvia, who plays for the Tak Kabaddi Club in Nairobi.
The 29-year-old picked up the game in 2012 and has been a regular in the local kabaddi scene ever since.
“Most of the Kenyan women players have given up because of the lack of international competitions. They practice very hard but when there are no competitions they get disappointed,” said Sylvia.
Indeed, very few international tournaments for women are held outside of Asia due to sponsorship constraints. It is only in recent years that kabaddi has gained stronger footing in Africa and like in most regions outside Asia. And almost always it is the men’s development that gets first priority.
Kabaddi is now played in numerous countries in Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, Mauritius, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Cameroon.
The Kenyan women were expected to play at last year’s World Cup in Melaka but were forced to pull out at the last minute due to lack of sponsorship.
“More consideration must be given to give women equal footing at the international level,” said Sylvia, who hails from Busia.
Sylvia said that the biggest challenge for kabaddi or any other sports in Kenya was funding.
“We sacrifice as much as we can to play kabaddi, but most end up giving up because at the end of the day we need to eat and pay our bills. There are not enough tournaments and to spread the game nationwide we don’t have the funds. We need a strong sports leadership to get this forward,” she said.
Sylvia gave up football to pursue a game that even her family members frowned upon initially. She had played football in the Kenyan Women Premier League.
“Not much success at all from football. I just played it because I love sports and I had no other choice and that is why when kabaddi was introduced I dropped football,” said Sylvia.
In fact she was first scouted by Kenyan kabaddi administrator Matthew Mwangi to play kabaddi right at the football pitch.
“He introduced kabaddi to us and it was hard at the beginning. But after a few weeks it became more interesting,” she admitted.
Sylvia added that many of her friends also picked up kabaddi and were all good players now. But, it was still a rocky start for Sylvia.
“My family didn’t understand the game at first especially my big brother. He is also football player and he was sad that I left football for kabaddi. But after sometimes he also learned the game and was interested to play kabaddi as well. He was my number one fan and does not miss any of my game,” recalled Sylvia.
Like Sylvia, her brother Boniface Wandera has also given up football.
“The money earned from football is small and it was enough to sustain the family. He does not play any sport now,” lamented Sylvia.
Sylvia works as a Makanga (public vehicle conductor/tout), and trains and plays kabaddi over the weekends.
“For those two days off, I lose income. But it is a sacrifice I have to make for the love of the game,” said Sylvia, who admitted that it was the same for her other teammates.
She added that the Kenyan Chair of women’s kabaddi, Ms Perpetual Mbutu has been fighting hard for the women player’s welfare and that has kept players like her continuing in the game.
“Coach Simon Kibura has been very influential for the women players too. Because of him, I am still in the game. He is my role model and he encourages us all the time,” said Sylvia, who represented Kenya at the World Circle kabaddi championships in Punjab in 2013.
She added that playing in the tournament was a turning point in her view of the game.
“In the games that I participated at home in Kenya, I felt like that I was an ambassador for the game. Because we helped to spread the game to those who don’t know about it and they took it positively,” said Sylvia.
She added that while she took up the game because it captured her imagination, she never dreamt that she would be able to represent Kenya in the sport.
“It was just a small game like any other sport and it was unknown in my country, We also picked it in a slow motion manner. I never knew I will play international games,” said Sylvia.
She also hoped that the game would spread its wing beyond Nairobi.
“My friends in other sides of Kenya are also eager for the chance to participate in kabaddi but they can’t because the game is only popular in Nairobi. I feel lucky to be playing this game it is a good experience,” she added.
She added that kabaddi has the potential for rapid growth in Kenya as it was an easy game to take up.
“It is an easy game to play and it brings all communities together. The more players practice, the more they learn,” said Sylvia.
While she had represented Kenya in the circle style kabaddi, Sylvia still hopes to be able to represent her team in the national (Asian Style) format.
Kabaddi is played in three formats – Asian Style, Circle Style and Beach Kabaddi.
But for now she is still hoping for the Kenyan women to be given the much needed break.