NAIROBI, Kenya- Weary-eyed Kenyans who stayed up through most of Sunday night to follow the barnstorming run of their cherished national rugby sevens team Shujaa paid glowing tributes to their success at the six leg of the 2018/17 HSBC World Sevens Series throughout Monday.
Shujaa eventually succumbed to Fiji 32-12 in the Main Cup final of the Canada 7s but that did little to dampen the joy as #Kenya7s, #Shujaa and #OscarOuma hashtags trended on Twitter and Facebook as the high and mighty joined ordinary Kenyans to pay homage to the best performance thus far this season.
In another telling sign of the newfound working unity, the country’s main leaders; President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief; former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, led the online tributes marking the first time anyone can remember their social media accounts fired off congratulatory messages for a sporting achievement almost simultaneously.
“Well done @KenyaSevens for the confident and gallant performance at the #Canada7s tournament. You have, once again, made us proud by flying the #MagicalKenya flag high and for reaffirming our profile in global 7s rugby. Hongera! #Kenya7s,” the Head of State who had earlier wished them well after they beat USA to make the final posted in his personal Twitter handle, @UKenyatta to his 3.03 million followers.
“Congratulations #Kenya7s. We are all proud of your exemplary performance #Vancouver7s #Canada7s #ShujaaPride,” Raila wrote on the same platform to his devoted following of 1.77m.
“Congratulations to Shujaa for finishing runners up at the World Rugby Sevens in Vancouver. We take immense pride in your exploits and brilliant performance. #Canada7s,” Deputy President, William Samoei Ruto weighed in.
Innocent ‘Namcos’ Simiyu and his brave men thus proved that sports can be a catalyst of forging unity in a nation still coming around from deep divisions caused by a prolonged electioneering period last year.
It was reminiscent of the performance of the Kenyan track and field team to the Beijing 2008 Olympics that galvanised a nation after a dark period during and after the disputed 2007 General Election that sparked the infamous Post-Election Violence that cost the lives of between 800-1500.
On Friday, President Kenyatta and opposition boss, Raila, announced a surprise working agreement that echoes the Grand Coalition pact signed by retired President Mwai Kibaki and the latter in 2008 that created the position of Prime Minister and quelled the atrocities of the disputed polls.
Shujaa’s storming run to the Main Cup finals for the first time this season, having missed the semis in four out of the five time they have made out of the group phase could not have come at a better time to lift the spirits of the nation.
Not keen to be left behind, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Sports and National Heritage, Rashid Echesa Mohammed and the Leader of Majority in the Senate, Kipchumba Murkomen were among the hordes of Government and political leaders who hailed Shujaa.
“Congratulations to @OumaOscar and @cinjera for making the #Vancouver7s Dream Team! The Potential in Our Sports is too immense to be ignored. Hongera. The World Must Know.
“Hongera @KenyaSevens Winning Silver @WorldRugby7s #Canada7s and Reaching the Finals. #Kenya7s. Congratulations Heroes,” Echesa proclaimed in two tweets.
“Our #Kenya7s has done it again. Very proud of you for winning silver against all odds at #Vancouver7s. Always flying our national flag high. @KenyaSevens @WorldRugby7s,” Murkomen added.
“Congratulations #Kenya7s for the exemplary performance. You’ve made us all proud. Indeed, when we work together great things happen,” industrialist and media owner, Dr. Chris Kirubi stated.
Nairobi County Governor, Mike Sonko offered; “Well done @kenya_7s for finishing second in the World Rugby Sevens series in #Vancouver7s, #Canada.”
As leading lights scrambled to claim a piece of the country’s best performance at the global rugby sevens circuit since winning the Singapore 7s in the 2015/16 season where they stunned Fiji 30-7 in the final, social media users were keen on offering a sobering perspective of the past and current status of Shujaa.
“A few years back, certain teams would refuse to train or share changing rooms with #Kenya7s. They felt that they were above us. Fiji is the one team that has always treated us as family. Win or lose they are our brothers and this picture is testament of that,” Kenya Rugby 24/7 tweeted.
“Who remembers the time when England 7s team refused to share a dressing room with #Kenya7s? Or the time when #Kenya7s had to borrow kits from Zimbabwe’s team coz (because) theirs delayed? Enyewe Mungu ametutoa mbali (God has brought us from far). Shujaa is special,” Leon Lidigu wrote.
Others cited the ironic fact the team that is eighth on the Series standings on 64 points after six rounds that has already surpassed their lowly total of 62 from last season, were playing in the circuit without a sponsor.
This is after leading bookmakers, SportPesa withdrew their partnership following the imposition of a 35 per cent tax on gaming revenues by the Government starting January this year.
“As per the contract, each #Kenya7s player should earn Ksh300,000 in bonuses for reaching #Vancouver7s cup final. However, there is no sponsor,” Eric Njiru lamented.
“Those in government that nearly caused the disbandment of the Kenya Rugby Sevens Team due to punitive tax laws that made sponsors cease financial support to #Kenya7s… are now sending congratulatory messages to the team in Canada,” television sports journalist, Sadiqque Shaban wondered.
The teams returns home on Tuesday night at 9:50pm local time (+3GMT) to prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and the seventh leg of the Series in Hong Kong, having served a notice of intent to their big rivals in the shorter version of the game.