Kenya Rugby League Federation chairman Quicks Nyakwaka has revealed what doomed Masaku Sevens.
In a tribute to Kenyan rugby coach Benjami Ayimba who passed away last Saturday, Nyakwaka pointed the finger at East African Breweries Limited (EABL) for the fall of what was a fast-rising rugby tournament.
The tournament that became the byword for merrymaking put Machakos town on the map for fan antics that included uninhibited drinking and partying throughout the action weekend.
So popular was the event that fans from the nearby Nairobi descended on the town bringing it to a standstill.
But in just three short years it was brought to a screeching halt, thanks to what Nyakwaka, one of the brains of the tournament with Ayimba, calls the “devious designs of an evil corporation”.
Despite its hedonistic flavour, Nyakwaka says the tournament was part of their plan to take rugby to the grassroots and he feels an injustice was committed by people who couldn’t care less about the growth of the sport.
The tournament was suspended by the authorities after a hypocritical public decried what they believed was the making of a latter day Sodom and Gomorrah.
Says Nyakwaka: “As we neared the end of our playing days, we jointly developed a vision to help develop rugby in Kenya and to help introduce the game to new regions and schools that didn’t have rugby yet.
“We helped to develop several teams, clinics and tournaments in Watamu at the Coast, Masaku, Kimathi Institute in Nyeri, Meru, Kitui, Bomet, the Eastlands of Nairobi, etc.
“In Machakos we made our mark and helped to develop the club and Masaku Sevens tournament, which grew quickly within three short years to become an international tournament with teams from different parts of the world.
“Ayimba worked very hard with me, to help this tournament become a success. Endless sleepless nights of non-stop designing and planning, plus looking for resources for the tournament. He was very reliable and completely dedicated and this made my work very easy.
“Never before had we seen a tournament with great impact in the community around it. The power of sports should never be underestimated.
“In 2014 we were hosting the third edition and moved from the Golf Club venue to the stadium in Machakos town to accommodate the growing number of fans.
“As the plans were progressing, we started getting into disagreements with EABL who had been part of the sponsors since the first edition.
“I had a meeting with Ayimba, and we calculated the amount of sponsorship we were getting from them, the profits they were making and the expenses we had to pay for the tournament, and well we were getting the short end of the stick, while we worked extremely hard to make the tournament a success.
“We then asked East Africa Breweries to increase the amount of sponsorship, since with increased teams and fans , the tournament expenses had also ballooned.
“They refused to increase the amount and we had to go back to the drawing board. Benja was very upset with this attitude from EABL. He complained bitterly to me during this time late into the night, how EABL behaviour was a mirror of the bad habits of our culture in Kenya.
“In subsequent meetings with EABL , we told them that with the amount they were offering, they couldn’t be the sole beer brand sponsor for Masaku Sevens.
“Well a certain hubris had engulfed the managers at EABL and they arrogantly told us that they won’t be the sole beer brand and dared us to go ahead and include other beer brands from other outfits.
“That night I had a meeting with Benja at Railways Club in Nairobi and on this day he removed his “arrogance” from the archives and placed it on the table and I loved it!
“I always loved it every time he displayed this arrogance… it gave me a big kick.
“We then made a resolution to approach Heineken to check in and well they did in a massive way. EABL were shocked that Heineken came into the show, and that they will be sharing the stage at Masaku! Ayimba relished this and we had a big drink to celebrate the “forced marriage” of Tusker and Heineken, it was brilliant.
“Both brands put their best feet forward in terms of the set-up of their brands and offers to the fans. This was actually very good and should be this way. Combine different beer brands at your tournaments and get a magical outcome. As were busy celebrating this feat, EABL managers apparently were not happy and had started developing an evil plan to punish us. We were surprised that actually when you become successful you can still get punished.
“EABL decided in their wisdom that they were going to host a concert at the Machakos Golf Club on the same Saturday evening that we were hosting our rugby at the stadium. Two big events at the same time in a small town? We all knew immediately what chaos this was going to cause. We urged EABL not to progress with this “evil plan”, but they arrogantly sent information that they were hosting the parallel event to ‘teach us a lesson’.”
“So a few days before the tournament Ayimba and I sat down and calculated the chaos that was coming our way. We advised the county government not to allow the EABL event as it was going to “collapse” the town , but no one listened to us.
We then quietly advised the rugby teams to all arrive earlier than usual, cause we knew the traffic jam was going to be grid-locked. In the 30 years of our friendship I had never seen Benja so annoyed like he was on this day.
“He was upset and sad at the same time, that all our hard work, efforts, sacrifices and investments for three years, was going to be destroyed by the arrogance of EABL. Well we all know how it turned out on the day of the tournament.
“EABL Killed Masuku 7s International tournament! Period.”