Kenya 7s, affectionately known as Shujaa, has been relegated from the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Core Status, marking the end of their two-decade tenure in the top tier. The team’s demotion has sparked strong reactions from aggrieved fans who expressed their disappointment on social media.
The London 7s play-off final at Twickenham sealed Kenya’s fate, as they suffered a narrow 12-7 defeat to Canada. Initially holding a lead from a converted try by Nelson Oyoo, Shujaa’s hopes were dashed by Alex Russell’s late try and a subsequent penalty advantage that secured Canada the final spot in the restructured 12-team World Series for the 2023-2024 season. This marks the first time since the 2004-2005 season that Kenya has been eliminated from the competition after earning Core Status.
The relegation has led to a flood of frustration on social media platforms from former players, rugby groups, and supporters. Many are calling for a comprehensive overhaul of the structure of Kenya Rugby Union (KRU) leagues and competitions. Suggestions include merging lower-tier clubs to form stronger teams and more competitive leagues, investing in a Kenya 7s academy, and putting players on contracts.
Dennis Mwanja, a member of the original Kenya 7s team from 2004-2007, expressed his disappointment on Twitter, reminiscing about how they elevated Kenya to core status 19 years ago. Mwanja and other pioneers of the World Series helped spread 7s rugby across the country, ultimately establishing Shujaa as a global circuit contender.
The demotion coincided with the second anniversary of the passing of former head coach Benjamin Ayimba, who played a pivotal role in Kenya’s success. Ayimba led the team to victory in the Singapore 7s in 2016 and guided them to two Rugby World Cup semifinals. His passing in 2021 added a somber note to the team’s recent setback.
Despite the prevailing sense of despair, there remains hope that Kenya 7s can regain Core Status through a comprehensive overhaul of the team and the sport in Kenya. The focus now shifts to the Africa qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Olympics and a promotion campaign in the second-tier Challenge Series.
The decline of Shujaa since their Singapore 7s victory has been attributed to factors such as a lack of sponsorship and persistent management disputes within KRU. The recent election of Sasha Mutai as Union chair, although coming too late to save Shujaa’s Core Status, presents an opportunity for the newly appointed local rugby chief to address the challenges and lead the way forward.
While the disappointment lingers, it is clear that Kenya 7s is determined to bounce back stronger. With hard work and potential structural changes, the team aims to reclaim their status in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and continue their journey in the world of rugby.