February 25th 2018

Opinion / Commentaries

Unless we check corruption, Kenya's athletics prowess could soon be a thing of the past

More than 30 Kenyan-born athletes are lined up for races in Rio, with Turkey and Bahrain accounting for the highest numbers. The US, Israel and Bosnia have claimed a slice of glory, thanks to Kenya’s talent glut.

By Thomas Matalangatmatalanga@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 19 Aug 2016 10:40 EAT

ON THE TRACK: Chelimo (left) and Eunice Kirwa (second right) are among the Kenyan-born athletes who have switched their citizenship to Bahrain.

The high number of Kenyan-born track athletes turning out for their adopted countries at the Rio Olympics raises pertinent questions as to why this is happening. The state of the sport in the country has been under serious scrutiny. Doping allegations, corruption by officials at Athletics Kenya as well as substandard preparations for the most spectacular sporting event globally are just some of the many challenges the sport has been facing.

It is saddening to note that the main reason Kenyan-born athletes change citizenship and adopt new countries as their home nations is as a result of the rot and filth within our federation’s management ranks. It is even more demoralizing to know that our very own Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture is among the key stakeholders in entertaining corruption within the management ranks of the sport in the country.

The repercussions of such vices is the heavy rate at which we as a nation are exporting our sporting talent when we could have been the direct beneficiaries had we been more concerned in developing the sport and thus, nurturing our athletes to exceptional standards.

Doping has seen a number of potential medal winners face bans from the international athletics governing body, IAAF. Theses bans result from the  use of banned substances to enhance  performance, giving the substance users an advantage over athletes running on natural energy. Undue advantage saw the suspension of Russian athletes from the Rio Olympic Games due to proof of state-sponsored doping. A large number of the Russian team to Rio were gymnasts and swimmers, only a single athlete participated in a field event at the games.

On Friday last week one of the sprint coaches for team Kenya Mr John Anzrah was sent back home for posing as an athlete and giving a urine sample in a doping test. It is alleged that the coach had signed doping test papers for 800m runner Ferguson Rotich. Kenya alsoexpelled their track and field manager, Michael Rotich, following allegations he requested money to let undercover journalists, posing as athlete representatives, know when drugs testers would come calling. Rotich of course denied the accusations, but events such as these ruin our reputation globally in the sporting scene.

The 2016 Rio Olympics was simply a Kenya-versus- former Kenyans affair – with most ‘exports’ lining up on the track . It emerged as no surprise when Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet won 3,000m gold medal. It was left to Hyvin Kiyeng to save Kenya’s blushes with a hard-won silver, bringing our medal tally on Day 11 of the competition to four (one gold and three silvers). More than 30 Kenyan-born athletes  lined up for races in Rio, with Turkey and Bahrain accounting for the highest numbers. The US, Israel and Bosnia have claimed a slice of glory, thanks to Kenya’s talent glut.

The move by Kenyan-born athletes to switch nationality has seen their adopted nations claim a fair share of Kenya’s athletics glory in the sporting world. From USA’s former world champion Bernard Lagat, Turkey’s Mike Kigen to Bahraini as well as newly crowned Olympic marathon bronze Eunice Kirwa. Lucy Kimani is the only former Kenyan in the Bosnian squad while Lonah Chemtai competed for Israel in the women’s marathon.

Turkey, the new market for Kenyan athletic talent, has six Kenyan ‘exports’ in Rio, among them reigning European 10,000m champion Yasemin Can, (formerly Vivian Jemutai), and Tarik Langat Akdag, whose birth name is Patrick Kipkirui Langat, who fell in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase heats this week. Others are Ali Kaya (formerly Stanley Kiprotich)  in 5,000m after lining up in 10,000m and Ilham Tanui Ozbilen (William Biwott Tanui) in 1,500m. Meryem Akda (Miriam Jepchirchir) competed for Turkey in the women marathon.

At 41, Bernard Lagat anchors four other former Kenyans who changed their allegiance to the USA. They include Paul Chelimo (5,000m), Hillary Bor (3,000m steeplechase), Leonard Korir and Shadrack Kipchirchir (both 10,000m). Evans Kiplagat, the reigning Seoul Marathon champion, has changed his nationality to Azerbaijan.

Unless we fix the already destroyed fabric that the Kenyan athletics scene is wearing then Kenya will keep losing out on the immense talent it possesses. The shoddy preparations by the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOCK) is a sign of the widespread corruption and mismanagement of funds allotted for travel expenses.

The fact that former marathoner and one of our greatest female athletes Catherine Ndereba alongside and javelin genius Julius Yego could find themselves stranded at the JKIA for lack of plane tickets is really embarrassing for a nation which boasts of a rich athletics history. It took the agitation of fellow athletes, who threatened to boycott boarding their flight to Brazil unless tickets for the two were acquired, for their arrangements to be completed.

So inept was the organization  that some of the athletes such as Team Kenya captain Wesley Korir, who  happens to be a Member of Parliament, made their own travel arrangements. Such organizational problems have been witnessed during the Daegu world athletics championships, London Olympics and even the Beijing Olympics. We cannot tolerate this rot anymore; drastic changes must be urgently made in our athletics management.

Matalanga is a student of journalism at the East Africa School of Media Studies and an intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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