February 25th 2018

Opinion / Commentaries

Needed: a programme to cater for health needs of national athletes

Millions of shillings are given to these federations which represent athletes, so they should step up to ensure athletes are physically and mentally fit all the time even if they are retired.

By Margaret Waruiwaruimaggy@gmail.comThursday, 27 Oct 2016 15:43 EAT

Ian Mutuku while representing the country in an international Marathon (Photo: IAAF website)

Kenyans marked the seventh Mashujaa (Heroes) Day last week with much pomp and colour, and in our typical ways of forever searching for heoes, the clock was wound back decades to accord recognition to some colonial era heroes - Paul Ngei and Muindi Mbingu. But if we were genuinely looking to honour heroes we wouldn't have to go that long back in history as heroes abound in our midst.

Many heroes who deserve recognition in Kenya hardly get it, and there is no field of heroism which is as neglected as sports. The dozens of our sportsmen who bring this country immense honour and fame each year hardly ever get noticed beyond the tracks. This Monday 24th October, Kenya’s athletic fraternity mourned the death of Ian Mutuku, 19, who died after collapsing at a hospital in Machakos.

Mutuku is a 2014 Africa Youth Games silver medalist, and had finished fourth in both the 2013 IAAF World Youth Championship in Donetsk, Ukraine and 2014 Olympic Youth Games. According to his coach, Peter Muia, the athlete had checked into Machakos Level 5 Hospital on Friday October 21st with swollen body before his conditioned worsened.

The coach said that Mutuku may have ingested supplements without proper prescription. Following the news of Mutuku’s death, the coach demanded that the athletics body start investigations to ascertain what drugs the athletes are taking to avoid such incidents in  future and guide them on what they should or shouldn’t consume.

While this could look like an isolated case, it speaks to wider negligence when it comes to the health of our sportsmen. Former WIBF champion Conjestina Achieng was admitted to Kisumu District Hospital on Tuesday after she had been unwell for some time. Kenyans remember her during her heydays days when she would demolish her opponents, win titles taking with her 17 wins and 4 draws. She even beat Uganda's Fiona Tugume to win the WIBF middle weight title in 2002. These wins earned her the title ‘Hands of Stone’, becoming a source of entertainment to many and a role model to young girls who were inspired to join the boxing world. But in 2011 her health started deteriorating and was admitted at Mathari Mental Hospital and later released.

Since then her health hasn’t normalized and she is always in and out of hospital. Sadly, as she couldn’t maintain her city life she relocated back to her village where her relatives take care of her. “Conje” is a heroine and it’s during this time we have to remember her shining days and offer our help us Kenyans and also the government to intervene. Also, in July, a Japan based Kenyan athlete collapsed as he and his colleagues were taking breakfast in Nyahururu. These incidents signify the poor health conditions of our athletes and how they are left to fight their own battles once they fall sick.

The health of our athletes is something that needs to be looked at carefully. These are the same people who bring pride and joy back home after they perform well internationally yet their health issues seem not to be of great concern. Failed doping tests are also an indicator that most athletes administer drugs without proper prescription and it goes to show that their health in general is not something that is taken seriously.

Millions of shillings are given to the federations that represent athletes, so they should step up to ensure athletes are physically and mentally fit all the time even if they are retired. I believe that regular tests and checkups and proper dieting will improve their health in general, and also recognize them as we do our politicians, if not so, young athletes will continue to die mysteriously and sports legends will be no more, if nothing is done to curb the menace. But in the long term Kenya should implement a health programme that caters for the athletes who bring this nation so much honour.

The writer is a student of Communication and Public Relations at Moi University and intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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