Opinion: Kenya Needs To Get Its Athletics House In Order

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Julius Yego with the Kenyan flag. Image from http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/08/150826_deportes_atletismo_julius_yego_jabalina_pekin_2015_campeonatos_mundiales_jmp

Problems in Kenya’s athletics need to be solved to avoid bouts of national shame in future.

After Kenyan athletes surviving the back and forth with the anti-doping bill and the country finally being declared compliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the last thing that anyone would have expected was any more kind of trouble from that side – be it from the officials or the athletes themselves. As a country, we had to fight so hard to beat that image that Kenyan athletes dope their way to gold and regain our prestige that we have had as a country since the 1960s – that of firebrands in the sport of athletics throughout the world. Unfortunately, though, Kenya’s clearance to participate in Rio Olympics 2016 was but one of the very small victories that would easily get overshadowed by a lot of national shame that keeps showing up bearing the name Kenya.

Michael Rotich was the first Kenyan athletics official to be deported back to the country from Rio after allegations emerged that he was receiving bribes to warn athletes in Rio about potential doping tests and how to evade them. Shortly after Michael, John Anzrah, one of the coaches was also sent away from Rio for using false accreditation.

These incidents, especially Anzrah’s opened a can of worms about how a lot of tardiness on the part of the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOCK) has led to a myriad of challenges that athletes representing the country are facing currently. Actually, the problems began even before the Olympians left the country.  Javelin star, Julius Yego’s air ticket was for example missing on the material day and it took interventions and threats by the other athletes not to board the plane for the said ticket to be found. Then there is the issue of accrediting joyriders while important people such as coaches who are needed for the success of these country’s representatives were left out.

Julius Yego with the Kenyan flag. Image from http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/08/150826_deportes_atletismo_julius_yego_jabalina_pekin_2015_campeonatos_mundiales_jmp
Julius Yego with the Kenyan flag. Image from http://ow.ly/5jYz303nA9e

It goes without saying that these series of events are extremely unfortunate especially for the country’s just recovering athletics image.  But just who should we blame? And how can such incidences we abated in future?

The truth is that as a country, this kind of bad publicity for a sport that unites us more than anything else should not be taken for granted if we are to ever regain our star identity which needless to say, is an integral part of the development of this country.

  1. Do away with corrupt officials within the National Olympics Commission of Kenya

Allegations of joyriders being given priority during accreditation for the 2016 Rio Olympics was one of the issues that opened the door for all the organizational hitches that the Kenyan team in Rio is currently experiencing. Also, a report by Transparency International released in February 2016 shows that while sporting events generate huge revenues, they are also attracting cartels, which means that athletes gain little from what they would have otherwise been able to gain if the playing field had been made level and the corrupt cartels done away with.

2. A more active presence of the government?

The Chair of Transparency International – Kenya Richard Leakey criticized government officials for turning a blind eye to the problems that sports face.

“It is, to me, tragic that in areas such as sport which since independence have represented Kenya’s image and is Kenya’s most important outreach, we face issues and when we come to present a report, our government officials are not presented,” Dr. Leakey said in a report by The Daily Nation.

If the statement by the Transparency International chair in Kenya is anything to go by, the government needs to step up and quickly salvage this country’s image in the sport as this directly influences areas such as tourism which is a key driver of our economy.

3. Serious consequences to act as a deterrent to wrong doers

As of February this year, at least 40 Kenyan athletes had been banned over the past three years as a result of doping allegations. This was also followed by a series of dismissals and resignations at the Athletics Kenya because a good number of the officials were linked to the malpractices at the federation; the chief of crimes being, bribery and corruption. I think that if the government is to get anywhere with the rescue operation that is looking at saving sports in this country, then the government has to start with NOCK and people should be sent home. Also look at charging officials engaged in corrupt practices. The mess in sports that heavily contributes to the image of the country should not be taken lightly. The fact that it could also be causing great Kenyan athletes to move to other countries who appreciate their talent is also worrying. Kenya needs to get its athletics house in order for the country to shine in the future.

POST SCRIPT

A shout out to Team Kenya out there in Rio…

I would like to take this opportunity to give a bow to every single Kenyan Athlete out there who is working hard and honestly to represent the country. Please be good ambassadors of this country and whatever happens (I mean gold, bronze or silver), know that you are very special people to this country and history has a special place from you.

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