Kenya must stop treating its athletes so shabbily
Kenya’s athletes have been one of Kenya’s biggest shining lights over the years. Kenya’s athletes have time and time again hoisted Kenya’s profile high internationally through powerful performances on the international stage, particularly in international athletics meets.
The just ended Tokyo Olympics was no different. Kenyan athletes did the country proud.
With four gold medal, four silver and two bronze, Kenya was Africa’s top country and 19th in the world, followed by Uganda with two gold, one silver and one bronze and a distant 36th further back globally.
The other African countries that won gold medals, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Tunisia and Morocco only managed one gold medal each, while African powerhouse, Nigeria, could only console itself with one silver and a bronze.
So, no contest, Kenya stood out. Big time!
However, the athletes then literally slinked back into the country to a low key reception “mounted” by their relatives.
It was a sad spectacle. Even Eliud Kipchoge, aka “King-choge,” who won the marathon gold on the last day of the Tokyo Olympics in imperious fashion, returned “quietly.”
No officials from Ministry of Sport, nobody from Athletics Kenya, not even a presence from the National Olympics Committee of Kenya.
Clearly, the sports management officialdom in Kenya had better things to do with their time.
Contrast that with Uganda that came a distant second to Kenya in Africa. After being driven by caravan from the airport through the streets of Kampala, Uganda Olympians were hosted by President Yoweri Museveni himself.
They were festooned and celebrated. Museveni then awarded medal winners with monthly salaries, luxury cars and promised them houses for their parents.
You can bet your bottom dollar when Ugandan athletes next step out for the country, they’ll kill themselves if they have to win medals.
What is wrong with Kenya’s officialdom and sports bodies? Have Kenyans become too spoilt by success, too complacent?
Kenya needs to be warned, because other countries have clearly not been sleeping.
For the first time, countries in Europe and the US won medals in the middle and long races that Kenya had long assumed as its birthright.
The shocking result of Kenya not winning a steeplechase Olympic gold for men for the first time in nearly 40 years is the loudest wake up call for the country.
That race was won by Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali, while Kenya’s Benjamin Kigen could only scrape together a bronze.
Government spokesman, Col. Cyrus Oguna, tried to explain away the poor reception of the returning athletes by blaming Covid-19.
Nobody was buying it. The government’s other functions continue without hindrance, including important meetings, but under strict Covid-19 protocols.
It is difficult to understand why the same was not done for the returning Olympians, unless, of course, their feats are not deemed “worthy.”
It is still not too late for Kenya to fete its world-beating athletes by organising a presidential reception for them.
The practice which the government had launched of offering cash gifts to medal winners needs to be reinstated.
The most improved athletes like the new sensation, Ferdinand Omanyala Omurwa, who is opening up exciting new possibilities for Kenya in the 100 metre dash, should also be awarded. —[email protected]