Why for some, it’s happily never after

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 00:00 |
Empty tribunes are seen during the Olympic flame handover ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics on Friday. Photo/AFP

Sports has been credited with changing the fortunes of athletes with some turned from paupers into instant millionaires while some are converted from virtual unknowns into overnight celebrities.

However, how they handle the instant wealth and fame varies from person to person and for some, it has been devastating. 

Stories of athletes who fell from grace have been reported all over the world and Kenya has not been an exception.

From footballers, runners, boxers and cricket players who lived large but now cannot afford a single meal to those who rolled in luxury cars and now walk to their destinations, the stories are endless. 

In 2015, Kenyans watched in disbelief when cricket great Maurice Odumbe narrated his heart wrenching story of survival on the JKL show with TV host Jeff Koinange.

“From riding in BMWs to using a boda boda, sometimes I cannot believe it Jeff,” a tearful Odumbe told Koinange on the KTN show.

Odumbe’s fall from grace began in 2004 when he was banned from the game for alleged match-fixing and his fortunes took a turn for the worse.

Like most sports heroes this country has birthed, Odumbe was quickly relegated to the dustbins of history and for a man who was part of the Golden Generation that took Kenyan cricket to great heights such as the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup and played in major tournaments, earning big buck, this was hard to take.

Odumbe—who has maintained his innocence to date—has since rebuilt his life and is back in the game, serving as Kenya’s head coach but the ban took away everything he worked so hard for and it has never been the same.

Another heart-wrenching story is that of boxer Conjestina Achieng who has battled depression and mental health issues after being abandoned in her hour of need.

A revered boxer, Achieng, better known as “Hands of Stone” was the darling of many when she floored her opponents in record time both at home and abroad.

It earned her fame and some wealth, until those ‘boxing gigs’ started drying up. At that moment, life became unbearable as she could hardly afford to pay her rent or even feed herself.

With no help forthcoming, ‘Conje’ would sink into depression and later a mental illness which she has been batting for close to 10 years.

While she has been on the mend after help from well wishers, Conje’s life is not the same as she can no longer return to the ring with the same gusto.

Achieng’s story is similar to that of another Kenyan boxer Suleiman Bilali, the 2000 Summer Olympics light flyweight quarter-finalist, who has also been battling a mental illness after being abandoned.

Former 800m 2008 Olympics champion Pamela Jelimo and former Rotterdam marathon champion Duncan Kibet are among a large number of runners who lost their fortunes for different reasons.

Jelimo was the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold medal and also the first Kenyan to win the now defunct Golden League Jackpot which came with a $1 million (Sh70 million at the time). 

However, a combination marital issues, poor advice and rogue managers saw her lose most of her fortunes which also affected her form and she never returned to those heights again.

For Kibet, who earned an estimated $180,000 (Sh18 million) after clocking a personal best of 2:07:53 to win the 2009 Rotterdam Marathon, a groin injury later kept him from finishing marathons in Berlin and London. 

His fitness waned, and two years after his Rotterdam triumph, he was essentially broke and out of work.

Experts attribute a number of reasons for the sudden change in fortunes for these big-name athletes who never recover after losing their money.

“Career transitioning takes a real psychological blow to most athletes post-active era and to some extent end up depressed.

For ages, they have put in the work and suddenly it disappears especially when sound investment was not done.

It is a dicey situation considering most of them come from humble backgrounds and when they are not exposed to proper training on discipline and money utilisation, it becomes a problem in the future,” sports psychologist Kanyali Ilako told People Sport in Nairobi last week.

Sports Consultant Cynthia Mumbo of Sports Connect Africa said: “Most athletes who end up broke are more likely than not ignorant which is dangerous.

If one is not taught financial discipline early in their careers, then most definitely they will fail.

At the same time, I want to strongly believe that some managers and even agents take advantage of their subjects, sweep them clean and vanish.” 

However, former AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars forward Boniface Ambani, who runs a sports merchandise shop, blames most of those problems to the attitude of some athletes.

“The kind of ignorance you see around is quite worrying and the painful bit is that most of the sportsmen are not willing to take advice.

There is a difference between exposed and localised athletes. Those exposed are prepared and taught the value of investment out there but those based here never get that.

If you follow some of the sorry tales, it all boils down to lacking a plan and purpose for their money and they are always bound to fail,” said Ambani.

Boxing promoter Caleb Kuya of Osaga Promotions is also of the opinion that financial education plays a key part in an athlete’s post-active era. 

“In a sportsman’s life, the one thing which is critical is future focus. One has to have a ‘Plan B’ because the life-span of an athlete is very short and could even be curtailed by things like injuries or lack of form.

My concern is most of our athletes have no financial capability or reliable advisors and this always turns out really costly.

At the same time, lack of humility when one gets big money also see them fall hard,” said Kuya.

Sports marketer Raymond Oruo of Red House is of a different opinion, blaming the country’s education system for not preparing such sportsmen for the realities of life.

“I will not be quick to judge the athletes because they are human and could fall like anybody else.

However, our curriculum over the years has stifled certain aspects of development like sports.

A lot of our sportsmen and women might get lucky to get early gigs especially with shrewd mangers.

However, almost none is taught how to manage their money unless they are based abroad,” Oruo told People Sport.

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