When he won his second straight world marathon title in Daegu, South Korea, two years ago, Abel Kirui was welcomed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in pomp and colour by no lesser a person than Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka.
His second straight gold medal at the world’s toughest marathon put Kenya firmly on the map, earning the country priceless airtime on global live telecasts.
But in a stark contrast to that memorable homecoming, the double world marathon champion’s training equipment is currently under lock and key at JKIA’s Customs Warehouse as officials demand that he pays duty for it.
Kirui is preparing to defend his world marathon title at this year’s World Championships in Athletics that will be held in Moscow in August.
The bag containing the Olympic marathon silver medallist’s training shoes, tracksuits, t-shirts and running shorts, was brought into the country by a top sports administrator on Monday night from the Netherlands where Kirui’s management team, Global Sports Communications (GSC) is based.
The administrator said GSC’s head Jos Hermens had requested him to carry along the administration police star’s equipment, as sending it as unaccompanied luggage from Europe would take too long and Kirui needed it urgently for his training.
But on arrival at the JKIA customs desk, and reporting that the equipment was for the world champion, a customs official insisted that Kirui must pay tax, but also said several times that “he would be happy with a small amount.”
Kirui’s bag, containing seven pairs of marathon training shoes, six pairs of socks, six t-shirts and nine training jackets, has subsequently been detained at the JKIA Customs Warehouse after the administrator refused to part with “something small.”
Speaking on telephone from the Netherlands on Wednesday, Valentijn Trouw, the athlete’s manager at Global Sports Communications, said he was surprised by the detention of Kirui’s training gear.
“It is surprising because this equipment is of no commercial value and is meant for Kirui to train with and continue bringing glory to the country,” Mr Trouw said.
Athletics Kenya secretary-general, David Okeyo, termed the incident as “unfortunate” and promised to comment further once fully furnished with the details.
Contacted, Kenya Revenue Authority’s head of communications Kennedy Onyonyi, said he could not comment on the incident until he had all the facts.
“If someone is purporting to have been asked to pay a bribe, he should report to us so that appropriate action is taken,” Mr Onyonyi said.
“But I cannot comment authoritatively as I do not have the facts,” he added.
The incident comes at a time that the Kenya Revenue Authority is seeking to explain why athletes’ earnings from winnings abroad should still attract tax even after the athletes are subjected to the deductions at source.