Athletics Kenya President Isaiah Kiplagat at the weekend stirred up the hornet’s nest, provoking Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba into hitting back with the most venomous of stings.
The Saturday morning exchange between the pair, at the official groundbreaking ceremony for the high altitude Lornah Kiplagat Sports Academy in Iten, sets the stage for interesting times ahead for Kenyan sport.
Coming just days after Parliament passed the 2012 Sports Bill that sets out to streamline the administration of Kenyan sport, what came out of the acrimonious Iten exchange provides the watershed for the country’s sports administration.
Called to address guests at the ceremony, Kiplagat, who has been at the helm of the track and field association for two decades, in legendary stereotypical fashion pointed the traditional accusing finger, saying funds earmarked for the development of sports stadiums country-wide, “have been misappropriated.”
In a swift rejoinder, Namwamba questioned why Kiplagat “kept on asking the questions rather than providing the answers” on cash meant for development of stadiums, considering that he is a member of the Sports Stadia Management Board (SSMB) under whose watch the financial allocation remains unaccounted for.
The minister then announced that he had frozen all disbursements for renovations of stadiums – close to Sh350 million in all - and re-enacted scenes from wild west movies by declaring that “there is a new sheriff in town,” effectively sounding the death knell to sports officials “that have turned these associations into fiefdoms run by feudal lords.”
Credit is due to Kiplagat as he has seen Athletics Kenya transform from a perennial beggar into the richest sports association in the country.
But recent power battles within AK, National Olympic Committee of Kenya and many other sports associations have resulted in a serious lack of direction that needs the reining-in that the Sports Act seeks to achieve.
We are tired of individuals clinging onto office as though the national associations were personal property. Kenyans are equally weary of the culture of back-passing and finger-pointing, and the minister’s clarion call was clear: Kiplagat, and indeed other leaders of sports associations, must either shape up or ship out.
Namwamba also disclosed that selfish, “heartless and irresponsible,” ego wars led to the North Rift losing a 2004 Qatari Olympic Committee grant to have a stadium constructed to celebrate the successes of the Gulf State’s steeplechase world record holder, born in Iten as Stephen Cherono but naturalized in Doha as Saif Saaeed Shaheen.
To the relief of Iten’s athletics-mad residents, Namwamba said he would revive the project and have the Qatari grant brought in to set up a world class facility in Iten, a town that has produced world beaters, including Olympic 800 metres champion and world record holder, David Rudisha.
“Two months ago, I met with the Qatari Ambassador and I will soon travel to Qatar to follow up on the grant and what I promise is that the stadium project will come to Kamariny,” the minister assured.
Granted, the Sports Act, that should have no problem getting Presidential assent, is not flawless in its current form. But it sets the stage for more sober sports management structures, key among them the establishment of the Kenya Sports Development Authority, National Sports Fund, Kenya National Sports Institute and also lays down mechanisms for the arbitration of sports disputes and also the registration, licensing and regulation of sports organisations.
Whereas in some areas there is a fine line between Government interference in the management of associations, by and large the Act, with minor amendments, should, finally get Kenyan sport out of the murky waters and result in performances better than what we witnessed at last year’s London Olympics where recalcitrant Kenyan Olympic officials let their personal battles derail the country’s prospects of the richest medal harvest to date.
Indeed Namwamba, in a no-holds-barred clarification, pointed out on Saturday that the ministry “would not interfere with the running of federations, but will follow the law to the letter and spirit.”
Such Government action will, for instance, see the implementation of recommendations like those recently made by the Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Labour and Social Welfare seeking to have errant, incompetent sports officials ejected.
The appointment of the youthful and visionary Namwamba as minister may have come a little late in the day, but not too late to save the country from egocentric sports officials who, true to the minister’s word, have “run associations like fiefdoms under feudal lords.”
Keep the fire burning, bwana waziri!
Elias Makori, the Daily Nation Sports Editor, is the current IAAF World Journalist of the Year. firstname.lastname@example.org