On Saturday, Kenyans broke attendance record in International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) competitions when a record 50,000 spectators filled Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, prompting IAAF Chief Executive Officer Olivier Gers to tweet that it was the best ever attended championship.
Before the championship started, IAAF officials and athletes had given a thumbs up to the Athletes Village at Kenyatta University and the championship facilities at Kasarani, pointing to the great effort that went into organising the event.
No doubt, IAAF hierarchy is convinced that Kenya is more than capable of staging a bigger event, even senior World Championships in Athletics.
Perhaps UN Habitat saw into the future when it made a proposal to make Nairobi the Sports, Arts and Culture running city of the world in 2013. At the time, UN Habitat official Juma Assiago even advised Kenya to start thinking of bidding for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games because the country has the tradition, and a government willing to promote sports.
Previously, the World Junior Championship held in Kingston, Jamaica held the record for the best attended championship, with an average attendance of just over 20,000 fans.
It is easy to see why Kenya is attracting praises. Saturday’s morning session attracted 23,000 fans, and the afternoon session saw some 50,300 fans trooping to the stadium to watch the championship.
Kenya also broke records in other departments. Kenya’s hospitality for the championship was described as ‘unmatched anywhere in the world’ by IAAF Media delegate Olaf Brockman.
Kasarani Stadium was also upgraded to world-class standard and Kenya’s creativity, especially in brand positioning, saw Kenyan brands, among them the official travel and tourism guide by the Kenya Tourist Board, Magical Kenya, get exposure to global television audiences.
Successful hosting of the championship was realised through collaboration between various ministries and government departments. The championships’ CEO Mwangi Muthee, working closely with Interior Cabinet Secretary, the late Joseph Nkaissery, Sports CS Hassan Wario, Police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet, gave their all to ensure the success of the championship.
But it took huge sacrifice and serious lobbying by Athletics Kenya, Kenyan media, the government and other stakeholders for Nairobi to win the hosting rights. In the last decade, Kenya has hosted two major IAAF events - the 2007 World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, and this year’s World Under-18 Championships.
On both occasions, the government played a leading role in sponsoring the championship, with the support of corporate bodies.
But how did Kenya win the hosting rights of the championships, the biggest international sporting event hosted in Nairobi since the 1987 All Africa Games? A lot of credit goes to former chairman of Athletics Kenya, the late Isaiah Kiplagat, who argued out a case for the Kenyan bid at the IAAF headquarters in Monaco in 2012 following the advice of veteran Kenyan sports journalist Elias Makori.
While on assignment to cover IAAF Diamond League in Doha, Makori met former IAAF President, Lamine Diack, on the sidelines of the event and pushed the case for Kenya.
According to Makori, Diack was convinced Kenya had a headstart over other countries because first, it had a strong tradition of success in athletics, adequate infrastructure and the government’s willingness to support the event.
Six years earlier, Kenya had hosted the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, the most watched in the championship’s history.
Makori helped put together the bid document and in 2013, it was smooth sailing for Kiplagat when he presented Kenya’s bid document before the IAAF Council in Monaco. Kenya was awarded hosting rights in 2014.
The next stop was to involve the government for funding and facilitation. The government pumped in Sh2.5 billion into the event First Lady Margaret Kenyatta became patron of the championships, setting in motion collaboration between various governmental agencies, with the late Nkaissery mobilising the team to deliver a world-class championship.
Athletics Kenya conducted team selection and put Team Kenya in training camps in readiness.