I admire the unity displayed by our athletics fraternity, and sorority, especially in the time of grief.
The latest such unity has been demonstrated in the fund-raising towards funeral expenses for Kenya Defence Forces sprinter Sylvester Muteti who was killed in a road accident, and who will be buried Wednesday at his Katumani home in Machakos County.
No sooner had a WhatsApp group been created - with former steeplechase world champion Milcah Chemos (who is also the athletes’ representative at athletics Kenya) leading from the front - than over Sh200,000 was raised for the fallen sprinter from among the athletes.
The contributions were headed to the Sh300,000-mark Monday as the athletes also launched another drive for the family of the late Harriet Rudisha, sister of Olympic and world 800 metres champion and record holder David Rudisha.
Harriet died from cancer and was buried Monday, with contributions towards the education of her son, Bahati Letina, having realised over Sh100,000 by Monday.
While congratulating the athletes on their teamwork and spirit, the current trend also highlights the need to have a strong, well articulated athletes’ welfare organization.
It is hardly sustainable for the athletes to support one another through impromptu harambees. Such a welfare organization, crafted along the lines of a savings and co-operative society, will offer a more structured way of handling athletes’ personal issues, including bereavement.
There was a ray of hope when the Professional Athletes’ Association of Kenya (PAAK) was launched, but it soon turned into a political vehicle whose chief agenda appeared to be to spar with Athletics Kenya officials, rather than enhance athletes’ livelihoods and look after their welfare.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that it false-started and has since run aground.
Legendary athletes Moses Tanui and Douglas Wakiihuri have been leading proponents in push for an athletes’ welfare organisation that will also help cater for ageing legends who are often forgotten despite their immense contribution to Kenyan sport.
Senior athletes must lead from the front by setting the pace for the formation of such a grouping.
While many of our elite athletes continue to be shining role models in society, sadly, some of the top stars hardly help junior and upcoming athletes.
I’ve often been approached by young upstarts who lament that despite being training partners of well-heeled senior stars and world champions, they hardly get any “spillovers” or support from the elites.
While the seniors enjoy lucrative deals with major shoe sponsors, like Nike and Adidas, their training mates are always struggling to get racing and training shoes, running tights, tracksuits and other essential training equipment that would boost their morale and performance.
An athletes’ sacco will be able to offer financing for such young athletes to purchase equipment and even be in a good position to solicit the same from Nike, Adidas or Mizuno, for that matter, through strategic partnerships.
The sacco will also look into athletes’ contractual issues and help settle disputes such as delayed release of prize money, contracts skewed to the advantage of managers and also help finance budding athletes’ travel for competitions abroad through the offering of loans that, for instance, can be offset against prize money.
Coaching and training programmes could also get some attention from such an organisation that would also stand up for the athletes in cases where national federations fail to deliver proper, pre-event training conditions including inadequate release of training and competition kit as was experienced during last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The sacco would come up with an athletes’ welfare policy to help athletes focus on their training and competition without the distraction of maltreatment by officials.
With cases of molestation of young athletes reported frequently these days, an organized athletes’ welfare grouping has a key role to play in protecting young athletes from abusers or paedophiles and ensuring the youngsters are afforded good training and camp conditions.
It can also help finance the education of talented athletes through a scholarship programme from funds raised through sponsorships and partnerships.
Finally, the athletes’ welfare body can play a vital role in the fight against the use and administration of banned performance enhancing substances to athletes.
Last week, IAAF announced that Kenya is still under its anti-doping watch list and the country will only be declared compliant once several conditions are met.
The Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya, under the stewardship of the indefatigable Japhter Rugut, is doing a splendid job especially in education athletes on the pitfalls of doping and an athletes’ welfare society will supplement such initiatives in a major way and help Kenya get a clean bill of health at the IAAF.
While impromptu funeral harambees may be culturally correct, and the right thing to do in society, they are hardly sustainable and the athletes need to give a serious though about forming a welfare sacco to address their numerous needs.
The recent show of unity in supporting the families of Harriet and Muteti demonstrate that athletes care for one another, and now need a vehicle to drive them through these hard times.