Sports and Culture Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario on Saturday said he was not to blame for the series of crises that have faced the gallant Kenyan team at the Rio Olympics.
The embattled CS, who flew back from the Brazilian city on Saturday morning, told the Sunday Nation that the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock) officials, who are squarely to blame for the mismanagement of the team, are living large in Brazil and are a law unto themselves.
“Nock officials were being chauffeured around in limousines. I walked to most of the venues where Kenyan athletes were competing and some of them were five kilometres away,” he said.
Dr Wario added: “The Rio Olympics will go down as one of the Kenya’s best ever, in terms of performance. But what people are seeing are unnecessary problems entirely created by guys managing the team.”
(READ: The scandal of Kenya’s Rio Games)
Mr Wario has taken much of the flak for the mess ranging from poor travel arrangements to questions over the identity of some of those listed in the delegation. There are allegations that some officials gave air tickets, accommodation and accreditation to joyriders instead of athletes and coaches.
In addition, athletes have complained some officials at the games sold kits donated by sportswear manufacturer Nike and which were meant for their training, competition and relaxation.
“Nock are the ones who draw up the list of the athletes and the travelling team. They are the ones to accredit all members of the travelling team. I, too, had to request Nock officials to get me into the Olympic village because I did not have the right accreditation from them. There are some things that went wrong, but we could not help because whenever we try to do so, Nock says they are independent,” he said.
Kenya took a contingent of 52 athletes to the games. Mr Wario could not, however, give a full figure of the Kenyan delegation including the government officials and MPs.
Though he says he did not witness any joyriders, he said he could not entirely rule out the possibility that some unauthorised officials travelled with the team.
“From my team, we had no joyriders. I asked Mr Stephen Soi (head of delegation) whether there were any travelling with the athletes and he said no. But you can never tell because they (Nock) are the ones who draw up the list of those to travel. I haven’t’ seen this list to date,” he said.
A lot of blame has also been directed at Mr Soi, Kenya’s chef de mission (head of delegation) to the games. He faced similar criticism during the 2012 Olympic Games in London, which went down in history as one of Kenya’s most disorganised international outings.
MY HANDS ARE TIED
The problems being faced by Team Kenya also mirror complaints in past outings including Beijing (2008) and the All African Games in Maputo (2011) and Brazzaville (2015). The events are all managed by the local Olympics committee. Despite the challenges, heroic athletes have often put in sterling performances — and they are doing the same in Rio.
A critical parliamentary report on the Maputo games and the shambolic London Olympics made recommendations on the management of the team during such trips but these have not been implemented. Mr Soi was singled out with recommendations he should not lead another mission.
However, Mr Wario said he could not take action based on the reports.
“On the issue of chief of mission, my hands are tied. It is Nock and not the minister who chooses the chief of mission. We might not like their choice, but I have little control over the matter,” he said.
He said he will petition Parliament to amend the Nock charter to give the ministry greater oversight in preparations for future games.
“We also need a new team at Nock, which is 21st century in thinking. Some of the current officials have been in office for more than 30 years. They operate in a cartel-like manner. They ensure they vote one another to office in perpetuity,” he said.
He urged veterans like Kenyan track legend, Kipchoge Keino, who is also the chairman of Nock to retire from their positions. “As Kenyans, we shall be eternally grateful for and proud of his phenomenal achievements. But Nock needs a newer brand of management,” he said.
Mr Wario denied reports that he was not aware that Deputy President William Ruto was travelling to Rio to cheer the Kenyan team.
“I am the one who prepared his itinerary in Rio. It is just that when he landed, I was caught in a traffic jam coming from cheering Okwiri (boxer Rayton Okwiri). I called the DP and requested that I meet him at his hotel together with the Kenyan team,” he said.
Mr Wario said he was proud that this time the matter of unpaid allowances, which always dogs the Kenyan team at international competitions, was not an issue this time round.
PAID ATHLETES SH800,000
“We paid Sh800,000 into the accounts of each of the athletes a week before travelling to the Olympics. There are only four cases which we shall solve soon. We shall add each one another Sh150,000 as a token of appreciation. The cheque is being prepared,” he said.
The money was a flat rate paid to all athletes irrespective of their experience or how long their disciplines will take, said Mr Wario.
Unlike in the past where athletes promptly come home at the end of their disciplines, he said Kenyan athletes who finished their competitions early on, such the rugby sevens team, were urged to remain behind so as to cheer their compatriots.
He supported the decision to kick out track coach Major (rtd) Michael Rotich, who was accused of offering to help foreign athletics drugs cheat to evade doping tests at a fee, and sprint coach John Anzrah for using an athlete’s accreditation to access the Olympic Village for a meal.
“The eyes of the world have been on Kenya over the doping issue. I saw these games as a chance to redeem Kenya’s image in the international arena. We could not entertain allegations of our coaches acting inappropriately at such a crucial time and that’s why they had to go,” he said.
Mr Rotich, the athletics team manager, was the first to be kicked out after he allegedly told undercover reporters from UK’s Sunday Times newspaper and the German broadcaster ARD that he was ready to warn coaches about drug tests in return for money.
Mr Anzrah was kicked out for allegedly impersonating athlete Ferguson Rotich. His case, however, raised questions on why he had no accreditation or accommodation in the athletes’ village and allowances for food yet he was a top coach.
Mr Wario said Mr Anzrah “ought to be behind bars”. “Impersonation is a serious crime in the first place. Secondly he almost jeopardised the career of a promising athlete for nothing,” he said.
He said the rigorous testing had forced the Kenyan government to travel with two lawyers to help the athletes avoid legal traps when been being tested.
PAINTED IN BAD LIGHT
“The West seems to be on a mission to have Kenyan athletes to be painted in bad light. When Conseslus Kipruto won (the 3,000 metres steeplechase) he was tested seven times. Kenyan athletes are some of the most tested in the world today. Keep in mind that some of these athletes are not well educated.
They do not know the fine legal points on doping issues. So we felt that to be on the safe side, we ought to travel with a lawyer to help them when they are being tested,” he said.
On the kits saga, Mr Wario said his office has little say in how they are managed.
“Nock and Athletics Kenya have contract for kits with Nike, but we do not have any as a ministry. These kits come packed in a bag for each athlete but some people at Nock remove some of the items and sell them. We will have to address this,” he said.
He said unlike in the past, the government procured tickets for the athletes to prevent.
Javelin thrower Julius Yego had complained that Nock had not booked him and his coach a ticket to the games, a charge denied by the CS.
“Yego had his ticket in hand at the airport, but there was a small hitch when the system failed to pick it up. This was resolved soon. It was unfortunate of him to claim that we had not bought him a ticket,” he said.
US-born Kenyan sprinter Carvin Nkanata who represented Kenya in the 200 metres race last week after last-minute clearance, lambasted the Kenyan officials for failing to prepare his accreditation to the games on time,
“Nkanata came to Rio with a US passport and wanted to be accredited to run for Kenya. However, he did not have any document with to prove that he is Kenyan.
We were working on it when he posted his complaint in social media,” he said of the athlete who arrived in Rio four hours to his race and performed dismally.