Betrayal in Rio: How mismanagement has left our heroes fuming

Sunday August 14 2016

Turkey's Meryem Akdag (left), Ethiopia's Hiwot Ayalew (centre), and Kenya's Beatrice Chepkoech compete in the Women's 3000m Steeplechase Round 1 during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 13, 2016. PHOTO | JOHANNES EISELE | AFP

Turkey's Meryem Akdag (left), Ethiopia's Hiwot Ayalew (centre), and Kenya's Beatrice Chepkoech compete in the Women's 3000m Steeplechase Round 1 during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 13, 2016. PHOTO | JOHANNES EISELE | AFP  

By PETER LEFTIE
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By CELLESTINE OLILO
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A veteran coach expelled from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for impersonating an athlete has exposed the shameful depths of mismanagement that has seen the Kenyan team hurtle from one crisis to another.

This emerged as the Sunday Nation on Saturday learnt that morale at the Team Kenya camp in the Brazilian city is at its lowest after weeks of problems including chaotic travel arrangements, inadequate training kit, questionable allocation of slots in the Olympic Village and doping-related bribery allegations against a top official.  

Sprints coach John Anzrah, a former Kenya and Africa athletics champion, who arrived at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Friday night, was expelled after he reportedly used the accreditation card belonging to 800 metres runner Ferguson Rotich to access the Olympics Village when he was picked for random doping testing.

Anzrah, 61, was one of those not given an accreditation badge while numerous joyriders were granted passes. The list of those accredited has not been made public, fuelling speculation.

Speaking to the Sunday Nation at the airport, Mr Anzrah opened up on the deplorable conditions some in the Kenyan delegation are going through in Rio, putting the blame squarely on the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOCK).

“We left for Brazil last Sunday and arrived on the same day. When we went to the athlete’s village, five of us — including Catherine Ndereba and Joseph Mosonik (both part of the coaching staff) — found out that we had no accreditation,” he said. This is contrary to statements attributed to Nock chairman Kipchoge Keino and chef de mission Stephen Soi that he was not part of the delegation. 

He said this meant they had no access to the athletes’ village until late Wednesday evening when the women’s rugby team was supposed to return to Kenya.

“All this time we were staying in someone’s house and cooking our own food. I had to share a room designed for small children with Mosonik while Ndereba, who is the assistant team manager, slept in the adjacent room. It was a rented house,” he said.

The high profile of the coaches left out of the Olympic village leads to questions on who took up the spaces allocated for the Kenyan delegation, with allegations that some joyriders linked to top Nock and Sports ministry officials were accredited.

WENT TO RIO AS BEGGARS

“When we finally got a one-day pass to the village on Wednesday, we went there as beggars. On seeing us, the athletes really sympathised with us and gave us their passes so we could access the dining area,” he said.

But it was while in the village using Mr Rotich’s accreditation that he was confronted by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials who wanted to carry out a random test on the athlete.

“They took my accreditation and went away with it and I had no choice but to follow them into the room. Before I left I asked Mosonik to alert the Kenyan officials and to bring Rotich into the doping room immediately,” he said.

The coach, however, denied giving any sample for testing even though he admitted he signed a document under pressure purporting to be Mr Rotich.

“I kept telling those people that I wasn’t Rotich but they wouldn’t listen. Luckily Rotich himself came brandishing his passport to prove his identity, and they let me go shortly afterwards,” he said.

Speculation was rife that Mr Anzrah would be arrested immediately on arrival in Kenya, but there were no policemen in sight and the worried coach hurriedly walked away from the interview and proceeded home.

He becomes the second Kenyan official to be expelled from Rio after Michael Rotich was deported last week after German TV ARD and London’s Sunday Times ran a story alleging he was involved in a scheme to assist British athletes and coaches to evade doping tests. Mr Rotich was arrested on arrival in Kenya and charged in court over doping allegations. He has denied the charges.

But Mr Keino, the under-fire Nock chairman, downplayed complaints that there was low morale in the Kenyan camp at Rio. He also insisted Mr Anzrah was not part of the delegation. 

 “He presented himself as an athlete, gave the urine sample and even signed the documents. We cannot tolerate such behaviour. We don’t even know how he came here because we (NOCK) did not facilitate his travel,” he told the Sunday Nation.

But Mr Anzrah, who said that he met his athletes only twice since he arrived in Rio, hinted that his accreditation may have been taken up by joyriders.

RENTAL HOUSE

“If Nock would have given me the accreditation, none of this would have happened. When they put us in that rental house the explanation was that there was not enough accreditation for all officials. I know of some athletes who were given keys to rooms in the village, only for them to find those rooms already occupied. I believe there were enough passes for all of us, but some people were given more priority,” he said.

Barnaba Korir, Athletics Kenya executive committee member, and a member of the coaches’ selecting panel accused Nock of throwing Mr Anzrah under the bus.

“Anzrah was the first on the list of coaches for the Olympic games. He was the coach for sprints. If anything, he ought to have travelled with the first batch of athletes but he was delayed because his visa was not ready. He travelled the following day,” said Mr Korir. “For anybody to say that he was not in Team Kenya is an absolute lie. Let Nock publish the names of all the members of the Kenyan delegation to Rio so that Kenyans can make their own judgement.”

However, the problems being faced by Team Kenya mirror complaints in past outings including Beijing (2008), London (2012) and the All Africa Games in Maputo (2011) and Brazaville (2015). The events are all managed by the local Olympics committee. 

In all these games, heroic athletes have put in sterling performances in spite of the incompetence and bungling of national officials.

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. 

Even before the Games started on August 5, team captain and Cherangany Member of Parliament Wesley Korir raised the alarm over shoddy preparations when Sports Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario visited the Eldoret training camp in July.

“I used to hear about these complaints in the past but I am now experiencing them first-hand. I won’t take it lying down because I am the team captain. I have confirmed one theory here: those who don’t understand the sport are the ones calling the shots while those who understand it are slaves in the industry. We should reverse this,” he said. 

Athletics coach John Anzrah at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport upon arrival from 2016 Rio Olympics on August 12,2016. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Athletics coach John Anzrah at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport upon arrival from the 2016 Rio Olympics on August 12, 2016. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

And last week, Mr Korir said athletes had been given fewer kits than those provided by American multinational Nike. He, for example, noted that each athlete was given a pair of T-shirts instead of eight while other items like sunglasses and sandals were missing.

He said he was in touch with Nike which had confirmed that they supplied enough uniforms to NOCK.

“We are wondering where the other uniforms were taken,” he said.

Sources told the Sunday Nation that over the years rogue Nock officials have been stealing the kit and selling to brokers.

Mr Korir, who is part of the marathon team, left for Rio on Thursday evening from Milele Hotel in Nairobi’s South C. The Sunday Nation has learnt that his choice as team captain had been quietly opposed by some Nock officials given his status as MP. 

ISSUE OF ALLOWANCES

During the Eldoret meeting with the CS, the team captain had also raised the sensitive issue of allowances, which has been recurring during most trips. He asked that physiotherapists and team doctors be treated well by raising their allowances from Sh10,000 to at least Sh100,000 when they are out of the country.

The athletes were entitled to Sh2,000 per athlete per day in local training camp and $250 while in Rio.

The Uasin Gishu county government had footed allowances for the 56 field and track athletes camping at the Kipchoge Keino High Performance Training Centre at Sh60,000 per athlete and the marathoners who were based at the Naiberi camp site.

The Nandi county government on the other hand donated Sh1 million to cater for allowances for the rugby team which was camping at the Nandi Bears Club.

This left the athletes questioning how the Sh583 million set aside by the government for allowances would be spent.

Mr Soi, Kenya’s chef de mission at the games, had confirmed that the government had channelled the funds through Nock well in advance, ostensibly to ensure that all the allowances, both at the pre-tournament training camp as well as during the games, were paid before the team left for Rio as a way of boosting morale.

Mr Wario also confirmed that there was enough money for the allowances.

“We are good to go. There is enough money. We will pay all overseas allowances here. We will even clear unpaid cash rewards pending from the 2011 Daegu World Championships. Just get us the list,” said Mr Wario, a statement echoed by Principal Secretary Richard Ekai.

But despite the upbeat message, things took a different turn during the opening ceremony when Team Kenya was paraded without ceremonial clothes, with some wearing tracksuits while others were in T-shirts and kitenge tops. A few days later, a recording of Mr Rotich – the athletics official – appeared allegedly showing him willing to accept bribes to warn foreign athletes of impending doping tests. Why this?

Then javelin star Julius Yego, who is a gold medal hopeful, complained that his coach, Mr Mosonik, would not be travelling with him.

A furious Yego wondered why Nock had arranged for Mosonik to join him a day before he competes on August 17, then leave on August 18 when his competition would still be on. 

“This means that I won’t have a coach in my training sessions for the next eight days,” Yego noted. “I will only have Mosonik for two or one day before I start my event, then he leaves before the final.

Mr Yego asked why people with no meaningful responsibilities were booked to leave the country in advance and given accommodation while those who mattered were left behind.

But the bombshell came when he tweeted that he was at the airport but had been informed he had no ticket to Rio.

“That I don’t have a ticket to #RioOlympics2016 I am lost as to what is going on,” he tweeted on August 6. But he eventually travelled after his colleagues threatened not to board the flight.

It is perhaps because of the chaotic travel arrangements that some athletes opted to make their own arrangements. It turned out that world champions Asbel Kiprop (1,500m) and Hyvin Kiyeng (3,000m steeplechase), World 1,500m silver medallists Faith Chepng’etich and World 5,000m silver medallist Caleb Mwangangi failed to travel with the team having made their own arrangements.

Also making own travel arrangements were world 10,000m silver medallist Geoffrey Kamworor and world Cross Country champion and 2008 Olympics champion Brimin Kipruto. Kipruto claimed silver at the 2015 World Championships.

But Mr Keino maintained that all was well in the Kenyan camp.

“All the athletes have been paid everything. They were told to give their account details so that the money could be wired to them,” Mr Keino said from Rio.
He also dismissed complaints about the uniforms.

“There is no problem with uniforms. All the athletes were given enough uniform so nobody should complain that there are no uniforms,’ he said.

“Even Korir (Wesley) personally came and collected his uniform, if it did not fit, he should have returned it so that he is given one that fits. He should stop creating problems. We do not want politics in athletics. We are focused on performing well so he should not distract us from our goal,” he said.

Mr Keino also denied reports that Mr Yego and other athletes did not have air tickets, saying the government had provided tickets for all members of the Kenyan contingent.