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Kenya should stop mistreating athletes

Saturday August 24 2019

ATHLETIC

Bernard Lagat, first place, and Hassan Mead, second place, celebrate after the Men's 5000 Meter Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on July 9, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. PHOTO | PATRICK SMITH 

GLADYS BURINI
By GLADYS BURINI
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Growing up, I would find myself constantly disappointed to learn yet another athlete had given up the patriotic opportunity to represent their motherland.

They didn’t give up the opportunity to participate in the tournament, not at all. They chose to represent another country.

The sheer rage of hearing the commentator say, “Bernard Lagat of the USA” or, “Saif Saaeed Shaheen, formerly known as Stephen Cherono, for Qatar”, really bothered me.

Not anymore. It no longer comes as a surprise to me if an athlete gives up competing for this country.

Just last week, the coach of the Kenya National Deaf Swimming Team appealed to the general public to help raise funds for the team, who were scheduled to travel to Brazil on Thursday for the Deaf World Championships beginning on Monday.

Why? Apparently, the Ministry of Sports does not have enough funds to cater for the 10 athletes, despite having notice of the competition since last year.

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DEMORALISED

It’s not bad enough that National Deaf Swimming Team must overcome the challenge of being hard of hearing; we have piled on a further unnecessary anxiety in addition to the one from the competition itself.

Let’s be honest here, are we really short of funds? Didn’t we just send 90 delegates to a conference in the USA at the cost of Sh100 million?

This kind of malign treatment of athletes explains why some of them close shop and move elsewhere. Should they be lucky enough and attend the tournament, they will be fortunate if they have accommodation and meals.

Just last week, the athletics and volleyball teams for African Games were kicked out of Luke Hotel, Nairobi, for lack of payment.

Making their way back home is another agony marred with long stays at the airport, spent sleeping on the floor and on very uncomfortable chairs.

For a country that has been a long-standing participant in athletics and sports, why do we keep getting it so wrong?

TIMELY PREPARATION

By now, it should no longer come as a grand last-minute surprise to the Ministry of Sports that a tournament is coming up.

Tournament listings come up as soon as the last one is completed, leaving a full year or even years for preparation in the case of Africa Cup of Nations or the Olympics.

Just in case the Ministry has buried its head in the sand, as it often does, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics commence from July 24 to August 9, 2020; you’re welcome!

If you don’t want to lose talent to the highest bidding country, for the love of God please stop treating talent with such disregard because it is ingrained in us and one athlete can be quickly replaced by another.

There are some athletes that can never be replaced, and we are lucky they put up with our shenanigans.

If this does not yet feel personal to you, I want you to imagine Eliud Kipchoge giving up running for Kenya and deciding Team Great Britain is a better fit.

What if Victor Wanyama decides Nigeria can serve him better, will Tottenham Hotspur keep holding that special place in your heart?

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This little column has reached the 100 articles mark. Thank you, to all the readers, for reading, sharing and for reaching out. Asanteni sana!

Ms Burini focuses on children’s issues; [email protected]

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