The death of Isaiah "Fundi" Kiplagat on Wednesday, the former Athletics Kenya (AK) President, brought the curtain down on the career of an administrator who outlived virtually everything that is good and bad in Kenya’s sport scene.
Kiplagat was a no-nonsense, abrasive man who never shied away from a fight. Last year, he outmanoeuvred everybody, including the 14 regional chairmen who were determined to end his uninterrupted tenure at AK since December 1992, with devastating efficiency of a veteran combatant.
Kiplagat first served as Athletics Kenya secretary in 1975 and left in 1988. He is credited for building up a strong Prisons athletics institution and presiding over the construction of the Langata Prisons facility.
But there were many prime movers in sports in the 70s and 80s, who held back his ambition and so he stood no chance then. Nonetheless, Kiplagat was happy to play the role of a student, and ended up a good one for that matter.
He bide his time and was briefly appointed the Regional Director of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) before President Moi appointed him as the Managing Director of Postbank.
When he was elected AK chairman in 1992 after his would-be-challenger Robert Ouko failed to get a proposer, Kiplagat embarked on reviving athletics with an eye of it being a corporate.
He quickly started planning his campaign by identifying people he would trust while being busy at the bank. Four years later, he settled for Joseph Kinyua, then the principal of Kenya Science Teachers College as treasurer.
The team did not disappoint and in 2000, AK laid the foundation stone of Riadha House after proper accounting of the Nike sponsorship money.
This was a remarkable achievement by any standards since it made Kenya the 12th affiliated member of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in the world to own its headquarters.
Kiplagat’s next big project was the AK museum, the troubled travel agency and the radio station, which never took off.
He was on a roll. Before then, Kiplagat was able to address the elephant in the house called foreign athletics agents. During a cross country meeting in Kerugoya, Kiplagat put the agents on notice and was ready to ban them from handling Kenyan athletes as they misbehaved.
He also imposed a license fee and towards the end, forced them to appoint local sub agents, thereby creating employment for local coaches.
His biggest victory was in 1999 when he joined the IAAF as a Council Member after Charles Mukora, a former top official of AK was forced to resign from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympic Committee, Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and IAAF over bribery scandal over awarding of the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City.
Indeed, Kiplagat was slowly curving an impressive career in sports administration. Previously, he was the chairman of the Kenya Paraplegic Association (KPA) and later Chairman of Safari Rally Limited.
He failed to sparkle in motorsport, the internal politics, including egos just too big to handle. One of his greatest critics, Patrick Njiru, then the most influential sportsman in Kenya, once called him “a stooge of white drivers” on national television.
But Kiplagat never took offence and soon they were greatest of friends, though their finest hour was over. In fact, he took too much abuse and had a way of making one small.
Kiplagat was to quit Safari Rally after motorsport was delinked from the Automobile Association of Kenya, which created the Kenya Motorsport Foundation which in turn created the Kenya Motorsport Federation.
Under Kiplagat, the Safari Rally lost sponsorship and finally the WRC status in 2002.
FAILED TO INCLUDE KETER
In his sojourn through this world, all was not smooth sailing and, thrice, he almost tipped to the abyss of ignominy - in 2000, 2003 and 2015.
Soon after the final Olympic trials for the 2000 Sydney Games, AK failed to include the 400 metres hurdler Eric Keter in the national squad despite having won the trials and had a qualifying time.
Keter went to court before the presiding judge Justice Richard Kwach. Kiplagat tried to stall and Justice Kwach was not amused, giving 30 minutes to appear before him or risk going to jail. A shaken Kiplagat listened as he was given a dress down that he “decided to resign” from AK.
He told this writer as much. As usual, people in AK talked him out of it. In 2003, soon after Narc took over power, Kiplagat found himself in trouble over Postbank money deposited in the collapsed Euro Bank.
But the wily operator he was, managed to wither the storm. Last year, Kiplagat had exhausted all his tactics: Came the Nike Sh50 million probe, the Li Ning proposed Sh600 million sponsorship of Athletics Kenya and the small matter of the regional chairmen.
He mounted one of the most intelligent counter attacks against the regional chairmen, who were calling for a Special Annual General Meeting to ouster him.
Kiplagat, who in 2010 was diagnosed with cancer in a chance medical check-up during the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, fought back in the corridors of Athletics Kenya and the courts with devastating results for a man battling with a life threatening diseases.
But in May, he surprisingly stepped aside to concentrate on his campaign for the IAAF vice presidency. Lieutenant General Jack Tuwei (retired), then his assistant, took over.
Kiplagat announced this during the final national trials for Beijing World Championships and without batting an eyelid, told President Uhuru Kenyatta that he had had enough after serving his father, Moi, President Kibaki and now him.
But in Beijing, things went terribly wrong and Kiplagat lost badly. A few weeks later, IAAF suspended him together with first AK Vice President David Okeyo and former treasurer Joseph Kinyua on allegations of abetting doping and spiriting away Nike sponsorship money.
The case was given to former Kenya Deputy Public Prosecutor Sharad Rao before the end of the year. It remains Kiplagat’s unfinished business in this world.
Kiplagat also twice failed to win a seat in the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK).
Peter Njenga is a former Nation Journalist, now CEO of communication consulting firm Universal Media Network.
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