Distance running power Kenya wants more protection for young athletes lured to compete for richer Gulf states amid allegations of mistreatment, a senior Kenyan athletics official said on Thursday.
Kenyan athletes have defected to the Gulf States in droves in recent years, lured by cash and better training conditions, and to avoid a brutal selection process in an east African nation that has dominated middle and long distance running for decades.
Kenyan athletes Isaac Kemboi Chelimo, Edwin Chebii Kimurer, Stephen Kamar and Gladys Cherotich Kibiwot were taken to Bahrain last month and represented the Gulf State at the 37th World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan.
But a number have appealed to the country's athletics governing body to help them repatriate amid allegations from one of its top runners of unpaid wages and bonuses while training for Bahrain, Athletics Kenya (AK) chairman Isaiah Kiplagat told Reuters on Thursday.
"They are taken from their schools, spirited to the Gulf and are given passports to run in international competitions. What is their status after that? Are they aliens or still Kenyans?" said Kiplagat, who expressed concern about their legal protections.
Kiplagat said AK had spoken to Bahrain and Qatar about the treatment of young Kenyan athletes in their countries, many of whom were not given full citizenship and were only made permanent residents.
AK had also told Bahrain to release Saad Yusuf Kamel, formerly Gregory Konchellah, after the 800m runner quit a training camp in Ethiopia claiming unpaid salaries and bonuses, Kiplagat said.
Konchellah, who came fifth in the 800m final at the Beijing Olympics last year, had asked Kenyan authorities to reinstate him, but Bahrain had been reluctant to release him, his Kenyan manager Barnaba Korir said recently.
"Bahrain was told to release Konchellah unconditionally so he can start preparing for future competitions, but our biggest concern is these young athletes," said Kiplagat.
"Once the formalities are completed between Kenya, Bahrain and IAAF, he will be free to run for Kenya in Berlin (in the world championships)," he added.
Kiplagat said another five Kenyan athletes representing Bahrain had sought help from AK to retrieve their passports from authorities there, to help them repatriate.
The athletes included Saleh Marzooq Bakheet (Simon Mbuthia), Ishaq Isaak Abedeen (Isaack Waweru), Dawood Sultal Khamis (Dominic Kiprono), Majjid Saleh Basheer (Ronald Kipchumba) and Eyad Juma Yaqoob Basheer (Eric Chirchir).