World Relays: Is this Kenya’s wake-up call… or death knell?

Wednesday March 18 2020

Je'Von Hutchison of the US (left) reacts as he crosses the finish line during a heat of the men's 4x400 metre relay at the IAAF World Relays athletics event at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama on May 11, 2019. PHOTO | KAZUHIRO NOGI |



As the two-day IAAF World Relays draw to a close at the Nissan Stadium here on Sunday, observers feel the competition has either rung the wake-up call, or sounded the death knell for Kenyan athletics.

Kenya will be in action on Sunday in the mixed 4x400 metres final along with the women’s 4x400m final in the ‘B’ category, with the men’s and women’s 4x200m teams also fighting in the heats for a place in the final later on in the evening

With the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) shifting focus towards innovation to add pace to the sport, Kenya could be a victim of its own success in long distance running that’s slowly being shoved into the back burner of the global sport.

Athletics Kenya’s Nairobi branch chairman Barnabas Korir, here on a fact-finding mission on behalf of the IAAF’s “Nairobi 2020” World Under-20 Championships’ local organising committee, on Saturday said Kenya would have to align itself to the changes in track and field to survive.

“The resurgence of European and American athletes in the changing athletics landscape means we could go back to the era of the 1960s and 70s where Africa wasn’t as dominant in athletics as it is today,” Korir said.

He noted that the shift of commercial television attention from distance running in track and field meetings to fast-paced action, including the newly-introduced relays competitions, could see Kenya fail to command global attention.

“Instead of complaining, we need to adjust and go by the dynamics of the sport,” Korir, a former US-schooled distance runner, said as he monitored Kenya’s feeble relays challenge at the Nissan Stadium.

On Friday, IAAF President Seb Coe praised the uptake of the relays, noting that the world’s track and field governing body hasn’t slammed the door to further innovation in the sport.

“The mainstay of our sport has to be the recognition that we have to always be thinking what’s going to attract new, young fans, what’s going to be keeping our broadcasters and partners happy, and, yes, innovation sits at the heart of everything we are doing,” Coe responded to a question from Nation Sport at the official pre-competition press conference at the Nissan Stadium.

“We need to always need to listen to what our market, our athletes, our fans are saying to us. “The World Relays have been a good incubator for us and a lot of things we have taken into our championships have been road-tested in this environment,” the former Olympic middle distance champion added.