IN ASABA, NIGERIA
Despite the myriad of frustrations that greeted their arrival here, Kenya’s track and field team to the 21st African Athletics Championships remains confident of an outstanding performance in the five-day competition.
Terrible reception has seen some athletes spend three days in Lagos waiting for the 50-minute special charter flight to the Delta State city of Asaba that’s hosting these championships at the Stephen Keshi Stadium.
Asaba is approximately 500 kilometres away from Lagos and there are no scheduled flights yet to the refurbished airport.
Kenya’s head of delegation Abraham Mutai said they had contemplated pulling out of the competition altogether but the athletes and officials finally opted to face the storm head-on.
“All this will definitely have an impact on the performance but the team is focused and the athletes have maintained their cool,” Mutai, also Athletics Kenya’s Central Rift branch chairman, said.
“We have left all that experience behind us. We came to compete and then go back home so what’s prevented us from going back is the fact that we came here to compete.”
The chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Solomon Ogba, meanwhile apologised for the travel mess, saying their initial arrangement with a local airline came a cropper after the company said they had opted to service their aircraft.
He also blamed countries for failing to confirm in good time their arrival schedules even after having attended the Delegates’ Registration Meeting (DRM) prior to the championships.
“Some four teams that were not even in the DRM turned up and we could not turn them away,” he explained, noting that his committee had also been in touch with Athletics Kenya regularly ahead of the team’s arrival.
“The officials had an opportunity to see where they would stay and to see the facilities and so the speculation in the media should not even arise,” Ogba added.
Like Mutai, veteran coach Julius Kirwa also maintained that the athletes have a fighting spirit and are forgetting the tribulations they have faced to focus on the events on the programme.
“This is a lesson to future hosts to be serious first when they bid for these championships because what we have experienced here we have never seen before,” Kirwa, who is assisting head coach Stephen Mwaniki, said.
“But all in all, we pray to God that we get the medals,” he added after the Kenyan team of about 70 athletes and officials landed in Asaba shortly after 10am to join a contingent of 22 that had arrived on Tuesday.
With these championships selecting Africa’s team to the Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic in September, many elite stars have braved the conditions here to honour the national team call-ups.
Ogba also said that for the first time in the championships’ history, they will give out prize money with the top three athletes receiving $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 (Sh300,000), Sh200,000 and Sh100,000 respectively.
The transfers chaos forced organisers to cancel the morning session with four events lined up in the afternoon session with Kenya in action in the men’s 10,000 metres final.