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Trouble with Kenya is its embedded officials

Thursday September 4 2014

Wilfred Bungei of Kenya celebrates after winning the men's 800m final of the athletics competition in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Wilfred Bungei of Kenya celebrates after winning the men's 800m final of the athletics competition in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

It is common knowledge that when you do something over and over again, you won’t get different results.

It is only saints and madmen who may have the patience to water an asphalt pavement and have faith that roses and violets shall reward their labour.

It is futile faith that can only be cured by a psychiatrist and other guardians of the mental balance.

When we have an organisation with the same people year in year out doing the same thing and anticipating different consequences, we are not far removed from the insanity referred to above. We must all soberly ask ourselves: “What next?”


Athletics Kenya (AK) has been run by the same people for more than two decades and it has had the same problems. Seriously, we must by now realise that no miracle will happen and that things can only get worse at the national athletics federation — unless there is change.


When I started running way back in 1998 as a junior, the challenges were uniforms, team selection and payment of allowances.
When I graduated to the senior team, I learned, to my surprise, that the same problems of kits, allowances and team selection were still the thorn in the flesh of Team Kenya.

These glitches were the norm and had to be endured any time one was called up to the national team.

These hiccups were so demoralising that those who could not stomach them opted out of this den of suffering and fled to greener pastures.


By 2002-2004, many of my colleagues had began migrating to the Gulf states and the US. They changed their names and acquired foreign citizenships and ran for their adopted countries, just to get away from the evil clutches of AK and its ‘embedded’ officials.

At the time, many Kenyans were led to believe that these athletes were selfish and ready to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage; they were seen as “looking for easy money”.

But, to those of us in the know, we understood them well and we knew that they were tired of the way things are run in AK.

Those of us who chose to be patriots clung to the hope that things would get better. But patriotism became a huge burden borne like a cross amid taunts and floggings towards Golgotha. In dismay, it finally dawned on me that there was no change and things were getting murkier by the day.


By the time I was exiting in 2008, having been captain in 2007 and 2008, nothing had changed for the healthier.

When we recently read about the situation of Team Kenya at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, it was no surprise that the same petty problems were recurring, and with mounting intensity.

Now the questions that all of us should be asking are: For how long should we tolerate these issues?

For how long shall Brand Kenya be treated with such insolence and contempt by the few who hold it to ransom?
There is no respect at all for those who run for Kenya and some foreign agents take it a bit further and show their impudence openly.

This reminds me of agents who openly told their athletes that, if they did not perform, the agents would drop them, come to the streets of Nairobi and pick any other Kenyan and make them an athlete.

This assumption of a glut of world beaters is what hinders the world from seeing the hard work put in by Kenyan athletes. This is the reality to which the men and women who have donned the Kenyan colours are subjected.

This is the humiliation that we have covered with the national flag as we made our victory lap. This is the unnecessary shame I withstood for the 10 or so years in Team Kenya.

For how long shall we read about allowances and uniform problems in Team Kenya whenever there is an outing? Who will take responsibility for the ills bedevilling the local athletics scene, and to which our athletes are subjected?


In sane countries, those in charge take responsibility when things are not going right. They resign from their positions and allow others to take charge.

Those at the helm of AK have mastered the art of conspiratorial silence and letting things cool after every fault while the Ministry of Sports seems like a bystander who sees nothing.

Next year, when Team Kenya will be going for the World Championships, we can accurately predict the same dire straits for the athletes. Many of you will have forgotten about this. For now, it is business as usual at Riadha House.

Wilfred Bungei is the 2008 Beijing Olympics 800 metres champion and Team Kenya captain.