Defending champions United States of America have withdrawn from the World Under-18 Championships due for July 12-16 in Nairobi citing security concerns.
At the same time, Athletics Kenya chairman in charge of youth and development Barnaba Korir said withdrawal by USA withdraw is a big blow and called for the government to address the issue urgently.
A letter from USA Track and Field (USATF) to youth coaches around the country indicated that the decision stems from Kenya's designation as a critical threat by the US Department of State.
It detailed that US Department of State rated Kenya’s crime and terrorism as “critical” which is the highest level possible. The State Department’s security summary included risks for all types of crime, from theft to violent crime and terrorism.
“Due to increased security costs and the fact that all athletes would be aged 18 and younger, USATF has decided not to hold a selection event nor to travel to the championship,” said the letter.
“As part of a review of all USATF security issues, USATF’s security team has conducted a risk assessment for our delegation for the 2017 IAAF World Youth Championships, also known as the IAAF U18 Championships.”
USATF said that they are a strong supporter of ensuring the growth of track and field internationally, particularly among young people.
“We will continue to work with our IAAF colleagues to ensure appropriate and productive competitive opportunities for the youth in future.”
USA becomes the sixth country to withdraw from the event after New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Switzerland.
USA won 19 medals: 11 gold, five silver and five bronze to claim the overall title during the 2015 World Under-Championships in Cali, Colombia. Kenya settled second with 16 medals; four gold, five silver and seven bronze.
Last year, world athletics governing body president Sebastian Coe announced that the World Under-18 Championships would be discontinued after Nairobi 2017.
In the future, the IAAF will host regional events instead of a world championship for youth and junior athletes.
Korir said that Kenya should have moved swiftly to assure the world about the security situation after teams started withdrawing.
“We had hoped that even after Great Britain’s withdrawal, USA would still support us but it’s disappointing that they have also followed suit,” said Korir.
“The President (Uhuru Kenyatta) should come out to address the issue and reassure the world since Kenya is bound to lose a lot.”
“This is a blow to the championships yet the sports minister (Hassan Wario) has continued to keep quiet,” said Korir.