AK should adopt inter-county system of competition

Tuesday February 13 2018

Geoffrey Kamworor celebrates near the finish line during the Lotto/Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Championships men's 10km race  at Uhuru Gardens on February 10, 2018. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |

Geoffrey Kamworor celebrates near the finish line during the Lotto/Athletics Kenya National Cross Country Championships men's 10km race at Uhuru Gardens on February 10, 2018. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ELIAS MAKORI
More by this Author

Last weekend, world champion Geoffrey Kamworor completed a hat-trick of victories at Athletics Kenya’s Lotto-sponsored National Cross Country Championships at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens.

The victory cemented the 25-year-old policeman’s status as the world’s greatest distance running all-rounder, coming just three months after his triumph at the New York Marathon.

Coupled with his prowess in the 10,000 metres on the track, the Kaptagat-based athlete is unquestionably the “master of all surfaces.”

But shortly after crossing the finish line on Saturday, Kamworor threw a tantrum, visibly angered by the fact that for all his triumphs in National Police Service colours, his seniors at Vigilance House have seen no reason to elevate him from the rank of corporal.

Some observers thought Kamworor’s approach was disrespectful, while others felt he deserved more recognition from the office of the Inspector General.

My take: Kamworor deserves to move up the ranks! After all, several policemen and women have been elevated by a wave of the swagger stick for lesser achievements.

Rewarding Kamworor will increase his thirst for more success for the Police team besides motivating other sportsmen and women in the force.

On the other hand, Kamworor’s rant also brought to fore the dilapidating effects of the monotony of the National Cross Country Championships.

I could feel a heightened sense of déjà vu while crisscrossing the challenging Uhuru Gardens course to follow the races on Saturday. Over the years, the national championships have been the same old boring affair:

Starter’s gun, race after race, trophy presentation and departures! Nothing innovative.

After last year’s championships, I proposed that Athletics Kenya (AK) changes tack and makes an attempt at innovation to endear the event more to new publics, especially the younger, ‘slay queen’ and ‘odi dance’ generation. However, it was the same old affair at Uhuru Gardens on Saturday. Boring stuff!

Which is why I wish to challenge AK again, this time proposing that they dump the “branches” approach and introduce “inter-counties” competition at the national championships.

Meaning, instead of AK’s affiliate branches, along with the disciplined forces, competing against one another at the nationals, we should have the 47 counties competing alongside teams from the National Police Service, Kenya Defence Forces, Kenya Prisons Service, National Youth Service and Kenya Forest Service.

And perhaps they could throw in a combined universities side. That way, we shall have 53 teams in fierce competition.

Such format would trigger investment from country governments in developing and motivating their teams, and athletes seeking recognition, like Kamworor, would have fallback plans and run for their home counties.

Meaning Governor Alex Tolgos would consider motivating Kamworor to run in Elgeyo-Marakwet County colours if the National Police Service remains indifferent to the athlete’s prowess.

The role of sports executives and chief officers in these counties would also have been elevated and such officials would have some serious work to do in identifying, financing and fielding top quality athletes at the national championships, both in cross country running and track and field.

Also, rather than focus the national championships in Nairobi alone, AK should consider having counties bid to host these championships on an extended, two-day format that would include more junior races and masters’ competitions just to spread interest in athletics.

Live bands and cultural troupes crafted in entertainment villages at the meet venues would also inspire more new following for athletics besides transforming competition days into one big festival.

Rotating the championships would, meanwhile, ease the financial pressure on Riadha House with the host counties footing some of the bills that the association would otherwise have settled in the current arrangement.

This would free AK’s resources to finance other programmes, besides opening up new revenue streams for the federation that was named the 2017 “Sports Federation of the Year” at the recent sports awards gala.

Sponsors like Lotto (who have been supporting the national championships) will also cash in on the opportunity to market their products and services on nationwide platform rather than staying put at Uhuru Gardens, Nyayo National Stadium and Kasarani.

Furthermore, home county pride would attract more fans to cheer their respective counties at these championships, making them more attractive to both fans and sponsors.