KIRUKU: Graft costing region despite sending best team to Rio

Kenya's Jemima Jelagat Sumgong runs on her way to win the Women's Marathon during the ...
Kenya's Jemima Jelagat Sumgong runs on her way to win the Women's Marathon during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

The region has sent a great team to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Expectations are understandably high that the teams will bring home a haul of gold medals. The current holders of Olympic titles are also expected to defend their titles well despite serious competition.

But the challenges that our sportsmen and women continuously face must be addressed once and for all. This should be done with a sense of urgency if we are to restore the glory that the region deserves, ensuring we remain in athletics and other sporting areas.

In the recent past, the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (NOCK) has been on spot over its treatment of athletes headed for Rio. The world-celebrated “YouTube Man,” Julius Yego, arrived at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport only to find that there was no ticket for him. The self-taught world javelin champion finally travelled after other athletes refused to proceed without him, piling pressure on authorities.

This shameful scenario portrayed poor planning and brought to the fore the inefficiencies in the running of sports matters by NOCK officials. Led by Team Kenya CEO, James Chacha, these officials also had no tickets for world 1,500 metres silver medallist Elijah Manangoi and two-time world marathon champion Catherine Ndereba, who is also Team Kenya chaperone. It is no wonder that Yego has been vocal about poor treatment of athletes.

Still last week, the Kenya team’s track and field manager was sent home from Rio after allegations that he requested money to let undercover journalists, posing as representatives of athletes, know when drugs testers would come calling. This threatened to lower the integrity of the team and its officials. Naturally, it left a bitter taste in the mouth on the perceived fairness of the ongoing competitions.

Indeed, the challenges of doping have cast a dark cloud on sports competitions in the world, and every effort must be made to deal with this menace. It is shameful for any athlete or team manager to be implicated, especially when it comes to a top competition such as the Olympics.

In addition to all these challenges, female athletes are further disadvantaged by virtue of gender considerations. There have been complaints of sexual harassment of upcoming female athletes by team managers, sponsors and organisers. This is a culture that must be nipped in the bud if we are to encourage more girls to take up sports careers.

Sexual harassment has now been recognized as a social problem in sport. The psychologic consequences for the female athlete are severe when her personal safety is violated through harassment or abusive behaviour. Governments must develop and implement policies regarding sexual harassment so as to create an environment in which women and girls feel free to report such incidents. Setting a clear policy on sexual harassment in sports would also go a long way in getting rid of such offenses.

The budgetary allocation to sports across the five EAC Partners states has been unacceptably low, moreover, showing that our leaders do not accord sports the same weight given to other sectors. As a result, officials have complained of lack of funds to pay athletes their dues, leading the latter to revolt and decline to participate in international competitions.

The most affected sport has been soccer, where no team in the region has gone beyond the African Championships. Soccer, just as other sporting activities, has been severely affected by politics. While Kenya is well known as a sporting nation, this success is not reflected in soccer – the result of squabbling and corruption.

Yet corruption in sports is no news. There are concerns the world over about the lack of transparency and accountability in sports. The risk of corruption has increased dramatically as commercial influences grow. Political interference, too, has bedevilled the sports fraternity for a long time; this is more so where politicians try to use sportsmen and women to further their own careers.

The industry, within the region, has been bedevilled by tribalism, competition for control of sports funds, rivalry over positions, use of sports facilities, and lack of a proper chain of command in the management of sports.

These and other challenges should be handled diligently. All sports management organisations should be audited annually to ensure accountability of sports funds.

Not only in Kenya but across the region, governments must learn to keep their hands off sports matters, coming in only when there is need. Management of the sports federations should be all-inclusive of all stakeholders.

For now, the region’s citizens can only hope that our sportsmen and women in Rio will rise up to the challenge in spite of the hiccups faced and bring home the winning medals.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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