Thursday, August 18, 2016

Olympian humiliation

Catherine Nyambura Ndereba was the first woman in the world to win the Boston Marathon four times: 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2005. She was selected as the Kenyan Olympic Team Chaperone and accompanied Kenya's Olympians to Rio. But an athlete who made Time Magazine's 100 Athletes to Watch (at No. 38) in 2008 at the age of 36 was treated in one of the shabbiest ways by the National Olympic Committee of Kenya. First she wasn't accredited as a member of the Kenyan team and more shamefully, she was left to fend for herself in Rio de Janeiro, organising her accommodation and other needs without the support of NOCK. She was not alone.

In 2008, rumours were flying thick and fast that the Beijing Olympics were an opportunity for hyenas to feast at the expense of athletes' preparedness or management. The scalawags responsible were senior officials of the Ministry of Sports, Athletics Kenya and NOCK. The same rumours were rife in London in 2012. In Rio 2016, they are no longer rumours; they are provable facts.

Julius Yego, who remained unnoticed by both the Ministry of Sports and NOCK until his surprise first place finish at the 2011 All-African Games in Mapupto, Mozambique (where the national organising committee had almost refused to fund his travel and accommodation), almost didn't travel to Rio because his air ticket "was missing". A coach was sent home for "attempting to impersonate an athlete" as NOCK denied knowledge of how the man had made it to Rio in the first place. It turns out that the coach, John Anzrah, had also not been accredited as part of the Kenyan team and had begged Kenya's Ferguson Rotich for his badge so that he could gain entrance into the Athletes' Village for breakfast. I want you to picture the image of a sixty-one year old man begging a 26 year old man for food and let the image remain imprinted in your mind.

It also turns out that for every Kenyan Olympian, the giant sports' apparel manufacturer, Nike, had supplied eight pieces of kit. The interweb has been replete with outraged tales of athletes who received one or two pieces of kit (or none at all, like the unfortunate Mr Anzrah) so much so that during the opening ceremony, Kenya was notable for its shambolic procession where different styles and colours were on display. As of yet, NOCK has been unable to fully explain where the Nike supplies went though I have no doubt that in a month or so, a fully-kitted, Nike-branded duka in one of Nairobi's shiny new malls will be selling Nike Olympic kit at a smart profit.

Kenyans have already lost faith in many institutions of their government; the last two bastions of fairness and integrity we had faith in were the Kenya Defence Forces and the sports fraternity (save for the seemingly irredeemable football sector), especially Kenyan athletics as represented by Athletics Kenya and NOCK. But since London 2012, that faith has been truly undermined and not only are Kenyans now willing to entertain sometimes farfetched allegations of doping, Kenyans no longer care enough to even launch online polemics against the poisonous presence of the current leadership of sports in Kenya: the Cabinet Secretary, his PS, their mandarins, and the I-will-only-let-this-job-go-over-my-dead-body officials of both Athletics Kenya and NOCK. Petty theft of athletics' kit under the incompetent oversight of the Ministry, Athletics Kenya and NOCK is the tip of an ugly iceberg made up of corruption, tribalism, sexual harrassment, sexual assault and, yes, doping.

One of the strangest solutions, seemingly endorsed because of its sense of finality and bandied about wildly and stupidly, is the death penalty for those who are destroying such venerable institutions as Kenyan athletics. The harsh language of violence is, ironically, being transferred to an institution established precisely so that the world could avoid violence. Those responsible for the problems in Kenyans athletics must be punished, but we must keep a sense of proportion when doing so. If they have stolen, let them pay back what they stole plus a hefty interest. If they have enriched themselves at the expense of our athletes or our national honour, let us confiscate their ill-gotten wealth plus a hefty interest. Let them lose their pubic positions and let them be banned for life from ever participating in Kenyan athletics. If need be, let us impoverish them so that everyone else will see that there are bad consequences for doing bad things. Let us not cover up our hypocrisies with state-sanctioned killing, no matter how much closure and finality we will experience.

Some of us suspect that nothing serious will ever be done. Reports, most certainly, will be written by parliamentarians and ministry mandarins and recommendations will be made about what should be done to improve things. Similar reports have been written since Henry Kosgey played a commanding role in the organising of the All-Africa Games in Nairobi in 1987. But where we are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, our hypocrisy will not allow us to reform sports federations or their management or demolish the edifices of corruption that they have built. Not when a Kenyan minister will drag a bodyguard to a nation 25,000 miles away where both are not only unknown but definitely not at risk simply because it is in his power to do so. The stupidity would be funny if it didn't lead to such humiliating outcomes for Catherine Ndereba, John Anzrah and Julius Yego.

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