BY JOSEPH KAMOTHO
A total of 17 medals, seven of them gold, won in an international sports competition is by no means a mean achievement for a poor country that boasts no sophisticated sporting facilities. Behind superpowers United States and Russia , Kenya ranked third overall in the medal standings at the just concluded International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) Championships in Daegu, South Korea. No better words can describe Kenya’s performance in these competitions.
It is not in doubt that Kenya is a superpower in track events.
For every medal won, there was a pledge of cash rewards from individuals and companies as a token of appreciation for the sterling performance. As a mark of recognition, employers of some of these track stars promoted them. Flowers and gourds of milk from relatives are some of the gifts to the heroes on arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. These are laudable gestures but fall below expectations and hardly match the effort.
The country boasts abundant sporting talent but the political leadership has not taken seriously the participants in various disciplines. Instead, institutions have sponsored sports as part of their corporate responsibility.
For instance, sporting heroes should be given freedom of cities, streets named after them and special seats reserved for them during national day celebrations. Under no circumstances should honouring national heroes be negotiated.
Unlike Kenya, some countries celebrate any medal won in an international competition and leaders turn up at the airports to meet their heroes and heroines on return from an international competition.
Kenyan athletes have over the years done the country proud at the Olympic, Commonwealth and All Africa Games respectively and it is the contention of many Kenyans that apart from the cash rewards and promotions , there are better ways of rewarding such stars. Against all odds, Kenyans still shine in various sports disciplines like rugby, football and lately basketball .
Sports stars have been given a raw deal at home and opted to take citizenship of other countries who recognise talent and abilities. It is time we stopped the migration of sportsmen and women to other countries and instead nurture talent by putting up sports academies in the counties.
It defeats reason and common sense that officials compiling honour list of those to be decorated hardly consider sports heroes but would rather submit names of friends and relatives to the authority for consideration. Some of the people in the annual list of honours presented for decorations are unknown and one would wonder the criteria followed in choosing such nondescripts.
The big question is, why should it be standard practice to decorate every cabinet minister including those who preside over mega scams but forget the athletes in whose honour a national flag is hoisted and anthem played in the country’s honor? It is time the government gave a serious thought to national decorations and give sportsmen and women the attention they deserve.
The writer is a former cabinet minister and one time Secretary General of the then ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU)