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Bloody battle in AK polls

NAIROBI, September 19 – Its looking very likely that the November 9 elections for the national executive at Athletics Kenya (AK) will turn out to be a procession with current office holders having their mandate extended for another four years.

Flashback to October 2004: Acrimony marks the federations’ national elections where The Big Three, chairman Isaiah Kiplagat, Secretary General, David Okeyo and Treasurer, Joseph Kinyua, together with Assistant Secretary, Ibrahim Hussein are elected unopposed.

Vice-chairmen, Alf Kimani and Lt. Gen Jack Tuweii won back their seats while journalist Peter Angwenyi ousted veteran administrator, Francis Nyatome from the Public Relations Officer post.

Frank Afundi was the only other new face after he bagged the Assistant Treasurer’s seat after flooring the incumbent.

Before the polls, Kipsang Maswai had opposed Kiplagat, who has held the top seat since 1992 when he defeated the late Paul Boit but withdrew to give him the final chance to implement his vision.

On election day, a group of athletes, waving a court order to allow them to participate in the elections found the associations’ Riadha House headquarters sealed off by Police officers.

They were later allowed in after consultations between AK’s executive and the security men only for them to leave in a huff when they could not ballot.

That is just a sample of the intrigues and that mark national polls of arguably one of the richest sport governing body in the country.

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This year, it is not expected to different. The incumbent executive faces opposition from a formidable group of former athletes coalescing around three-time World steeplechase champion, Moses Kiptanui.

In the past one-week, two happenings have significantly altered the landscape of this year’s AK elections. On Monday, the entire executive announced they would defend their seats.

At the stormy press briefing, it emerged that Kiplagat, who had pledged in his 2004 victory to serve his last term, was requested by the executive at two full council meetings (held in 2006 and last year) to rescind his decision.

When he accepted, the entire executive pledged to support him for another term and this was minuted. The task of making that announcement was left to Kimani after Kiplagat walked out.

On Thursday during teenage women’s 800m phenomenon, Pamela Jelimo’s homecoming, the two camps came face to face at Eldoret Airport.

Kiplagat’s supporters were engaged in intense lobbying to prevail on Kiptanui to step down in his favour just like Maswai did four years ago.

Later on in the evening, the chairman hosted a lavish private party at his Eldoret residence that excluded the media. Sources from the gathering intimated that voting delegates in the Rift region were feted in exchange of their backing.

Speaking to this reporter, Kiptanui said he would not relent in his pursuit for the top post. “Even if I lost, I want to make a strong point to the executive that former athletes are not willing to sit on the sidelines any longer.”

Why is AK’s executive committee so alluring? For starters, it is one of very few self-supporting sports federations we have in Kenya.

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Last year, it had a Sh18m surplus in its accounts and the figure is projected to rise to Sh21m this term. Every year, a sponsorship deal with sports apparel manufacturer, Nike nets the association Sh44m after a 12-year deal was signed in 2003.

Milk processing firm, KCC entered an agreement to sponsor the track season for Sh15million per annum and this year, commercial bank, KCB weighed in with a Sh5million deal to back the national cross-country season. World governing body, IAAF, also gives the federation a Sh1million grant each year.

Further revenue is generated from the Sh20million worth Riadha House; the AK Athletics museum housed at the headquarters, a fledgling travel agency, grants from International Olympics Committee channelled through its affiliate, Nock and minor sponsors for various athletics events.

Foreign agents’ licences and registration fees for local events close the list of income sources. In turn, AK gives all its eight affiliates annual grants of Sh4.5million and its employees are among the best paid.

With an average of Sh60million running through its coffers each year, AK has without doubt become a model sports association in a country where most governing bodies are perpetually cash strapped.

An AK national executive official ranks among the notables in the country, with attractive perks to boot.

Riding piggyback on the success of Kenyan athletes, the only sportspersons who have earned global acclaim, AK officialdom fetch envious allowances whenever the national junior and senior teams travel on duty.

The recent Beijing Olympics where 38 officials accompanied 46 athletes is a case in point where current office holders have been accused of using the trip as bait for votes.

Some deserving personnel, such as a team physiotherapist and two assistant coaches were relegated to the sidelines and replaced by a number of delegates crucial to the November polls.

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The team was also allegedly bloated from the initial 37 to accommodate a larger quota of officials.

Other high profile cases of alleged corruption plagued AK in the run-up to and after the last election in 2004.

The contract for the Sh8.6m rehabilitation of Riadha House in 2005 was controversially awarded to a firm closely linked with high ranking federation officials.

Some Sh4.092m was used for that year’s Africa Athletics Championship and Sh4.8m spent for the World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy but the bulk of this money went to pay officials’ allowances.

At the height of defections of Kenyan athletes to oil rich Gulf States in 2003, accusations of sleaze were levelled against two-top officials who were said to have received Sh5m each from Qatar. One reportedly bought a house in Nairobi.

However, efforts to bribe for the highest profile case, two-time world steeplechase champion, Saif Saeed Shahen (formerly Stephen Cheroot) to compete for the Qataris at the Athens Olympics when NOCK refused to sanction the quick transfer.

Shaheen had won the World title for his adopted state in Paris after his switch of allegiance was rushed through.

Bahrain, another state who wanted AK to rush the process for runners who had opted for it was denied after they allegedly refused to oil the hands of AK’s and the Government’s top brass.

It has also been reported that foreign managers and agents alongside their local sidekicks have had to bribe their way to be allowed to practise in the country.

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Threats of expulsion, de-registration, non renewal of licences and in some cases deportation from the country have been levelled against those who do not play ball.

In June, Kiplagat petitioned the Immigrations Department to review the stay of Italian coach, Renato Canova, who was briefly arrested after he rubbed the officialdom the wrong way.

Canova enlisted by the Qataris to coach their runners of Kenyan extraction had long enjoyed cordial relations with AK but others have used international blogs to hit out at the rampant corruption within the federation.

Add to the mix the prestige and profile that comes with being associated with winners and the platform to international positions that holders of AK office enjoy and a true picture of why current office holders are keen to hold on to their positions emerges.

Kiplagat and Okeyo are members of the IAAF Governing Council and Road Running Committee respectively and the latter is also an Africa Athletics Commission vice chairman.

To maintain a stranglehold on their positions, AK officials have used a close-knit delegate format for elections. Only fully paid up members of AK are allowed to participate at district, provincial and branch elections.

There nothing untoward in that. Only the full paid members in this case have to apply and be vetted by the executive, a requirement that has locked most athletes and those perceived to be rouble rousers out of elections.

Confusion over the AK constitution, where two documents drafted in 1953 and 1994 are in use compounds the situation. A stipulation enshrined in them requiring elections to be held every year has been ignored.

A proposed new constitution to harmonise the two and also address the stringent membership requirements that have locked out most athletes-the key stakeholders-remains just that, a proposal.

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The AK is also run as a typical Kenyan high school set-up, where top official lord over lesser administrators and athletes following the mantra of headmaster and student relations.

Dissent is never entertained and disciplinary measurers such as lack of foreign trips for wayward officials at the branch level and coaches and denial of places in national teams and permits to race outside for athletes have been employed to keep all in check.

Incentives such as being included as joy riders in Kenyan contingents to international events, wildcard entry to competition for athletes and awarding of licences have been used to reward conforming runners, coaches, official and agents.

Apart from graft, accusations of flawed selection process for national teams to competitions and lack of proper grassroots development mechanisms for coaches and athletes have been made against the current AK to executive.

They have also failed to make mileage, commercial or otherwise, from athletics with the sport still lagging behind football and motor sport in public appeal in spite of boasting a slew of world-beaters.

That is why events such as national championships and trials never record capacity crowds where a similar gathering overseas would guarantee full house.

Ethiopia boasts much less top athletes but the sport commands fanatical following as the Africa Athletics Championships held there demonstrated.

On the positive, AK remains one of the most efficiently run sports association and last year; it bagged the Sports Federation gong at the Sportsperson of the Year (Soya) Award.

Their financial statements are available for scrutiny, a rarity among their peers most who do not even maintain proper books of account.

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Isaiah Kiplagat
D.O.B: November 12, 1944
IAAF Council Member since 1999
Vice-Chairman, Kenya Amateur Athletics Association
Secretary General, Kenya Amateur Athletics Association
Vice-Chairman, Kenya Amateur Athletics Association
1992-to date
Chairman, Kenya Amateur Athletics Association
Member, IAAF Technical Committee
Secretary/Treasurer, East Africa Athletic Board
Replaced Paul Boit in 1992 and had said this would be his last term after his re-election in 2004.

Moses Kiptanui
D.O.B: October 1, 1970
P.O.B: Marakwet District, Kenya

Track honours
World Championships
Gold (1991 Tokyo, 1993 Stuttgart and 1995 Gothenburg in  3000 m steeplechase)
Silver (1997, Athens)
Olympic Games
Silver 1996

The AK executive life member has been a vocal critic of it’s top brass.
Kiptanui enjoys wide support from former and current athletes.

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