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Time to give serious consideration to sports

A mere medal won in any international competition justifies celebration by a participating country but that is not the case with African sports giant, Kenya.

South Africa, for instance, defied  the controversy surrounding the sex status  of its  female gold medalist, Caster  Semenya at the just concluded International  Amateur Athletics Federation  (IAAF)  Championships  in  Berlin, Germany  and accorded her and two other medalists a heroes welcome while the  reception  of Kenyan track stars was one of pity.

Against odds and   apparently poor preparations in the police barracks, our sports heroes and heroines did the country proud and emerged third overall with 11 medals behind Jamaica and the United States.  With the exception of Sports Minister Helen Sambili, the country’s leadership failed once again to appreciate and reciprocate the performance the rest of the world envies.
Like in previous heroic returns from international sports competitions, journalists, family members, friends and sports officials were the only visible faces to congratulate the stars. Even the  loud authors  of  Najivunia kuwa  Mkenya  were nowhere  near  to proudly hug  the youths  who have brought the country honour.

The political  class  feigned  the time  constraint  as an excuse  to meet  the heroes whose  challengers  received  tumultuous  welcome  for  sometimes  just  winning a mere  medal. Part of the reason for the apathy could be jealousy and the other class distinction.  Most of these track stars come  from relatively  unknown  families  and the  political elite fear  that they could be eclipsed  by  the   sons and daughters of a  nobody beyond the tracks.

Perhaps the habitual   lukewarm reception plays a bigger part in scaring patriotism in sports stars.  In the recent past, Kenyan athletes have renounced their birthright and acquired citizenship of other countries that value sports. This is a talent and brain drain that cannot be tolerated or condoned. It is time Parliament considered legislating dual citizenship to avoid Kenyan stars competing against compatriots in international competitions.

Kenya is a country riddled with contradictions, misplaced priorities and insensitivity. The president  traditionally hosts sports teams to hand them the national  flag  on their  way to  international games  but surprisingly  the same leader fails  to  delegate  to his  lieutenants  the  duty of receiving  the medals  won for the  country. Sports stars deserve better treatment and honour befitting their performance. 

It is no exaggeration that some of these unaccredited ambassadors live miserable lives in retirement. A one time an Olympic and Commonwealth  games  champion  took to heavy
drinking  in the US where  he had relocated  when the  country’s leadership  abandoned  him..

Meanwhile,  Kenya   will  be  the venue of the  African  Athletics  Championships  in  April  2010  but a lot needs  to be   done  to make the event a  success and to ensure that the  country  retains  its  sports  supremacy. Training sports talent should be a national priority and not left to the disciplined forces as has been the case now and in the past. Of the 11 medals won by Kenya at the Berlin games, nine were won by   police officers.  Imagine what could have happened to the Kenyan team if most of the  athletes were  not from the  police service. 

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Educational institutions and the  corporate  world  should be  encouraged  to boost  the  sports training kitty to  motivate staff to take up sports  as a pastime  or  a  part  time career. While sports lovers would appreciate  the  one million shilling  budgetary allocation  to constituency football teams development, the country should as well consider  putting up  a  fully equipped  Sports Academy  to  provide the necessary training  for the  upcoming stars.

A similar amount or more should be set aside for other sporting disciplines in the constituencies if not districts. In recognition and appreciation of the contribution the police and the military have contributed towards sports development, the government  should  consider  substantially funding  and equipping  those institutions.

(The writer is aformer cabinet minister and secretary  general of two major political parties in Kenya)


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