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.
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)