KERICHO, Oct 20 – Kenya’s reputation for producing gold medal-winning Olympic athletes is taking a hammering following allegations of sex abuse and financial double dealing at unregulated training camps.
A decision to shut down a top youth camp after reports of sexual abuse have laid bare the exploitation facing many young Kenyans desperate to get into athletics and escape poverty.
With the promise of huge earnings, the country has witnessed an explosion in the number of training camps which have no support from the national federation.
Unlike rivals Ethiopia, which enjoys a stable national club system, Kenya has no law to regulate these camps.
Kenya has over 25 clubs with most centred in the Rift Valley.
Save for a few which enjoy big corporate support, most of the camps lack facilities such as power supply or running water.
Their day-to-day running is usually controlled by one man who acts as trainer, manager, agent and owner of the premises.
Athletics Kenya (AK) chief Isaiah Kiplagat conceded that his organisation has no control over the clubs, but said they have enacted rules which will soon come into force.
"We have now club rules approved by the AK council and the AGM, but have appointed an implementation committee to see the clubs comply with the rules," said Kiplagat.
"Our position is very clear. Athletes should be made to train in a friendly and healthy environment. The clubs must have coaches, trainers and facilities with separate accommodation for both boys and girls," he added.
"Under the IAAF rules, agents are not suppose to sign or take an athlete without the consent of the federation. But unfortunately some of the managers are sneaking out these runners to compete in road races overseas."
Coach Francis Kamau believes the road races have contributed to the premature retirement by many talented Kenyan runners who were introduced to the tarmac early in their development.
He also claims talented youngsters are poached from small clubs with the lure of money to join the bigger training camps.
Mr Kamau gives an example of three junior athletes who were allegedly poached from his Mfae club training camp in Nyahururu, Central Kenya and taken to Eldoret in 2007.
"These girls were taken after their parents were promised they would each be paid two millions shillings (26,670 dollars) a year which was just a lie," Kamau said.
"These people are just in business. They take the athletes to run for money, and in most cases they don’t give back to the clubs which brought them up. Like the game department, can the poachers pay for the animals they poach?"
Kiptenden Success Runners Club coach David Koskei, who has been suspended from coaching after his camp was shut down, blamed his predicament on the rivalry for control of the athletes between the individual camps.
On a visit to the camp, surrounded by lush green tea plantations in Kericho, some 350 kilometres west of Nairobi, there is little sign of athletics.
"AK has no powers to close my camp," Koskei told AFP. "I stand to lose eight athletes who depend on the camp for their livelihood."
Noah Ngeny, the Sydney Olympic 1500 metres champion, who was a member of a the fact-finding team to the camp in July, and recommended its closure, said the conditions were pathetic.
"This camp caters for children between the ages of 13 to 17 who rely only on their coach, without a guidance of a chaperone and yet most of them are young girls," said Mr Ngeny. "It does not meet the standard of being an athletes camp."