Athletics Athletics

Lessons Kenya can learn from Speed’s death


NAIROBI, Kenya, November 30- The death of Wales national team manager, Gary Speed, has occasioned an unprecedented outpouring of grief across the sporting world in general and the football fraternity in particular.

Sunday, 28 November, 2011 will be forever remembered as a dark day in football when news filtered through that Speed, a former Leeds United, Everton FC, Newcastle United, Bolton and Sheffield United star had been found hanged in his home.

Tragic has been the resonating chorus to describe the demise of the man who only at 42 had so much to look forward to having only managed 10 games for Wales.

Thousands of tributes are still pouring in for the football icon described by most as a gentleman of the game, likable figure and one free of controversy.

Lest we all forget, Kenya lost our own global icon on ironically another dark Sunday, that of May 15, 2011 when Olympics champion, Samuel Wanjiru allegedly plunged to his death from the balcony of his Nyahururu home.

At 24, Speed’s age in reverse, there was much more to look forward to in a man who tore up the marathoning manual and set his own rules to the game with powerful displays in Beijing, London and Chicago that left all of us in awe.

So, what can Kenyans, particularly their media, learn from Speed’s heartbreaking demise?

Since news broke that the Wales manager had passed on, the British and by extension European press have refrained from speculating what drove a man who only hours before was a picture of joy to supposedly taking his own life.

Instead, multiple broadcasts from international channels BBC, Sky and acres of space in their national papers including The Guardian, Telegraph as well as tabloids Daily Mail, Sun and Mirror have been dedicated to celebrating the life of the man who dotted the United Kingdom’s football landscape like a colossus.

His grieving widow and two sons have been left to mourn in relative quiet, there has been no nosy reporters forcing them out from their desolate shell and the Coroner’s inquest to Speed’s shock death that was opened on Tuesday was sensibly adjourned to January 30.

This is to afford the family, friends and his supporters enough time to absorb the crushing loss as well as to allow the befitting send off this sporting genius deserved.

Contrast to what happened here when we lost our beloved Wanjiru. First, news reporters keen to sensationalise his death with the blessings of their superiors descended in Nyahururu to dig up the sordid details turning his death into tabloid fodder.

Within hours, numerous versions explaining his shock death were spewed including, Wanjiru was murdered, Wanjiru was pushed to his death, Wanjiru was caught red handed with another woman in his matrimonial bed, Wanjiru this, Wanjiru that!

Sports journalists who had interacted with him and understood Wanjiru better where shunted aside to allow news reporters to dramatise the events and circumstances leading to his rapid downfall- some even had the audacity on national television, radio and newsprint to term him the late World Marathon champion!

What followed were days of one astounding account after another with the mother and his widow given the open media platform to fight as a number of men were fished from across the land claiming they were Wanjiru’s biological father as every filly who could lay a stake to his affections turned into an overnight celebrity.

In all this, the version of events by the investigative arm of the Government, Kenya Police to whom Wanjiru was an officer and his sporting achievements that brought him global acclaim were relegated to the backwater.

His funeral three weeks later was a rushed affair that fell way short of what his talent deserved as authorities sought to draw a line to the revolving drama that threatened to spiral out of control- a shame for the entire nation.

It was left to the organisers of the World Marathon Majors circuit of races where he starred to accord Wanjiru the befitting honour he deserved in the distant land of South Korea during the opening day of the World Championships on August 27.

In contrast, the aftermath of Speed’s death has played out in a dignified manner, with the media giving those he shared with his genius space to reflect on the fallen icon, with the likes of Gary McAllister, John Hartson, Alan Shearer, Robbie Savage, Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes, Craig Bellamy and Shay Given offering tear jerking accounts of a man they idolised.

Sights of floral tributes at Elland Road (Leeds), Millennium Stadium (Cardiff), Goodison Park (Everton), Reebok Stadium (Bolton) and Sheffield have been moving.

We have not seen models claiming to have had affairs or family members accusing his spouse for driving him up the wall emerge to pour vitriol on Speed’s legacy.

Here, we never saw fellow marathoners allotted prime time slots to mourn their fallen colleague when Wanjiru departed, with their tributes relegated to the back pages despite being hardest hit by the tragic loss.

This is a lesson we need to learn especially in a country that rushes to pay glowing tribute to prominent politicians when they pass on despite their amoral escapades being in the public domain.