NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 3 – New Zealand on Friday became the fifth major team to pull out of the world under-18 athletics championships in Nairobi, citing security concerns, organisers said.
The biennial championship, taking place for the first time in Africa from July 12-16, was expected to lure athletes from 155 countries.
But in a major blow to the east African nation, New Zealand joined Britain, Australia, Canada and Switzerland in withdrawing.
New Zealand cited a foreign ministry recommendations which puts Kenya as “currently high risk, with kidnapping, hijacking, terrorism and violent crime among major concerns”.
New Zealand and Britain will instead send their athletes to the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas from July 19-23.
“These withdrawals by the top athletics nations is increasingly taking the shine off the competition and is giving us great worries. At this rate we might have only a few countries taking part,” local organising committee official Barnabas Korir told AFP.
“This, coupled with our own lackadaisical preparations towards the event may have a big impact in making the championships a success.”
Korir said Kenya team selection had not yet started.
The championship is set to take place just two weeks before general elections, which typically generate tension and have in the past been accompanied by violence.
“There has been a lot of negativity towards Kenya, especially from our own politicians who have busy making reckless statements in their campaigning for the August national elections,” said Korir.
“Parents might be scared to commit their children to travel to the country for the championships.”
Since sending troops into neighbouring Somalia in 2011, Kenya has come under repeated attack from Al-Shabaab, East Africa’s long-time branch of Al-Qaeda.
Nairobi was hit by a dramatic assault on the Westgate shopping mall in which at least 67 people were killed in 2013, and 148 people were murdered in the northeast at Garissa University in 2015.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has decided to discontinue the world under-18 championships after the Nairobi event, with a different competition structure under scrutiny.