NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 17 – When Kenya’s leading athletes get to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 in September, few will think of the logistics of how they got there.
It will be all thanks to the work of a woman nowhere near as popular as the star athletes the east African country often produces.
Her name is Susan Kamau, the chief administrative officer of Athletics Kenya.
As chief administrator, Kamau oversees the day-to-day management of the federation, and interacts with high-level government and private sector offices to seek support for teams that travel to represent Kenya in various continental and world events. She is also involved in marketing events to complement the organisation’s operational budget.
-Kamau has come a long way-
“It has taken me 22 years to get to the position of chief administrative officer,” says Kamau.
She began as a volunteer for the federation in 1996 and slowly worked her way up to the top.
“I was offered a job as a secretary, then grew to be the administrator of Athletics Kenya. I was later appointed by the board as the acting CEO until April 2019 when I was confirmed to my current position.”
Kamau is one of a group of women rising through the ranks to decision-making positions in athletics on the African continent, as national and international bodies strive for gender equity in the management of athletics.
As part of the widespread reforms adopted by the IAAF Congress at the end of 2016, the IAAF has added minimum gender targets into its constitution to establish parity at all levels in the sport’s governance.
Following the election of the first female vice-president at this year’s IAAF Congress, two of the four vice-president positions will be filled by women in 2027, the same year the IAAF Council will have a 50-50 representation for men and women.
Member federations are also showing the first signs of a move towards gender parity, notably in Africa. On the continent, women are gradually gaining leadership roles – seven out of 54 CAA member federations now have women in top decision-making positions. This includes Madagascar, where Norolalao Ramanantsoa leads the Malagasy Athletics Federation.
She waded into the world of athletics 30 years ago when she and her husband began sponsoring the sport in the southern African island nation.
“My husband and I were actively participating in the events and competitions of the federation,” says Ramanantsoa. “We also personally supported some sprinters and middle-distance runners. In the year 2000, the newly elected president formed his team and asked me to join the steering committee, which I accepted.”
She served as a councillor for eight years before taking up a role in the executive as vice-president in 2008. When her predecessor resigned four years later, Ramanantsoa ran for president in 2013 and won.
Kamau and Ramanantsoa rose through the ranks when women were still a scarce find in the higher levels of athletics management, especially in Africa. For both of them, it was hard work.
“I had to go back to college to study business administration and management,” says Kamau. “Kenya being a country with a high level of athletics talent, there has been continuous need to nurture the upcoming talent and ensure we have a continuous flow of good athletes.
“I put in extra effort to understand how to come up with a working calendar of events that must be well harmonised with the IAAF and CAA calendar of events to ensure that there is good flow.
“I had to learn how to organise events from the lowest level to national level in order to come up with strong teams to represent Kenya.”
Her drive to learn was complemented by attending an IAAF Women in Leadership training day in Nairobi in 2014.
While Kamau went to school to learn the ropes, Ramanantsoa found out that embracing her ambition to lead the Malagasy Athletics Federation after years of serving on its executive board was anything but easy.