NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 9 – The Kenya Canoe Team can finally have something to smile about after the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) came to its rescue and are now scheduled to depart Tuesday evening for Barcelona ahead of the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.
The squad of three athletes consisting of Samwel Muturi, Levias karanja and Daniel Chomba was on Saturday night denied boarding passes by KLM Airline, from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on grounds that visas issued by the Spanish Embassy could not allow the Team to transit through Amsterdam.
The team was left with no option but to turn back home and had lost hope for chasing the Olympics dream through the African Slalom Canoe Olympics Qualifiers slated for March 20-21 at Seu D’Urgell, Spain.
However, NOC-K through the Ag. Secretary General, Francis Mutuku sped up the negotiations with the relevant authorities including the International Canoe Federation (ICF) that had sponsored the athletes with air tickets.
Confirming to Capital Sport on Tuesday morning, Mutuku said everything is now set and the team is scheduled to depart on Tuesday, March 9, 2021 at 18hrs via Qatar Airways and NOC-K has requested the Spanish government to waive on the 14 days mandatory quarantine for the team so that they can make it in time for the competition.
“The team is now sorted, they will depart for Spain this evening (Tuesday, March 9) via Qatar Airways. They did their COVID-19 test last night and results are out. It was not easy to turn around the situation but we are grateful for the Spanish Government and the International Canoe Federation for understating the situation,” Mutuku told Capital Sport.
“We also requested the Spanish Government to waive on the mandatory quarantine so that the team does not miss the competition, however, the squad will be under regular COVID-19 test while in Spain,” the NOC-K Ag. Secretary General added.
After the positive development, Chomba said that they are now motivated and will go out of their way to clinch the Tokyo Olympics ticket albeit considering Morocco, Senegal and Algeria as the teams to beat in the competition.
“When we were told we cannot board, it is something that we did not expect, it demoralized us and we knew our Olympics dreams are over. But we that NOC-K for coming to our rescue and now everybody in the team is in high spirits. We promise Kenyans that we will try our best not to let them down,” Chomba revealed to Capital Sport.
He added; “Morocco, Senegal and Algeria are the toughest teams in the comoetition because they have experience since they train in Europe.”
The Chef-De-Mission Waithaka Kioni conveyed his full support to the team, “We want to ensure that all Kenyan teams get a fair chance of qualifying for the Olympics. We have therefore used our resources to ensure that the canoe team makes it to Spain.”
He added, “The team was already denied a qualifying chance when they went to France last year and had to return without competing at the onset of the pandemic. The coaches have continuously assured us that they have a great chance to take some of the slots available for Africa, therefore for us at this point is to wish them all the best in this campaign, and we look forward to taking the team to Tokyo in July.”
The athletes will be participating in the disciplines C1 or Canoe 1 and K1 that is Kayak 1, meaning one person per boat.
Kenya was offered four slots in the competition one man and one lady in each of the two disciplines but there were no ladies in the elite level from the Canoeing Clubs to take up the spots, therefore only men will represent the country.
The three players were selected after the Canoe and Rowing Federation held a national selection event in February. Since then, the team has been training at Sagana in preparation for the qualifiers.
Other African countries expected to participate at the African Slalom Canoe Qualifiers Democratic Republic of Congo and Mauritius.