OP-ED: Has the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage failed Boxing Champ Conjestina? - The Sauce
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OP-ED: Has the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage failed Boxing Champ Conjestina?

The legendary Conjestina Achieng’ rose from Umiru Village, Yalla to the world stage representing Kenya as a boxing champion.

Her reputation precedes her, going under the moniker ‘Hands of Stone’ she is celebrated as one of the biggest names in Africa, having earned several titles including the GBU Middleweight Title which she won in 2004, a first for an African woman.

Since her debut in the ring in 2002, she continued to carry the Kenyan flag high, in a sporting category Kenyans were hardly ever known for. Conjestina has won 17 fights, having engaged in 27 fights throughout her 9-year career. In 2011, her father made it public that her health had deteriorated, making an appeal for medical help. And although she was admitted to Mathere Hospital it would be the first round in a series of treatments that the boxing champion received. She later received treatment at Kenyatta Hospital in the same year, and more recently in 2019, was airlifted for medical care and rehabilitation by Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko.

READ: NACADA boss Chipukeezy & Governor Sonko come to the aid of boxing champ Conje

But how is it that the continental boxing legend continues to languish in poverty and poor health?

It seems that despite numerous attempts to help the mother of one, interventions from various public figures including Ida Odinga, popular radio host and comedian Daniel Ndambuki popularly known as Churchill; the solutions are only short-term.

Respected sports broadcaster Carol Radull took to Instagram to give insight into Conjestina’s present situation. As the news spread online, it is clear that the short-term efforts to come to the help of this legendary sportswoman have done little to help her overcome her struggles. Radull posted, “She has lost a lot of weight but physically she is still strong. She is however very angry at what she feels is a system that abandoned her at her time of need. She repeatedly said how she was on top of the world, represented Kenya but felt a lack of recognition.”

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A few days ago @floradull and I visited Conjestina Achieng at her family home in Yala. She has been top of my mind since covid struck since so many sports people are struggling (more than usual) at this time. She has lost a lot of weight but physically she is still strong. She is however very angry at what she feels is a system that abandoned her at her time of need. She repeatedly said how she was on top of the world, represented Kenya but felt a lack of recognition. In her humble hut; what struck me most was a shrine she had put up for silverware – shields and belts; her only reminder of what she used to mean to the country. I know many have tried to assist her in various ways but unfortunately a lot of those moves have not worked. I am no medical expert; but I see little sense in taking someone to rehab for some time then returning them to the same challenging environment. In my layman's assessment; she is not mad but she does need more rehab to overcome her dependence on abusive substances. She also needs some counselling (anger management) But she then needs to be in an environment where her mind is kept busy; where her talent is being used; where she feels useful and appreciated. Right now she sits at home with her thoughts – doing nothing. She was yelling alot when we arrived as if to ascertain who is boss. But the more we chatted the more she calmed down and we had a good laugh. I could be wrong in my very layman's assessment; and I would welcome suggestions. I am in touch with her Mum in Yala and with her son here in Nairobi; (her real son – as there is a fake one swindling Kenyans and I'll share that story too in a while) both of who appreciate the love they know the country feels for her. Unfortunately I also took masks for her and her family and Conje said they will NOT wear them as there is no need. My logic fell on deaf ears. We all just hope and pray for a lasting solution that will see such an icon be in a position to make an impact towards the sport of boxing in this country. She still can. #ForTheLoveofTheGame #RadullCares

A post shared by Carol Radull (@carolradull) on

On Twitter, keyboard warriors give their two cents as others seek to shift blame; pointing out that the champion squandered her earnings, but that begs the question how much did she really earn? Nonetheless, it is very clear that the Ministry of Sports, Culture, and Heritage has done little to support the revered “Hands of Stone.”

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When public opinion often crucifies local talents for opting to change nationalities, there might be something that the Government might want to consider. Would anyone truly leave their nation for another on a whim? There are serious considerations to be made of the state of affairs as it pertains to the care, and nurturing of local talents from their first professional debut and well into retirement. Conjestina the “Hands of Stone” is an iconic figure in continental boxing circles. She was placed 5th international at her peak, and sadly those in charge are yet to give her her dues for all she had done. One frustrated tweep aptly noted “this country does not deserve our loyalty” and though it might be a bitter pill to swallow, it just might be true.

Instead of wallowing in the mistakes, it is time to take responsibility so that Conjestina and other sports figures are well catered for going forward. A start would be the creation of a Ministry of Sports, Heritage and Culture- sponsored policy that offers Kenyan athletes a government mandated pension as well as financial advice after retirement.

Do you think that the Ministry has failed Conjestina?

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