Kenya may have been the best African team at the Rio games, but the admin surrounding their Olympic efforts was so badly organised that three officials have been arrested for it. By NJERI KIMANI.
Images of Kenya’s best athletes stranded in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, days after they bagged medals in the just-concluded summer Olympics shocked the world when they hit the social media. The athletes, who were kicked out of the Rio village, were forced to seek asylum in one of the shanties as they did not have transport and accommodation plans back to the country.
This was just the climax to the fiasco that the team experienced in Brazil, despite putting in one of their best ever performances at the games. Team Kenya was the best in Africa with 13 medals: six gold, six silver and one bronze.
But behind the scenes, athletes had to grapple with missing tickets, the lack of sports kit, missing flags and joyriders who came along for the party. Things got so bad, in fact, that three officials from the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) were arrested upon their return to Kenya on corruption charges, while an independent investigation has been launched into the committee’s mismanagement of the event.
The trouble started even before the athletes left for Brazil. Javelin silver medallist Julius Yego arrived at the airport to find that he didn’t have a ticket. Yego was informed he could not travel since his flight had not been booked, causing a silent demonstration among all participants who refused to board the plane until the issue was sorted out.
“Why people with no meaningful responsibly were booked to leave the country in advance and given accommodation, while those who really mattered were left behind, is a question that needs to be explained,” said Yego.
Some of the country’s best athletes including Asbel Kiprop, Hyvin Kiyeng, Faith Chepngetich and Caleb Mwangangi were forced to make their own travel arrangements after the committee failed to book them flights.
On arrival, the problems got even worse.
Michael Rotich, an official, was deported after Germany’s TV ARD and London’s Sunday Times ran a story alleging that he was involved in a scheme to help three British athletes and their coaches evade doping tests.
Veteran track and field coach John Anzrah was denied accreditation to enter the Olympics venue, while many of the joyriders on the trip got easy access to the facility. He was then expelled from the games after he allegedly tried to use the accreditation card belonging to 800m runner Ferguson Rotich to access the Olympic village.
Anzrah, on arriving back in Kenya, revealed that other prominent Kenyan coaches, including Catherine Ndereba and Joseph Mosonic, were not accredited to enter the village. “We were living in someone’s house and cooking our own food. I had to share a small room, ideally designed for children, [while] Mosonic and Ndereba slept in an adjacent room. It was just a rented house,” he added in an interview.
Cherengany Member of Parliament Wesley Korir, who was due to participate as an athlete at the Games but pulled out due to health complications, pointed out that Kenya’s team were given fewer kits than those provided by Nike to other teams.
“I was given a pair of T-shirts instead of eight. Other items including sunglasses and sandals were missing and when I contacted Nike they confirmed they had supplied enough uniforms to NOCK,” he said. Kenyan athletes believe that rogue committee officials were behind a cartel involved in stealing the kit and selling them to brokers.
In addition, the government set aside 538-million Kenyan shillings (R7.5-million) for the athletes’ allowances, which the National Olympic Committee of Kenya cannot account for.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Arts, Dr Hassan Wario, has distanced himself from any blame for the fiasco.
On Thursday, Wario disbanded the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, claiming it had mistreated and mishandled the Kenyan heroes. “The problems faced by the team damage the morale of the athletes,” he said.
However, the committee’s Secretary-General Francis K Paul claimed that Wario did not have the authority to make such a decision.
“We will challenge it in court after informing the International Olympic Committee, especially since we have not handed over our report. There are some issues where we are clean, including the uniform bit,” he added.
Paul, however, was among three National Olympic Committee of Kenya officials arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on arrival from Rio, along with Stephen Soi and James Chacha, so maybe he’s not so clean after all.
Fortunately, the team’s mismanagement didn’t seem to affect its performances, with Kenyan athletes putting in yet another exceptional performance. But ordinary Kenyans are left to wonder just how much better their team might have done with proper, professional institutional support. DM
Photo: Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s marathon race of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Athletics, Track and Field events at the Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 August 2016. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL
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