By Kilemi Mwiria
We are all complaining about our poor showing at the just concluded London Olympics as if exemplary performance is a birth right. This is because we judge ourselves against performances of previous international events such as the Daegu World Athletic championships and the Beijing Olympics. The problem is the assumption that we shall always have the same quality of athletes and that competition from other countries would be the same or less.
It is impossible to guarantee the same level of competitive athletes every Olympics. In any case, other countries are working hard to win medals in events we have traditionally been strong at. Then there is the emigration of our athletes to more conducive environments in the Middle East, Europe and the USA. Nor are the Olympics just about track.
When most Kenyans complain about poor performance, they mostly have track in mind; yet the Olympics are about many different types of sports. We have equally been spoilt by our successes in world athletic championships that are only about track and field events.
If you consider countries that won the most medals in London, you will find that they did so from a variety of sporting events. The USA could afford to lose virtually all sprint gold medals (where they have been traditionally very strong) to Caribbean countries and still come top of the medals table because they excelled in other disciplines, from swimming to basketball. America and China’s success have also had much to do with heavy investments in high school and university competitions.
This necessarily leads to the question of whether non-western countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East can compete on a level playing field with countries where most Olympic disciplines, apart for athletics, have been strongly established for over a century and are very well supported by Government.
Remember that our own Dunford brothers, who represented Kenya in swimming, got that far due to their personal financial investments. Similarly, Julius Yego was ridiculed all the way to his being the first Kenyan in an Olympic Javelin final while Elizabeth Andiego fought an individual battle to the women’s Olympic boxing competition. If Caribbean countries can win so many medals in the sprints, why is it a problem for us?
We cannot expect to be among top Olympic performers if we do not pay more attention to other sports, some of which are relatively cheap investments (gymnastics, canoeing, archery, weight lifting, speed walking, judo, soccer, volleyball and field events). Unfortunately, Kenyans who have invested in these sports have been greatly discouraged by officials and coaches who are accountable to no one, and who are in it for the money and not the good of athletes.
We have either to rethink our participation in the Olympics or invest in diversification to be truly competitive. If we had won some medals in events outside track, we would not be moaning so much, even if we did not win the steeplechase gold assumed to be a Kenyan right. This can only be possible if we have in place sports’ officials that are futuristic, and not the current mostly traditional types, that lock out from sports’ management younger former athletes who should know and care more for the sport.
The writer is MP for Tigania West and Assistant Minister Higher Education, Science and Technology