Let’s build more sports disciplines to match our success in athletics
OPINION | By Peter Ndegwa, CEO Safaricom | September 10th 2021
In the last few months, Kenya's sports scene has experienced a flurry of activity; from hosting world-class events including the World Athletics Under-20 Championships and the Safari Rally which made a return to the World Rally Championship, to emerging 19th globally at the Tokyo Olympics.
As one of the biggest backers of sports in the country, Safaricom was delighted to have supported each of these events. Not only did the country successfully host the two global attractions, but our track athletes proved once again that when it comes to middle and long-distance running, we remain the team to beat.
At the World Athletics Under-20 Championships, which featured over 100 countries, Kenya topped the medals table with 16 accolades including eight gold, one silver and seven bronze medals. This indicates that we can raise the bar even higher at the next Olympics given the great performance of our young athletes.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Kenya was the best African nation and 19th overall with 10 medals – four gold, four silver and two bronze medals. It was such a moment of pride for all of us when the National Anthem of Kenya was played twice at the closing ceremony- thanks to our exceptional male and female marathoners led by one of our most decorated long-distance runners, Eliud Kipchoge!
This year also witnessed one of our sprinters, Ferdinand Omanyala, reach the Olympics semi-finals of the 100 meters - a new milestone for Kenya which has traditionally performed well in middle and long-distance races.
Not surprisingly all the medals at both events came from the track athletes. As a matter of fact, of the 113 Olympic medals we have won since 1956, 106 have come from athletics. The other seven, including one gold medal, have come from boxing.
When I was watching the Olympics closing ceremony, one of the things I noted is that the countries that performed exceptionally well had the largest teams, in terms of competitors, participating in different events.
For example, the United States, which was top of the medals table, had 613 athletes competing in 35 disciplines. China, which came second, had more than 400 competitors in 30 events.
Kenya had 85 competitors; 40 of them being track and field athletes. We were also represented in Boxing, Volleyball, Taekwondo, Swimming and Rugby Sevens. I believe we can perform even better in future if we expand the scope of our participation while investing more in the other five that we participated in but did not do as well.
For example, we have cyclists who race regularly but lack a holistic program that is targeted at developing them to represent our country in global competitions.
Another sport that caught my attention was Archery. There were 5 gold medals up for grabs at the Olympics with South Korea winning 4 of them. Kenya lost all the qualifying rounds at the 2019 All Africa Games, losing all the Olympics slots available. The reason given by one of the competitors was lack of funds.
Players from South Korea, on the other hand, shoot an average of 2,500 arrows a week, which requires dedication, resources and time. This means Archery is their career and not a hobby as it is for most Kenyans who are interested in the sport.
Julius Yego has already shown us that with passion and support anything is possible. In 2014, he became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in a field event at the Commonwealth Games. This was a pleasant surprise given the fact that he trained and developed his skills by watching YouTube videos of javelin athletes.
From the two decades of supporting sports, our view is that it is possible for our athletes to get into even more disciplines if the public and private sectors come together to grow talents and ambitions.
As we also celebrate our team’s performance at the 16th Summer Paralympic Games, I look forward to a time when we will be represented in some of the other 22 sports that make up the event. To do so, we must mainstream investing in sports and elevate these discussions as one way to empower youth and create jobs.
As a corporate, we will continue to back our sports heroes to go beyond while looking at other sports we can grow besides the ones we are involved in such as athletics, football, motorsports and rugby. I believe Kenyan athletes have bandwidth for much more and it’s up to us to give them a platform to perform.
We are already looking at expanding our support in golf, targeting junior golfers from underprivileged backgrounds who may not have the platform to showcase their talent just like we have done in football through Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom.
We believe in the power of sports to transform lives and call upon others in the private sector to look at how they can link sports partnerships to their purpose. This way, we can be assured that Kenya will not only continue to develop world-beating track athletes, but we’ll also start nurturing heroes in other sports disciplines as well.
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