How safeguarding policy will protect our sports talents

Sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Last week, the sporting fraternity converged in Nairobi to share experiences, synergise and leverage sports talent development.

The delegates were drawn from government ministries and agencies, sports federations, sports professional bodies, institutions of higher learning and the corporate sector.

The climax of the second International Sports Conference was the launch of the Kenya Academy of Sports Policy for Safeguarding in Sports. The timely policy guidelines seek to protect the welfare of children, vulnerable youth and women against abuse, harm and exploitation.

It supports the Vision 2030 social pillar that takes into consideration the crucial role sports play in overall national development. Skills like teamwork, leadership, patience, discipline, failure management, success management and sportsmanship are developed when children take part in sports regularly.

The policy establishes a framework for the protection of athletes and vulnerable adults involved in sports from harassment, harm or abuse. It seeks to enhance the practice of safeguarding in Kenya.

The policy guidelines come hot-on-the-heels of another study by world football governing body, FIFA, that reveals that 50 per cent of players received some kind of abuse during the semi-finals and final of the Euro 2020 and this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

Major organisations globally now officially recognise that children and vulnerable youth in sports can be at risk of exploitation.  According to a study carried by the Kenya Academy of Sports in July 2020 to assess the status of safeguarding practice in Kenya, 35 per cent of sports organisations do not have safeguarding guidelines.

Admittedly, this policy ensures the creation of a safe environment for all children and vulnerable adults practising sports. The Kenya Academy of Sports is mandated to develop sports talent, train sports technical and administrative personnel and conduct research. When Eliud Kipchoge completed a marathon in less than two hours in front of one of the biggest TV audience in recent history, the atmosphere was electric in Vienna, Austria.

Yet his joy is not shared by some high-flying athletes in his league.  In between the jubilation of some athletes, there are tears of sorrow too. Late last year, for instance, Kenya lost some of its top track athletes to suspected suicide or homicide.

These tragedies expose the dark reality of the sporting labyrinths in a country where the plight of athletes grappling with mental health, gender-based violence, growing violence and economic disempowerment are on the rise.

The media often publish articles of athletes who have mysteriously died or injured on official duty. There are similar stories of clubs which lure and sign contracts with underage players. This policy will bring order and discipline into sports.  

-The writer is a communication consultant. [email protected]