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It’s unfortunate that National athletes are our pride and also our shame

COLUMNISTS
By Donald Kipkorir | June 16th 2013

By Donald B. Kipkorir

For to everyone who has, more shall be given...but from the one who doesnt have, even what he has, shall be taken away Mathews 25:29

NAIROBI, KENYA: Last week, I watched on KTN Sports the Athletics Kenya competition to select our junior athletes for the IAAF World Youth Championships to be held next month in Donetsk, Ukraine, and my heart wept. So much raw talent, so much wasted. The athletics programme in Kenya is so predictably sad. In each race, we churn out new champions and the ones of yesterday get forgotten. Every time, our national flag is raised, a different athlete does it. We don’t have consistent champions or iconic athletes. Paul Tergat was the first and last true icon we had.

Public speaking

Each country leverages its natural resources to grow. Those without natural resources tap its people. The Nordic Countries of Finland, Sweden and Norway are successful because of abundant oil; South Africa because of its gold and diamonds; Spain and Switzerland make money from tourism and Israel sells its innovative skills in technology and inventions. Kenya lacks in natural resources and innovativeness. And as we have failed to be a major tourist destination, the only thing we have in abundance, is raw athletic talent. We can make sports a major industry.

In ancient Athens, sports were to please the gods. In ancient Sparta, it was to create the perfect soldier. In ancient Rome, it was purely for entertainment. In modern America, sport is a huge economic enterprise that generates over $435 billion annually. In England, football is akin to religion, with followers of Manchester United buying out all seasonal tickets in advance. Athletic stars in America, England, India and Australia are deified. The stars are paid millions in salaries and receive more millions in endorsements. Last year, Tiger Woods earned $13 million in winnings, but $24 million in endorsements.

Kenya with its inexhaustible supply of raw talent can make athletics a major component of our economy. If our athletes are nurtured properly, and we win all races from 800 metres to 50Km walk, the amount earned in winnings alone will translate to hundreds of millions of dollars. And if we develop the athletes to be brands, the endorsements will be in the billions. But we have run out of ideas in developing this sector, and new thinking is demanded. Athletics Kenya has been a millstone instead of blessing to our athletes. Its leadership is still analogue.

Our athletes have raw talent and that is all. To be truly successful, an enduring athlete needs more than talent. Structured programmes in ensure that athletes are facilitated to, while growing their talents, go to school. They are also taught public speaking, media relations and dressing. To be a brand, an athlete has to exude charisma, confidence; knowledge of the product endorsed and must be impressionable.

Global brands

When our athletes are interviewed at the end of a race, the answer they give is standard: “I run, I run, I win”! It is an honest but stupid answer. It is not an answer that will be shown on TV or run in papers. A successful athlete goes beyond the village and becomes a global brand. Athletes like David Beckham, Tiger Woods and Usain Bolt influence a whole marketing culture.  Their powers improve public interest in the sports, attract more viewership and make more money for everyone in the chain. Besides Paul Tergat, none of our athletes can move a needle in any product.

Ministry of Sports, Culture & The Arts under Dr. Hassan Wario can re-set our athletic programme. Henry Rotich, may have given a paltry Sh3 billion to the Ministry, but it can be the seed money. It is time we incorporate Sport Kenya with mandate to nurture, develop and commercialise sports.

We can develop our athletes to be global brands, and we will start hearing of an individual athlete signing annual endorsement of upward of $20 million. Before, then, we will be content with having our illiterate athletes burning themselves in useless races that earn them less than $5,000, and Athletics Kenya riding on their backs. Kenya keeps looking for other revenue streams, including trying to discover oil which maybe an Eldorado, when athletics is in plain view. Who will show the way? Who will hold the baton?

 


 

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