The 18th World Athletics Championships kicked off yesterday at the Hayward Field inside the University of Oregon, in the US, with concerns over visa hitches witnessed in several countries.
The visa hitch affected athletes in South Africa, India, Gambia among others. Olympic Games 100m semi-finalist Gift Leotleta of South Africa and nine other South African sprinters remained stranded in Italy as they had not received US visas.
The delay also affected Dhanalakshmi Sekar, a 200m athlete from India. Sekar was named in the 22-member Indian team. For three days, Africa 100m record holder Ferdinand Omanyala and five team officials were held up in Nairobi.
The team members yet to be cleared by the American Embassy include team manager Rono Bunei, physiotherapists Jessica Shiraku, John Muraya and Japheth Kariakim as well as team doctor Victor Bargoria. Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei has also been caught up in the visa delay.
Athletics Kenya officials had expected the situation would be resolved on Tuesday to enable the athletes travel on Wednesday.
Yesterday, Omanyala arrived at Portland Airport in US where he was picked up. They had collected his bib number and were allowed to pick his accreditation. We also understand they made arrangements for a physiotherapist to check on him upon arrival in Eugene. Since none of our national team physios had secured US visas, a physiotherapist from Colorado volunteered to help him. We are grateful!
Such a tricky start has raised concerns on the national team performance. Social media is awash with predictions that competition could turn out as the worst World Championships outing for Kenya.
But as the championship progresses, we urge our athletes to remain resilient and prove to the world that were an athletics superpower.
Our team can turn these travel challenges into an opportunity to make history. It is possible. We expect the team to surpass the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China, where we won 16 medals – seven gold, six silver and three bronze – to take top position. The Beijing outing stands out as the most successful World Championships for Kenya ever. But we should be cautious on the doping menace. In 2015 and 2019 World Championships, some of our athletes failed dope tests shortly before competitions and were dropped from the start lists. It has been a shame!
It is sad that the monster is dragging us through mud. It is prudent that athletes remain clean before lining up in races to avoid tainting our global image. It is a shame for the nation to invest heavily in adequate preparations only for champions to be banned later. For now, the team should focus on a good show.