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Why did we snub our Olympic stars on their return?

By Ken Opalo | August 14th 2021

The lack of a proper reception for the Kenyan Olympic team was disgraceful. According to the medal table, our athletes were the best in Africa and among the best in the world.

The least we could have done was treat them as the heroes that they are. Yet, after all the congratulatory messages from officialdom, we left them to return home without any honours.

The government claims observance of Covid-19 protocols explains the shameful snub. This is a bald cover-up.

Most Kenyans know the likely cause of the snub is that people at the Ministry of Sports and Athletics Kenya failed to sweat the details.

Under this scenario, one imagines that all the thought went into making deals to get as many officials as possible to Tokyo (and their per diems). Athletes and the conditions they needed to succeed, as well as what their achievements meant for the continued strengthening of our collective identity as a country, were secondary considerations.

It is therefore not surprising that the planning stopped at getting people to Tokyo. What happened after that was irrelevant. It offered no “deals” and so our athletes were on their own.

Perhaps this is not what happened. However, the burden is on the government to tell us the truth. Kenyans are not stupid.

It cannot be that the same government whose officials flout Covid-19 protocols left, right, and centre drew the line at arranging transportation for our national heroes.

It is more likely that the lackluster travel arrangements for our athletes were the consequence of the same culture of neglect that permeates much of the public sector – from healthcare, to education, to infrastructure.

Little thinking goes beyond the narrow objective of getting “deals” for the well-connected.

Unless we see radical change, things will only get worse. Kenyan society and economy are only going to get more complex – a fact that will call for higher levels of seriousness and attention to detail not just in sports management, but also in other policy domains.

Ken Opalo is Assistant Professor at Georgetown University


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