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Rio and legacy of boundless greed for Kenya athletics team

OPINION
By Tania Ngima | August 23rd 2016

Over the past two weeks, I have read more stories on Kenyans in Rio debacle than I have of the actual Olympics.

Embarrassing tales that make one question why we still use the axiom ‘Najivunia kuwa mkenya’.

Because, sadly, inasmuch as we are unified and enjoined in our battle to prevail in spite of the circumstances dealt to us, there are those whose sole intention seems to be dragging us down.

There are certain parts of this world where the only reason why you are not met with blank stares when you introduce the country you are from is because Kenyans’ athletic prowess precedes us.

Yes, even in this day and age of satellite TV and unlimited channels, I have heard those comments. The recognition: ‘Ah where the runners come from?’ Usually in barely coherent English reserved for tourists because, well, they know which side of their bread is buttered.

And I know that 2016 is not the first year that we are experiencing the incompetent, thieving mismanagement of talent and resources around the Kenyan Olympics, but it is certainly the first time we are speaking out against it as much as we are.

Maybe it has been spurred by the attitude that we have been witnessing all around us over the last few years, the one that as long as you have friends in high places it doesn’t matter how much Kenyans complain, nothing will happen to you. No accountability, no sanctions, no riot act will be read to you.

Maybe, at most, a commission or task force will be formed to look into your behaviour but we all know how that goes. Lots of noise and no tangible action.

Or maybe it is because on the scandal side we are in a race against time to outdo each other in terms of who can pull the biggest baddest heist on Kenyans and get away with it. With nothing but flowery speeches and a flagrant show of sternness.

I used to think that sport was a great equaliser. And it can be, if we paid attention to all the ways in which it can uplift the population. I have a friend from Europe who I met when I was pursuing a graduate degree overseas.

I have watched lots and lots of movies that focus on the ways in which sports scholarships uplift marginalised families thanks to one talented star of the family and how they overcome all odds to become a role model for the community and leave a legacy. We all have.

But it was quite a different story to meet a real life person who was not playing a role – they were living a life that we have only seen captured on film. The script is largely the same.

She came from a humble background, was recognised for her amazing sports talent and from then on, the government took an active role in ensuring the got the nurturing she needed, alongside all the resources to ascend to compete on an international platform.

I don’t mean for it to sound glib or simplistic, there were a lot of ups and downs. But there was a solid commitment and a loyalty she felt towards her country because the relevant arms that were tasked with youth talent development had stood by her.

Defecting never crossed her mind even though she had been advised that if she chose to, she could make much more money affiliating with a richer state. I’m surprised that we still have sportsmen and women who are competing for Kenya with the shabby treatment that has been reported in the media, Olympic year and year out.

While we, the populace, do our best to cheer them from the sidelines, the treatment they receive from the entities that use our taxes in the guise of taking care of their interests leaves a lot to be desired.

From stolen kit and the queries raised by the distributors, to taxpayers’ funds taking care of leisurely trips for random civil servants to cavort in Rio.

Like everyone who has an iota of success, Kenya’s sportsmen flourish in spite and not because of the national support they receive from the nation. I read that over 30 Kenyan born athletes have defected over time and are currently competing for other nations.

While I am surprised that this number is not higher, I would like to bet that after this year’s fiasco, the attrition is going to increase at faster levels than before. And honestly, I would not blame future defectors.

If they find someone who is willing to treat them with respect, take the worries of kits and resources off their minds while they pay attention to training and bringing home wins, then they should not think twice before saying yes.

Sadly, the officials responsible for this disgrace will get away with it because in this country, greed always wins over accountability.

And the people who will be left losers are as always, Kenyans. All 45 million of us over a handful of individuals who have nothing but their own interests at heart.

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