One on one Kenya’s track legend gives way to Tergat after decades at the helm of sports organization
Two-time Olympic champion says he is proud of his legacy despite his executive having faced a lot of criticism.
The phrase ‘retired not tired’ aptly describes Dr Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino who shows no signs of slowing down despite relinquishing the presidency of the National Olympic Committee-Kenya (Nock) to fellow athletics legend Paul Tergat on September 29.
Retreating to the sunset after being involved in sport for over five decades is not an option for the 77-year-old who at one point looked set to soil his rich legacy by fighting to cling on to his position as head of the national Olympics body.
“I had to make sure everything was in order at Nock before handing over.
“Nock is an organisation that holds the future of the youth in this country and we could not simply allow people with no interest in sport to take over,” two-time Olympic winner Keino told Sunday Standard.
When Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Sports Arts and Culture, Dr Hassan Wario, dissolved the Nock Executive Committee on August 27 in the aftermath of the Rio 2016 Olympics fiasco, Keino was at the forefront of resisting the move.
He termed the directive that installed Waithaka Kioni as the chairman of the Interim Caretaker Committee as going against the Olympic Charter, claiming Kenya was flirting with an Olympics ban.
Keino wasted little time in leading a delegation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland seeking to quash the move.
However, IOC insisted on reforming the tainted Nock by calling for the drafting a new constitution to precede fresh elections.
The polls, initially mooted for December 2016, were first shifted to March this year before the exercise aborted on May 8, 2017 after an impasse between the incumbent Executive and those seeking the ouster of its members.
The man widely regarded as the ‘father of Kenyan athletics’ fought tooth and nail to maintain the status quo where sitting Executive members had the right to vote, a provision that had created dynasties at the institution.
The international body, however, went against the wishes of its Honorary Life Member and first ever Olympic Laureate. At first, it appeared Kipchoge had decided to call it a day when Tergat stood unopposed for the presidency when the May Elective General Assembly was called.
At the time, operations at Nock had almost ground to a halt after IOC imposed a cash freeze on their grants to the Kenyan body in February to compel reforms. This was a crippling move that loosened Keino and his Executive’s grip on power.
When the High Court ordered the exercise stopped following a suit filed by five federations, who sought to be included in the elections, it appeared Keino and his henchmen were not done.
However, the IOC reacted sharply by giving Kenya an ultimatum to hold the polls before the end of September or risk further sanctions, including an Olympic ban. After keeping everyone guessing on his next move, Keino failed to submit his nomination papers in the stipulated time to end his reign at his own terms.
On October 4, Keino formally handed over the instruments of power to Tergat but he still retains his honorary life membership and will continue being involved in the running of the organisation albeit in an advisory role.
Speaking at his latest public engagement at the launch of a nationwide campaign dubbed Tujiamini driven by bookmakers, SportPesa, Keino maintains his in-tray is still full.
His first task is organising a training camp at the Dr Kip Keino High Performance Training Centre (HPTC) in Eldoret to prepare for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina that will run from October 6 to 18.
“When the schools close, we shall have the youth training. We will tap coaches from all over the country.
“We have a lot of talent in this country beyond athletics and unless we take care, these youth will end up looking after cattle,” the Mexico 68 Olympics men 1,500m champion said.
Besides that, the man who won the men 3,000m steeplechase crown at the Munich 72 Summer Games is still engaged in tapping talent at the HPTC and Kip Keino Schools.
“I’m still working with federations to get them teams and coaches as well as scholarships. We were doing well in sports such as swimming and hockey, but this is not the case anymore and I will focus on finding ways to develop facilities for such disciplines all over the country,” he said.
He cited South Africa that has made inroads in almost every sport on the international stage as a perfect role model for Kenya.
“In most counties, we do not have facilities for sports such as hockey, tennis, basketball and swimming. This leaves our children with nothing to do over the weekend. Physical fitness is important for a healthy nation,” Keino rued.
Invest in grassroot
“Its time we went back to develop other sports. We have disciplines like rugby that can bring gold for instance. Parents must also help in providing facilities and encourage their children to join clubs right from school.
“In football, we should go back and invest at the grassroots. We require teamwork among all federations and the Ministry should be providing assistance in exposing our talent and teams outside Kenya,” he advised.
Keino called for the speedy roll out of the proposed National Sports Lottery that was mooted to bridge the gap in funding sporting activity to end over reliance on the Sports Ministry.
“You can see how well it has worked in South Africa. Rarely will you hear their teams failing to travel to tournaments, qualifiers and training because of lacking money or their federations begging for fund.
“I will seek out all stakeholders to ensure the lottery becomes a reality,” the Olympic Laureate underscored.
Despite his exit being accelerated by the Rio scandal where top Nock and Sports Ministry officials were accused to stealing money and kit belonging to Team Kenya athletes, Keino spoke of his proud record at the organisation.
“In that period, we won the highest number of medals as a country at the Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games, Olympics and Paralympics.
“At the last Olympics, we brought home 14 medals in our best performance ever and it could have been 15 but they stripped Ezekiel Kemboi of the bronze.
“We brought home over 100 Olympic medals, 220 at the Commonwealth Games and 330 at the All Africa Games not only in athletics but in boxing and swimming as well,” he underscored.
“We should have done more in investment and exposure of our talent across many disciplines. We relied too much on athletics and I will do everything I can to see that Kenya wins at many other sports,” Keino admitted.