Kenya's top athletes losing millions to shylocks, shady deals

When they are not battling it out for top honours in races, athletes are enjoying their sweat and creating wealth through farming, acquisition of property and retail business.

Young talents are nursing gigantic ambitions of matching their experienced and retired counterparts who own multimillion properties and top-of-the-range cars to boot.

To achieve their targets of making money and sustaining the status of a world-class celebrity, it has emerged, numerous athletes are trooping into get-rich-quick schemes, shylocks and sweet deals that have ended up turning sour.

Late last year, a female athlete raised concerns when she sought the help of the country's federation to intervene in a matter she described as worrying and affecting a big number of track and road racers.

Jane Seurey, the 2016 winner of Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon, expressed displeasure with the manner in which shylocks were going after athlete's properties, causing depression, which according to her, negatively affected athletes' mental health.

Daniel Komen outside court.

The retired athlete told the court that the lawyer asked him to deposit the money in 2008, and without his knowledge inserted his (lawyer's) name in the sale agreement as a co-purchaser.

"To date (April 2017), no transfer (of land) has occurred and no title deed has been issued to the plaintiff (Komen). The plaintiff avers that the value of the said property has accrued to about Sh150 million and as such it is the defendant's fault that the plaintiff has lost the property. That due to the Actions of the defendant, the plaintiff has lost the said property to the tune of Kshs.150m," court documents indicate.

Komen then accused the lawyer of "acting in his capacity as an advocate with the object of defrauding him, colluding with a land selling agent with the object of defrauding and injuring the plaintiff in its credit by making payments of the said cheques, knowing very clearly that the said transaction was a sham and failing to inform him that the defendant was a beneficiary of the sale agreement and including his name as part owner of the property."

He further accused his lawyer of wrongfully and maliciously debiting his bank accounts, maliciously neglecting to give him an account of how the money was spent and failing to give any assistance to him in his efforts to get back his money or the parcel of land he purchased.

"The application is grounded on facts that the applicant herein has invested to a tune of Sh12 million in order to purchase the property. That despite the said investment and intention to purchase the property for value, the same has not been transferred to his name since 2008," he told the court. The accused lawyer denied inserting his name in the sale agreement.

Four years ago, 3000m steeplechase world record holder Shaheen Saif Saeed, formerly Stephen Cherono, also moved to an Eldoret court in a battle over ownership of land in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County.

Saeed accused his former pacesetter Kenneth Kiptum Kandie of illegally acquiring the piece of land.

"We have heard of several cases of our athletes falling victim to shylock loans and other vices. We are urging athletes to desist from engaging in borrowing habits that will cripple them financially," AK youth committee chairman Barnaba Korir warned late last year.

Pandemic challenges

Athletes' finances took the worst hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation, suspension and postponement of many major sporting events as a result of health and logistic concerns and travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

This saw many of them resort to shylocks after the crisis affected events such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, London Marathon, Boston Marathon, Paris Marathon, Rotterdam Marathon, Hamburg Marathon, Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York Marathon, some of the Diamond League meetings, World U20 championships and several half marathons spread across Europe, Asia and America.

"Our athletes are really facing a rough time financially and psychologically. Statistically, from the earnings of athletes per year excluding appearance fees and contractual obligations, the prize money that they earn for the country is about Sh5 billion," said Barnabas Korir told The Standard in an interview in April last year.

"The earnings for our athletes are always enormous, but if you calculate the percentage of the events that took place last year, it is very minimal. We have lost almost Sh4 billion during this pandemic. Just a few of the athletes participated in races, not even 10 per cent of them competed.

"For your information, we are only talking about the prize money. But these are the figures that we can calculate when they run in the London Marathon and other events in the world," he added.

So serious was the situation to AK President Jack Tuwei issued a statement to appeal to athletes not to fall into the trap of borrowing from shylocks.

AK President Jack Tuwei.

"We wish to encourage athletes to desist completely from taking this precarious path which has financially debilitated a host of local athletes and literally brought them from grace to grass," he warned.

"So dire is the situation that it has come to the attention of Athletics Kenya that some athletes have resorted to borrowing heavily from shylocks to sustain their lofty lifestyles," Tuwei said at the time, noting that some had even seen their properties auctioned.