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Why Paralympics Committee needs open and honest soul-searching

ATHLETICS By Robin Toskin in Tokyo, Japan | September 1st 2021

 

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Athletics - Women's 1500m - T11 Round 1 - Heat 2 - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 29, 2021. Nancy Chelangat Koech of Kenya and guide Geoffrey Kiplangat Rotich in action [Reuters, Molly Darlington]

Records have been broken, others re-written at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Day six of the Games provided the most records per day when 18 Paralympic records fell and 10 World records re-written.

Day eight saw Kenya relinquish Samwel Mushai’s 1,500m T11 3:58.37 World and Paralympic record set at 2012 London as Brazilian Yeltsin Jacques recalibrated it to 3:57.60 in Tokyo.

While the resetting of the record holds no significant meaning, the overall performance of Team Kenya Paralympics does not inspire confidence for the event that celebrates the country’s physically, visually and intellectually challenged athletes.

Try as they did, it was obvious that beyond their limitations Kenya National Paralympic Committee (KNPC) is caught up in a time-warp, which even the unprecedented spending by Government on athletes may not cure the decline witnessed in Tokyo. A bronze medal courtesy of Nancy Chelangat Koech in 1500m T11 was all the Team Kenya Paralympics could get.

More worrying at these Paralympic Games was seeing Kenyan athletes in the twilight of their careers posting Personal Bests, which incidentally were nowhere near third rate performers at the 2020 edition.

Despite the Sports Ministry’s commendable athlete-centred programme that ensured the athletes were afforded fully paid two-month training camp, state-funded qualifiers, seamless kitting and upto date allowances before they left the country, their performance was not good enough.

Two rule violations (rule 7.9.3 in 1500m T12 and 6.15.4b in 1500m T11) meant that the already lean Team Kenya Paralympics was bereft of personnel to protect or improve on Rio 2016 harvest of three gold, a silver and two bronze medals.

On two occasions, the national team coach Henry Kirwa, was unavailable at the training ground as he was re-assigned technical meetings robbed the athletes of the precious last minute tweaks in tactics.

The 5000m T11 crew of Rodgers Kiprop and Wilson Bii thrown into a psychological spin after they were threatened with disqualification for lacking blindfolds.

The gaffes lie squarely at the doorstep of the Kenya National Paralympics Committee’s (KNPC).

With a government spending and eager to ensure the athletes were comfortable, it beggars belief that the same KNPC dropped the ball that would eventually disorient the athletes.

The responsibility of selecting the best team possible and ensuring they understand what is expected of them, the technical rules and regulations of the International Paralympic is in the in-tray of KNPC.

KNPC Secretary General Elijah Aliero agrees that there is need to continuously appraise the coaches, athletes and their guides on the nitty-gritties of the rules and regulations.

Aliero said after successfully appealing Erick Sang’s case when his guide was tripped in the semi-finals, “It is an area (rules and regulations) that needs our attention and I believe the technical officials led by Matthews Mugenya will facilitate this meeting.”

It is only imperative that it is done as they beginning their soul-searching. Granted the Covid-19 pandemic, the athletes’ performance, save for Powerlifting and Para-rowing entries, it will take some convincing to believe KNPC sent the best athletics team to the Paralympics. Like the Olympics team that camped at Kasarani and the Paralympics at Utalli – the conditions at both venues were worlds apart from weather conditions that appertained in Tokyo.

All athletes and coaches Standard Sports interviewed are of the opinion that trials need to be conducted in reasonable time to allow selected teams training in same conditions as in the host country.

Bouquets and barbs

Government funding: The Sports Ministry under the leadership of Cabinet Secretary for Sports Amina Mohamed has set the bar so high that it will be a travesty to descend to the lows of Rio 2016. The athletes were paid their allowances before leaving the country, ensuring sports federations read from the same script with the National Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee. The kitting shenanigans and travel chaos of 2016 were banished. For the first time in the history of Team Kenya Paralympics, they got equal coverage as the able-bodied Olympians by funding a select and gazetted media team.

Sports Ministry’s co-ordination with the Kenyan Embassy in Japan under Tabu Irina ensured Team Paralympics handled with dignity amid the stringent Covid-19 protocols in Japan.

For that, CS Amina and your team bouquets are in order.

KNPC: The ruckus that has in the past characterized the qualification and selection were muted this time may be because the government funded and partially supervised proceedings. It is a good start. For this you get a bouquet.  

Barbs

KNPC: It is really hard to believe this was the best Team Kenya Paralympics. Selection, however, is a highly technical exercise. Try as the media did to get the list of qualified athletes, it always remained a guarded secret more so under the Covid-19 cloud it was difficult to walk into the training camp.

Athletes with visual impairments lacking blindfolds until they were threatened with disqualification is a no-no. You are the technical people, not the media and certainly not the Ministry officials. For these blunders, just feel the barb.

National & County Governments: If the visually impaired athletes like Rodgers Kiprop could notice that there is no facility for athletes of his kind in Trans Nzoia, then we are doing badly. Some counties have strived to have a semblance of stadia, but no thought of visually and physically challenged athletes put into it. You deserve nothing but barbs.

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