Why mental health won't be an issue for Team Kenya at Olympics

Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng competes in women’s 3000m Steeplechase during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021. [File]

Without doubt the advent of social media has changed the way athletes feel, behave and perform both in their normal lives and during competitions.

While social media brings excitement, to some athletes it has made them fall into depression due to the pressure and insensitive comments from their fans on Facebook, Instagram, X and other platforms.

And even as Kenya prepares to field a contingent of between 80 and 90 athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games on July 26-August 11, it is evident their athletes have not been an exception.

In 2021, Kenyan stars and youngsters had to endure some pressure from social media at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi.

In Tokyo, Hyvin Kiyeng fell victim to negative social media criticism after she finished third behind winner Peruth Chemutai of Uganda in 3000m steeplechase final.

But on both occasions, the Kenyan athletes shrugged off negative publicity to finish top in Africa on medal standings in Tokyo (10 medals) while the youngsters retained the World Athletics U20 Championships title after bagging 16 medals.

However, to avoid a repeat of the two scenarios where depression almost shattered Kenya's medals dream, the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) has sought the services of experts from Chiromo Hospital Group to help work on athletes’ mental health before, during and after the Paris Games.

In an interview with Standard Sports, NOC-K Secretary General Francis Mutuku urged Kenyans to avoid attacking and making insensitive comments on Kenyan athletes on social media.

“Among the many challenges our athletes face beyond competition and training is the negative publicity on social media. Since the advent of an open social media, there are a lot of people who have been making very insensitive comments without full background understanding of the environment under which the athletes are training in, and competing. It’s saddening because it’s those insensitive comments that are really hurtful and disorient our athletes,” said Mutuku.

“But we now have a support system and we have put in place some measures to try and control it.  We have gone into partnership with Chiromo Hospital Group to provide us with specialists who can be able to support our athletes, not only on the social media aspect but also other stressful factors which they are facing in normal life.

“These experts will help them reduce their engagement with social media especially during competitions because they could come across comments which can really demotivate them while we are expecting them to perform well. Nevertheless, we are pushing our teams and we are calling on Kenyans to give them the support that they deserve and be sensitive to what they say on social media especially during competitions.”

Reacting on the same issue just after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics exploits in 2021, Team Kenya General Manager Barnaba Korir said: “As a former athlete, I know the pressure these athletes go through. The demands are unimaginable, but I would really feel comfortable if that pressure is equated to what we are putting in building them. In Tokyo, Hyvin Kiyeng was under immense pressure due to the negative comments that were being made on social media.”

Mutuku further revealed that they have asked athletes to use the language they are most comfortable with during interviews in Paris.

“We have tried our best, and we once again ask our athletes to use the language they are comfortable with. It’s upon us as NOC-K to be able to provide translators to any media which wants to interview our athletes,” he said.

“We know after an event, athletes need to speak from their heart and the best way to do so is by using the vernacular language and not English or Kiswahili. Our call to the athletes is to take the freedom and liberty to express themselves in the language they feel more comfortable. To improve their communication skills, we have lined up a series of training sessions with experts.”

Even as Team Kenya prepares to go to France atleast thirty days before the village opens, Mutuku feels Miramas Metropole partnership has been to Kenyans so far.

“Honestly, it’s been a game changer in regards to our preparations. Miramas has provided us with some top-level facilities and additional coaching to support our local coaches. We struggle a lot with training in Kenya, but by getting this opportunity to use these world-class facilities, our athletes will be more than ready for the games,” he said.

“Secondly, it’s an opportunity for our athletes to be in France as they will acclimatise to the environment and settle down quickly. We have organised that our teams go there for atleast thirty days before the village opens. However, this excludes our long distance runners. As you all know, we have an excellent environment where our athletes train. So, we don’t want to interfere with that environment.”

By AFP 3 hrs ago
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