Why Kenya should consider building 'Athletics city' in Elgeyo Marakwet

Marathon world record holder, the late Kelvin Kiptum. [Courtesy, Standard]

In 2023, the global sports industry generated $512 billion, which is more income than the GDP of the largest African economy, Nigeria, which stood at $477 billion.

In the all-time Olympic medal table, Kenyan athletes have won 113 medals in total, making the country to rank top in Africa. South Africa, with 89 medals, is placed second in the continent.

The all-time medal table for the World Athletics Championships updated after the 2023 World Athletics Championships places Kenya on the second position globally and top in Africa with 171 medals. The USA which tops the list has 443 medals while Russia, which is placed third, has 142 medals.

This medal ranking demonstrates the strength and depth of Kenya’s athletic talent despite the limited investment made by the government in the sector.

Kenya won 10 medals during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics putting it in the pole position in the continent’s medals table. Kenya hopes to better these results in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

One of the fields the country hoped to secure a gold medal was in marathon with marathon record holder the late Kelvin Kiptum on the team.

His premature death ended a short and promising career of a young talented athlete, raising several issues about the management of sports and particularly athletics in Kenya.

The shocking and unexpected death has elicited a deep debate on the state of the sport and the untapped potential of Elgeyo Marakwet, his home county, and the need to position Kenya as the home of athletics.

In the course of mourning the promising young marathoner who was already being mentioned amongst the crème de la crème in athletics, a lot of ideas on how athletics and sports can be better managed to enhance the economic power of sports itself and as a tourist earner came up.

The social media platforms have been awash with ideas on how the sports in Kenya and specifically in Elgeyo Marakwet which is famed for being the ‘Home of Champions’ can be improved.

The central idea is to design Iten into an Athletics city that would have training and research facilities catering for both leisure and professional athletics. The athletics city should include a sports-oriented university which will support our sports and undertake related research.

The research facility should ideally be linked to a high-level hospital to provide affordable treatment and rehabilitation services to injured athletes. A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) standard laboratory could be established as part of this plan to manage the doping menace.

The athletic city should be linked to academies where talents that have been scouted are honed. The athletic city and university should tap the wealth of experience from retired athletes and sports people.

The athletes should be provided with legal services to support them in negotiating branding and related deals to ensure they obtain value for their talents.

It should also be a requirement for athletes to undergo mandatory training sessions after finishing school at whichever level to couch them on media relations and public speaking to transform them into better brand ambassadors for Kenya.

This must go in tandem with marketing the region as a sports destination with suitable attractions in the North Rift circuit including Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet and Uasin Gishu counties. An athlete’s museum and hall of fame to honour all athletic greats should be one of the attractions.

To cap it all, serious thought must be given to establishing the Eldoret marathon as a global event at par with London and Chicago Marathons. To cater for fun runners and tourists, the choice of a picturesque route at the edge of the Great Rift Valley will offer touristic and sports value.

At the moment only retired athletes and athletics clubs have led in investment in sports camps facility. However, the government needs to step in planning and investment in infrastructure.

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