Derek Otieno and Barry Silah
Underneath the veneer of success Athletics Kenya (AK) is associated with, away from the gallant performances on the track and courses across the world, operations within the country’s most successful sporting entity is in constant check and balance mode.
On the week that International Amateur Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced the hosting rights for the World Under20 championships in Nairobi, so much has come out in the open, an organisation that is continually correcting one form of problem after another due to cannibalising by its members.
“It has been a struggle for the association in the recent past. Errant officials and athletes have made it a little bit hard for the officials. However, the AK office has soldiered on despite the emerging issues that pop up time after time. It is what tests our organisation to bring out its best,” says a vice chairman of the association.
The doping ogre that has refused to go since it emerged five years ago has seen the association’s high command conduct endless seminars and workshops across the country sensitising athletes who are driven by greed and urge for quick riches in the sport.
The height of the resentment was in 2015 when a group of athletes laid a siege at the AK offices, bringing operations to a halt for what many saw as a ploy to stage a coup at the federation offices while embarassing it on the international arena.
Last week with athletes in camp for the African Championship in Athletics, what AK and Kenyan sport dared most, emerged that one of the country’s sprinters over the last decade was dropped over an alleged doping offence.
The 400m runner and a medal prospect was dropped from the team to the consternation of the nation even as it is now known that Kenya is one of the most alert federations in the world as a permanent feature in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) watch-list. It is still a matter of deep soul-search and consternation as AK puts up with the current situation.
It emerged last week that over the last six months, AK has taken drastic actions including suspensions as it fought to retain its tainted image through action from some of its members.
There is also a pending court case, after some aggrieved partners stopped branch elections.
Two years ago, a branch official organised a road safety race without going through the laid down process, athletes were unpaid forcing the winners from Kiambu, Nyahururu and Machakos to picket at the federation headquarters in Riadha House seeking audience with chairman Major-General (Rtd) Jack Tuwei.
The winning prizes are yet to be settled even after the federation promised to see that the matter was resolved.
“I ran in the race. It was organised by an AK official and I thought it was legitimate and we had hoped the cash prizes would be handed immediately. We had to travel to Nairobi to seek audience with the national office. After all that, we were promised that the money would be made available. In fact, Miano (David) AK, treasurer paid us using his own cash. The rests came in small bits,” said Mercy Njeri, a participant during the race in Central Kenya. Several of the runners contacted for this story confirmed that they have only received partial payments.
Reached for comment, Miano acknowledged the issue but declined to divulge details. He, however, promised to give a detailed response on the same.
The federation’s licensing committee was forced to stop the race after the branch received a personal reprimand from General Tuwei.
Suspended Professional Athletics Association of Kenya (PAAK) secretary Julius Ndegwa accused AK of abusing its powers in dealing with athletes.
He has pointed an accusing finger at the leadership of the organisation of frustrating and intimidating athletes who fail to toe the line.
What has exposed some of the suspended officials is the greed.
For example, senior officials admit they do not know how much is paid by athletes as members of the PAAK and whether they have held any meetings and annual general meetings.
The AK on its part says Ndegwa is suspended and should not speak on athletes’ issues.
Suspending Ndegwa over various allegations, AK said he has failed to, refused or neglected to comply with provisions of the organisation’s constitution.
“They have a lot of influence such that they can tell our bosses all manner of lies. It is because we are pointing out the ills they are doing to athletes and so some of us have been suspended. It is unfortunate and we are saying we cannot lie low because justice for the athletes is mandatory,” said the ex-800m runner from Police.
“It is a sad state of affairs and the new regime has even propagated more suffering to the athletes. Government agencies must come in to look at issues around corruption, bribery, poor athletics management and harassment,” says suspended Nairobi branch treasurer Patrick Kariuki.
But AK says they have received little or no complaints, meaning its shenanigans and politicians within its ranks making unsubstantiated claims for personal reasons.
This year, a celebrated marathon winner Lameck Aguta with an athlete’s management license got himself in trouble after it emerged that an athlete who had been entered for a race in the USA tried to use fake documents to fly out of the country.
“This matter was flagged by the CEO. There was a halt to the process. However, after a while, it emerged that the athlete in question tried using Lameck Aguta’s licence. We had to stop it and not after Aguta was called to Nairobi and the whole matter discussed and settled. But, what struck AK most is the fact that someone was trying to use its system to inject fraudulent documents.
“It later emerged that one of the people who talks alot about representing athletes was involved in it all. It was a hypocritical move by the official of the purported athletes body,” said the senior official.
Questioned on the same Ndegwa said: “Yes, the matter was resolved by AK and I don’t think it is an issue any more. It was resolved sometime back and I don’t think we need to dwell on it now. It is not there any more.”
The identity of the athlete involved has been hidden to prevent further embarrassment.
Ndegwa maintains that his fight for rights of the athletes and betterment of the welfare of the athletes is something he has been championing for the last few years.
However, on the other hand, the federation is alive to the fact that politics, mostly from Nairobi branch is partly the cause of the problem in the federation nationally.
A recent meeting by a section of the officials suggested they are hell-bent on regime change. They employ tactics which AK feel are unconventional is sabotaging branch activities.
In 2016 there emerged an embarrassing commotion at Riadha House in full glare of athletes and officials when an altercation pitting two of the executive committee that led to police storming the event and later the full wrath of AK.
The matter ended up in court before it was withdrawnto allow settlement.
For the physical assault, AK banned Kariuki from all athletics events in the country but he has moved to court to challenge the decision.
Nairobi branch chairman Barnaba Korir refused to speak about the matter, insisting that his and other officials of the AK NEC is to work for the good of Kenyan athletes.
“There is a matter in court about the elections and I would not like to comment on it at all. Leave me out of that,” said Korir.