FAN VIEW

Sportspersons’ lives matter too

In Summary
  • Former Africa Junior 10,000m silver medalist Hosea Macharinyang’ was found dead at his home in Murkwijit, West Pokot, in an apparent case of suicide
  • Hardly a week later, the body of world 10,000m bronze medalist Agnes Tirop was found in her Iten home with a stab wound to the neck
Olympian Agnes Jebet Tirop
Olympian Agnes Jebet Tirop
Image: FILE

Allow me to digress this week from the usual football content and focus on a matter that is increasingly affecting the overall sports industry. October has been a gloomy month for the athletics fraternity – as well as sports industry – after a series of unfortunate incidents befell Kenyan athletes.

First, former Africa Junior 10,000m silver medalist Hosea Macharinyang’ was found dead at his home in Murkwijit, West Pokot, in an apparent case of suicide. Hardly a week later, the body of world 10,000m bronze medalist Agnes Tirop was found in her Iten home with a stab wound to the neck. Her husband has been subsequently arrested in connection with the murder.

These two tragedies have brought to the fore the reality that sportspersons are also humans and encounter challenges that other people undergo. Even before these cases, there were scattered incidents of Kenyan sportspersons entangled in controversies, including marital woes, alcoholism and illegal drug use as well as depression, among others.

In the aftermath of Covid-19, various international athletes came out to speak about their mental health struggles, even going to the extent of withdrawing from competitions. In May, American tennis superstar Naomi Osaka withdrew midway through the French Open, saying she was mentally exhausted by the incessant questions from the media when performances don’t go her way.

Since then, she has withdrawn from the Wimbledon Open and the Indian Wells tournament in June and September respectively to relax and spend more time with family and friends.

At the Tokyo Olympics, American gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the games midway, saying she was not in the right frame of mind to compete. Recently, former Wales winger Craig Bellamy quit his job as the assistant coach of Belgian side Anderlecht to concentrate on his mental health.

Back home, former Olympics 800m champion Wilfred Bungei has spoken of his mental health struggles, which led him to a stint in alcoholism after hanging up his spikes.

How I wish more of our sporting heroes would speak up and reach out for assistance. Problem is they are perceived by the society as superhumans who are faultless and immune from life’s challenges.

Fans are a fickle lot and even a slight mistake on the track or pitch is enough to attract a torrent of abuse and criticism on social media. It is such behaviours that take a toll on athletes’ mental health.

Credit to Athletics Kenya, which has highlighted mental health issues as an emerging threat to many promising careers. Other sporting federations should follow suit and formulate strategies to help their respective athletes.

Unfortunately, the 2019 Mental Health Taskforce report did not identify sportspersons as a special category of Kenyans who are dangerously prone to mental health challenges. It is time the country adopts a multi-sectoral approach to dealing with this menace, which may cut many sporting lives short if left unchecked too.

Our sportspersons’ lives matter too…let’s remember that even as we expect them to bring us joy through their performances.