Kenya needs to learn how to support her athletes or watch them leave

Kenya has no time for her athletes, leading many of them to change national allegiances

In Summary

• The Kenyan government looked the other way when Imali and Makena faced the same issue as Semenya


Anyone who knows me will happily tell you I am hardly the world’s greatest sports fan. I will watch sports when the spirit moves me, but that might be once or twice a year, if there’s a game or competition that everyone else around me is interested in.

I can quite happily say here that I don’t have a particular football team I support, and I really couldn’t care less if Liverpool, Arsenal, Man United or Aston Villa were at the top of the league or had been relegated to the seventh division (if indeed such a division exists).

It’s not that I don’t enjoy sports when I watch them. It’s just that I find all that tribal behaviour, where strong loyalty is shown to a team or a player, rather uninspiring, just like I consider loyalty to one’s actual tribe or even ethnic grouping quite silly. I understand it, but you won’t find me losing sleep or even my appetite because such and such a team lost a game or even the league.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the passion of supporters and I have been known to get swept along by strong and barely controllable emotion when watching a game or athletes in a race, etc. But that’s about where it all ends for me. When the last whistle is blown or the last runner crosses the finish line, it’s over and time to move on to the next thing.

Once in a while, though, an athlete comes along who captures everyone’s imagination, even mine. By athlete, here, I mean all sportsmen or sportswomen, whether their prowess is shown on the track, on the field, on the court or in the water.

One such athlete is South Africa’s Caster Semenya, star of the women’s 800 meters race. In my mind, Semenya picked up where Mozambique’s Maria Mutola, aka the Maputo Express, left off. You’d have to be a real Athlemaphobe (one who fears sports) to not have come across the news recently that Semenya has been banned from competing due to her natural testosterone levels.

Caster is a South African icon in the same way as Vivian Cheruiyot is. When she runs a race, the whole country is behind her. When she wins, they celebrate with her and commiserate with her when she loses.

So when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) banned her after a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), the South African government and the nation’s sports governing body Athletics South Africa stood by their athlete and continue to support her to the hilt in her efforts to appeal the ruling.

To my mind, that is as it should be, and that is why I was horrified that as all this was going on, Athletics Kenya and the Kenyan government looked the other way when not one but two of our athletes, Maximilla Imali and Evangeline Makena, were faced with the same issue as Semenya.

For me, it just went to show that Kenya has no time for her athletes, even when they win. And that for me is disgusting and probably why so many of them continue to change national allegiances.