The phenomenal growth, and the subsequent diversification, of the sports industry is a remarkable success story that was on show as the pioneers reunited during Athletics Kenya’s 70th anniversary celebrations yesterday.
Celebrating the pioneer athletes from the 50s, 60s and even today, it was worth considering how the business of athletics reached the current heights from the frustrating days of tokenism to the multi-billion-shilling industry it is now.
The presence of Wilson Kipkurgut Chumo, the first man to win an Olympic medal in Tokyo 1964 – at an advanced age, and needing assistance to walk – and that of world and Olympic 800m record holder David Rudisha, further emphasised the difference in times for a sport that remains the same .
Indeed, it was not by surprise that AK’s president Jack Tuwei delved more into investment, technology, sponsorship, participation and legacy, as the main driving force looking forward to the next 70 years.
Tuwei, a retired lieutenant general, said the Riadha House-based federation is cognisant of the fact that times have changed and intends to ensure science is embraced to take the sport forward.”
“Technology is now part of the sport and athletics has not been left behind. It is part of us, as AK we are doing everything possible to see us moving together with the world,” noted Tuwei who is more keen on a long lasting legacy going forward.
“We must continue existing, but we can’t achieve that when doping is a threat. We must take that battle head on.
We have to instill virtues on our athletes, more so the juniors,” reiterated Tuwei who took over from the late Isaiah Kiplagat in 2015.
He said going forward, veteran athletes will be taken care of for their efforts and work for the country.
“The fact remains, there were no financial gains in the previous years. So the federation wants to look into ways of supporting them and their families, especially through a medical insurance scheme, among other things,” he added.
He says bidding and winning hosting rights for the 2025 World Athletics Championships will be a befitting reward to Kenya.
“We shall be ready when that opportunity comes. We have showcased by hosting the World Cross Country Championships in 2007, the World Under-18 Championships in 2017. We intend to take the same energy to next year’s World Under-20 Championships,” said Tuwei.
Tuwei paid glowing tribute to his predecessors on whose foundation the country’s athletics is hinged on.
Starting from Derek Erskine (1950-1964) the baton went to Musembi Mbathi (1964-1968), Bartonjo Rotich (1968-1972), Charles Mukora (1972-1974), Sam Ongeri (1974-1984), Paul Boit (1984-1992) and Isaiah Kiplagat (1992-2016).
“Right from the Englishman who donated the land we call Nyayo stadium to Senator Ongeri who ensured that a perimeter wall was built around the stadium to Kiplagat for constructing a home for athletics at Riadha House, our headquarters.
Senator Ongeri paid special tribute to previous athletes for putting the country’s name on the world map.
“I am passionate about athletics, and therefore really happy for my homecoming moment. Who will forget athletes like Henry Rono who broke four world records in under 80 days.
I cherish those memories. The Munich gold winning quartet, I am happy to see Charles Asati and Hezekiah Nyamau today. To my late uncle Nyandika Maiyoro, thank you for what you did and making me love the sport,” he said.
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed who was the Chief Guest during the celebrations at the Nyayo National Stadium said her ministry couldn’t be more proud of the role of athletes in marketing the country.
She said early next year, the ministry will develop digital content that will showcase sporting activities to the world.
“Kenya has a rich history, therefore we shall come up with an online sports museum for everyone to see.
This is because we are happy with what we have achieved as a country, “ remarked Amina who said the project will be done in partnership with NOC-K, AK and Google.