BY ALEXANDER TWINOKWESIGA
The Games of the XXXI Olympiad Rio 2016, or rather, the Rio Olympics are currently ongoing. From them, we have taken a few notes worth noting. Beyond the expected successes by icons like Michael Phelps and track athlete Usain Bolt, four notable events, at least from the East African region and African continent as well, have happened.
Renowned Kenyan athletes Ezekiel Kemboi did not perform as expected, while Conseslus Kipruto broke the Olympic record by jogging to the finish line. Jacob Araptany, from Uganda, failed to finish the steeplechase race, and Chierika Ukogu, a Nigerian, sponsored herself to participate in a competition no Nigerian has ever taken part in and went on to win a silver medal – Nigeria’s first.
At the same event, Jacob Kiplomo, a Ugandan athlete became the first person in the world to be born in the 2000s to take to the track in the Olympics. We are still surprised by the qualifications of some Ugandan athletes for the games, and, recently, made fun of a Rwandan athlete who spoke not so good English while expressing himself about a race he had just concluded in the Netherlands. Yego, a self-taught javelin champion is still a sensation; and Iten’s training facilities continue to produce wonders.
One major take away from these Olympics is that our athletes, all of them, are still ill prepared, poorly organised, and, also, poorly facilitated before, during, and after the games. Those are not issues upon which we can blame them, but ourselves, both as individuals and institutions be they private or public.
A brief comparative analysis of the East African region will illustrate to anybody that the most successes registered at the international stage are expected from nowhere else other than Kenya. By the time the rest of us, the other countries, realize our potential, it is always quite late, and normally, while being overshadowed by the Kenyans.
The reasons for the existence of most of these and more challenges are, for example, because the powers that be have not invested well enough in developing the requisite training facilities, like the one, in Bukwo, Uganda, which has conditions not so different from those in Iten, Kenya, the world’s best high altitude training centre in the world. Athletes from Kenya, Uganda, and elsewhere who have trained there have gone on to successfully register numerous successes. Notable examples including Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro, who after training in Iten, went on to win a gold medal at the London Olympics.
Like in every other venture, facilitation is very important in sport. Our athletes are not decently facilitated for all their efforts. The Kenyans who will be participating in the 5000m final will be doing so, but for Bahrain and the United States of America, having traded their citizenships. That becomes understandable, especially when you consider the incomparable facts that Bahrain will give gold medal winners an equivalent of KSH 50 Million whereas Kenya will reward theirs with a paltry KSH 1 Million. Athletes need to be aware of the fact that they will be appreciated in ways that surpass monetary rewards.
To arrest some of these challenges, it is important that we do the needful, and pool all our resources, in more ways than just one and in a genuine spirit of integration. It would help contribute to putting all our athletes from the East African region on a comparable and competitive pedestal. To achieve that, we would, for example, have to enable freedoms which are currently limited by restrictions on movement of people (read sportsmen), and to facilitate both their residence and training wherever the best is available.
An alignment of our dreams and/or goals towards the creation or development of an East African team would go a long way in identifying a worthy pool of talent, one which would be gifted with, definitely, better exposure, better organisation, better facilitation, and, as a matter of course, more desirable expectations.
The East African region, and the world that we live in has progressed from the archaic, colonial, limiting one in which our ambitions and success in life were squarely based on how well we did in the school and employment systems that were thrown upon us, and whether we obtained employment in an office job – irrespective of the position, to one where the most successful people – both monetarily and otherwise – are because they have invested all available resources harnessing their innate or acquired skills. Sportspersons are some of those.
As an integrated region, we can help our representatives to future similar events by providing more than their basic requirements and resources which may be needed in preparing for and achieving their, and, of course, our shared purpose on the international stage.
This article was originally written for our newsletter, The Deuteronomy. It appears in our Volume 5, Issue 3, of August 19th, 2016.