NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 – This week’s decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in their Council meeting in Qatar regarding the 2020 Diamond League is not only outrageous but also punitive to Kenyan long-distance runners.
Sitting in Doha, which will host the 2019 World Athletics Championships, the council decided that the longest discipline will be the 3000m race. The event is an annual series of elite track and field athletic competitions.
The verdict automatically results in the IAAF striking out 5- and 10-kilometer races from the lucrative event. Sebastian Coe, the federation’s President, attributed these new developments to the need to make the activity friendlier for television viewing.
Early December last year, the same global athletics body made changes to the World Under 20 Championship to be hosted in Nairobi next year.
The council ruled that it had dropped the 10,000 meters race for both men and women from the event’s programme. It went ahead and cancelled the men’s 5000 meters race during the event.
It should not be forgotten that this is the race in which Kenya’s Edward Pingua Zakayo, currently a form three student at Kapsait Athletics Secondary School, won gold during the World Under 20 championship hosted in Tempere, Finland, in July 2018.
The Chairman of Athletics Kenya (AK) Nairobi Branch, Barnabas Korir, came out guns blazing over the IAAF’s decisions terming the moves as ‘retrogressive’.
Most track and field events enthusiasts relate with this feeling given that Kenya has dominated most of the long-distance events for decades. Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya’s legendary marathoner, won the 2003 World 5,000 meters title aged 19.
The Confederation for African Athletics (CAA), headquartered in Senegal, has not pronounced itself on these matters. However, the feeling that the IAAF decisions seem to be targeting Kenya owing to the country’s prowess in long distance races is slowly taking root among many athletics fans.
The country emerged top during the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, last year after bagging eleven medals out of which six were gold. This was the fourth time the country was topping the medals table in the competition having accomplished similar feats in Santiago, Beijing and Canada.
In the Finland event last year, Kenya bagged gold medals on the first day from from Rhonex Kipruto in 10,000 meters and Beatrice Chebet in the women’s 5,000 meters races.
Taking a walk down memory lane, specifically focusing on the now cancelled women’s 5000 meters race, the country bagged silver and bronze in the 2006 junior championships in Beijing. Our young, female athletes have continued to dominate that category in subsequent World Under 20 events winning various medals.
Similar excellent performance by Kenyan youth can be observed in the IAAF World Under 20 series for the past slightly more than a decade. These are talented athletes from some of Kenya’s remotest villages who have been shining glory to the country after which they have continued to excel in subsequent senior categories.
Curiously, even the government through its sports ministry has not voiced its concern over the new development despite the country playing host to the event in June next year.
There have been murmurs that the IAAF had initially included the four-kilometer race in cross country championships but went ahead and removed it after it was dominated by Africans.
In August 2009 the global athletics governing body introduced bi-annual world cross-country events from the usual annual ones after a decision supported by 132 delegates against 22 was arrived at in Germany.
The reasoning behind this move was to allow continental bodies to also stage their championships. However, avid athletics fans in Kenya argue that the move was part of the wider scheme by the IAAF to curtail Africa’s dominance in the category.
From the look of things, and if the trend continues, there is every likelihood that the IAAF would not hesitate to also strike off marathons from its activities especially if the decision is supported by majority of delegates.
There have been numerous attempts by scientists the world over to unravel the enigma behind Kenyan long-distance runners.
So far, no social or medical researcher has made ground-breaking discoveries regarding the performance of our runners; they remain the running mystery!
By striking out some of the major events that promote Kenya’s youthful athletes, the IAAF is simply rendering their talents useless. The net effect of this is a sudden pre-occupation by the youngsters to compete in short races.
In the process temptation to engage in vices such as doping will kick in. Those who will not make it will not only sink deep into depression, but they may also turn into crime and other social ills. Kenya’s economy will suffer the irreparable shock emanating from millions, if not billions, collected in form of taxes from investments made through proceeds of her world-record shattering youths.
By Simon Mwangi
(The writer is a Communications Specialist)
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