With the athletics world championships taking place in Helsinki this week, this is a time when we Kenyans can expect some positive mention of our country. Positive achievements by our fellow citizens to make us proud. Far away from the visa problems of ministers, corruption or the daily fighting in Kenyan politics.
Today, after day three of the championships, we are joint 15th in the medal standings with two bronze medals. Since quite a few medals have been awarded in technical disciplines like the heptathlon or high jump or in the 100m dash, our standings are not to worry. These are disciplines where we usually don't excel.
Our events are usally the long distance races like the 10'000m or "our" steeplechase. But even here, things are not as good as they used to be. Our main opposition traditionally comes from Ethiopia. The Ethiopians swept the women's 10'000m and took the gold and silver in the men's event, ahead of a Kenyan. Our other bronze medal came from the women's 3'000m steeple. The men's steeple has in the past been the only event where one could without a doubt predict the winner to come from Kenya. Let's hope it stays that way.
Our competition for medals is in future not going to only come from Ethiopia. Expect Gulf State countries like Qatar and Kuwait to challenge for medals in years to come. Unfortunately for us Kenyans, most of these athletes were born Kenyan and have only recently defected (and continue to) for money. This is probably one of the few times I agree with our president in his call on the athletes to put patriotism above all considerations, and resist the temptation to change citizenship for financial gain.
I believe that these athletes have a right to do what's right for them and their families. And I partly blame our government for not rewarding our athletes fairly, which makes it easier for them to be lured away by richer nations. Even though at the end of the day we couldn't keep up with the money these countries are throwing at our athletes, our government needs to do more.
At the same time, I'm also convinced that it's possible for these athletes to make "enough" money for them and their families to lead a fairly good life without necessarily having to change nationality. The money they can earn with good results during the normal athletics season and even at the big events like in Helsinki or in the olympics is still very good compared to the average Kenyan back home. But I guess it's safer to go with the Gulf states since with them the money comes even if the results are not the best. I can imagine it being very difficult to say no to a monthly wage of $5'000 and an additional $250'000 in the case of a world or olympic gold medal.
I hope that we can find a way of keeping our athletes happy so that they may continue to represent us the way the likes of Kipchoge Keino, John Ngugi or Moses Kiptanui did. But obviously, those were other times. Times when it was more about pure sports and there was less money involved.