Nairobi — The number of athletes turning up for events organised by Athletics Kenya is dropping by the day and new developments in the sport are likely to worsen the situation.
For a long time runners were not required to pay much to participate in the events but of late clever people have moved to commercialise the meetings.
Universities have taken the lead in trying to make a profit out of the meetings by making the runners pay participation fees.
It all started at Moi University where runners were made to pay Sh200 to run in the annual cross-country held at Chepkoilel campus in Eldoret. Runners, mostly the young ones who are students, could be seen surrounding top international athletes begging for money to enter the race.
Retired athlete Lucas Sang complained he had to spend over Sh1,000 paying for young runners who approached him for assistance. They had travelled from far expecting to pay the usual Sh50 participation fee.
At Kabarak university, runners paid Sh100 to run in the institution's cross country. The organisers of the cross-country meetings at Chepkoilel and Kabarak argued that they offered good prizes and the high participation fee was, therefore, justified.
At the Chepkoilel race top runners took home beddings that ranged from mattresses while at Kabarak winners took home heifers worth Sh 40,000 in addition to cash prizes for other top finishers other than the race winners.
Local road race events have also proved to be well paying for winners. Last November, the inaugural Spear Road Race at Kapsabet in Nandi offered cash prizes, making the event the first to give runners money in the area.
The event sponsored by Spear Sports Management of London held 5km and 15km road races for both men and women. The winners pocketed between Sh10,000 and Sh1,000
Despite the good cash prizes runners paid only Sh50 per athlete for participation. But the organisers had to limit the number of runners to 400 only on a first-come-first-served basis.
At the all women Shoe-4Africa road race in Iten the top 20 runners were rewarded with cash prizes in the form of American dollars. The winner got US$500 (Sh36,000) and the other top 20 apart from the winner got US$100 (Sh7,200) each.
At the Kabarnet half marathon for men and 10km for women, winners took home good pay. In both the Kabarnet and Shoe-4Africa races runners did not pay any participation fees.
Come to the Athletics Kenya final cross country meeting in Eldoret on Saturday and runners were asked to pay Sh200 to participate in the race.
Officials gave all manner of reasons for the fee hike. The Uasin Gishu district AK public relations officer John Kiptum says the sub branch was trying to raise money to take the district team to the provincial cross country championship.
The secretary Joseph Chelimo said they were forced to increase the fee because the Sh60,000 given by the AK national office for the meeting was not enough since the budget to host the event is Sh150,000. Chelimo admitted they had not petitioned the national office to increase the quota it gives to branches for the hosting of such events. The number of officials required per meet should also be defined because most of the money goes into paying allowances and not to rewarding the runners.
AK's assistant secretary Ibrahim Hussein who is also the chairman of the North Rift AK branch termed the increment as shocking "since it had not been brought to his attention".
A coach at the IOC/IAAF High Performance Training Centre in Eldoret Joseph Ngure warns that the increment would discourage runners from taking part in AK organised meets.
"The meets are meant to discover new talents mostly from schools. Most talented but penniless runners will be kept off by these hefty fees', he said.
Ngure observed that many runners had to walk to and from the last cross country meet at Abrar High School 7km from Eldoret town. Others hiked over-loaded lifts in open pick-up vehicles owned by international athletes.
It was only the IOC and Mfae teams that travelled to the venue in the luxury of Daimler Benz and Nissan vehicles respectively.
The runners feel that if AK were to increase the participation fee in their meetings then the federation should be ready to give appreciated prizes as is happening in non-AK road races.
Currently the runners earn nothing at the AK meetings apart from having their names printed in the local media or meeting foreign agents who attend such meets scouting for runners to recruit.
The moneyed AK can effectively compete with organisers of the lucrative road races in attracting participants by opening their purses instead of limiting the number of road races in the country.