Nairobi — Athletics Kenya on Tuesday threw a lifeline to the Kiptenden Athletics Club by agreeing to review the closure of the club's training camp in Kericho.
In a statement issued by AK's public relations officer, Peter Angwenyi, the track and field events organisation said it would review the controversial closure following a request by Sports minister, Hellen Sambili.
The camp was closed on October 14, after AK charged that one of the coaches at the camp, David Kiplangat Kosgei, had an "inappropriate relationship" with one of the athletes.
For that, AK also banned Koskei from any involvement in athletics management or coaching for life.
"Athletics Kenya's Executive Committee will review the closure of Kiptenden Athletics Club following the request by the Minister for Youth and Sports," the statement read.
"Our Federation always takes into account divergent views whenever they are raised in the interests of the harmony of its programmes.
The recommendation by the investigating team was tabled at the Council meeting of October 14, 2009, which discussed and rejoined that the training camp be closed down immediately.
"Athletics Kenya appreciates the minister's concern regarding individuals found taking advantage of their positions in such training camps and preying on the youth.
"They will be dealt with in accordance with the laws and regulations of the land and those of AK and IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations)."
The Kiptenden camp has produced world and Africa junior champions in distance running, including Mercy Cherono, Hilda Chepkwemoi and Judith Chepkeoch.
While calling for the re-opening of the camp unconditionally, Sambili pointed out that she does not support any inappropriate relationship between coaches and young athletes but said such warranted disciplinary action against the individuals involved rather than closure of an entire camp.
The decision to close down the Kericho camp drew a lot of heat, with area MP and Roads minister, Franklin Bett, supporting his Cabinet colleague in calling for the re-opening of the camp.
"The AK chairman is against us. This is the only vibrant athletics club in the South Rift," Bett said. "He should have taken legal action against the alleged offenders. He has tainted our image across the globe."
Angwenyi said AK would review the closure in a fortnight.
But Kosgei maintained on Tuesday that the federation unfairly banned him and "has no mandate to close down his camp. I am ready to look for a job elsewhere if they do not want me to work in this country.
The runners' parents have no problem with us and I will carry on training them as I prepare to carry the top six runners to the World Cross Country Championship in Poland next year," vowed Kosgei.
The coach trains world 3,000 metres champion Mercy Cherono, World Youth 3,000 metres silver medallist David Bett and World Youth 1,500 metres finalist, Stellah Chebet, among other athletes.
Alice Rono, the mother of Loice Cherono, one of the runners attached to the camp, said she had visited the club's camp after the national athletics body slapped the ban on them but could not establish the truth about the allegations, and called on the police to investigate them further.
Elijah Towett, another parent, asked the AK to come up evidence to allow them take those guilty off the alleged offences to court.
Wisdom prevailed as Athletics Kenya retracted its hard stance and opened a window of hope by agreeing to review the circumstances that led to the closure of the Kiptenden Athletics Club in Kericho last week.
AK public relations officer Peter Angwenyi said they were coerced into changing their attitude following the request by the Minister for Sports Helen Sambili on Sunday where she called for immediate reopening of the camp with the culprit involved being dealt with individually.
"If there is a problem let it be dealt with on individual basis. Some old men who are involved in the camp management have approached me and I listen to their grievances and I believe AK over stepped its mandate," said Sambili.
Angwenyi noted that in two weeks, AK will review afresh reports and evidence from the people involved and are most likely to let the camp operation continue but with strict sanctions being taken against its proprietor and coach, David Kiplangat Koskei.
"AK appreciates the minister's concern that individuals found taking advantage of their positions in such training camps and preying on the youth will be dealt with in accordance with the laws and regulations of the land," he said.
Already AK council, the association's supreme decision making body, had on October 14 banned from conducting any coaching or running any camps in the country.
Kiptenden camp has produced top talents like Mercy Cherono, Hilda Chepkwemoi and East African Junior 3,000m bronze medallist Judith Chepkeoch.
While calling for the reopening of the camp unconditionally, Sambili pointed out that she does not support any inappropriate relationship between coaches and young athletes.
On Tuesday, Koskei came up fighting seeking to be left off the hook saying, AK did not visit his camp and that the accusations levelled against him were false.
"Some of the people AK is using to assess my camp are interested parties. They too are running camps are eying my athletes to take them once I am disabled. Let them know, that will not be possible, the camps remains and these athletes are not moving anywhere," he said.
Sambili said AK should have dealt with the abuse of office and reprimanded the person involved individually.
"When a head teacher abuses his pupils, do you go along and close the school or you deal with him individually? There are many children in Kericho who are now without a camp, we need it open to continue nurturing these talents," she said.
AK chairman Isaiah Kiplagat however insisted that the camp was closed because it violated the rules due process was followed in its closure.
Kaptenden camp is run by Koskei and who has been accused of athlete abuse with his decision to take one of the athletes Hilda Chepkwomoi as his wife irking AK officials.
Angwenyi said there is already an implementation committee led by AK treasurer Joseph Kinyua to inspect and assess the standard of coaching clubs in the country to avoid more athletes being abused or degenerating in their form. It is this committee that will review the order to close the camp and advise AK on the way forward.
Director of quality assurance at the ministry of education Enos Oyaya had also added his voice on the issue saying it was wrong for coaches and teachers to abuse school going children.
Kinyua's committee will be expected to instill professionalism and competence in management of athletics camps countrywide making sure that boys and girls stay in different halls of residence.
"Some of these camps have been placed in back streets or in houses that have lodging facility or bars. What kind of preparations do these athletes get there? We must root this out," said Kiplagat.
Mixed reactions has greeted Athletics Kenya's bold move to unheed Sports Minister's orders to rescind its decision and open the Kiptenden Athletics Club in Kericho.
Roads Minister Franklin Bett said the AK decision was autocratic. "How can a mere federation chairperson overrule a decision from the minister? He has no respect to the minister. There is something wrong with the association. AK chairman 'anatuonea sisi (he is against us). This is the only vibrant athletics club in the South Rift," the Roads Minister told the Daily Nation on telephone on Tuesday.
The minister supported Sports Minister Prof Hellen Sambili that AK should have dealt with the accused coach instead of closing down the camp which has nurtured world beaters.
"Instead of investing the claims that sexual had thrived in the camp, Kiplagat and his AK council punished the camp that serves many athletes in the entire South Rift region. He would have taken a legal action against the alleged offender. He has tainted our image in the eyes of sports across the globe," added Mr Bett.
Mr David Kosgei, the embattled coach at Kiptenden Athletics Club in Kericho, also defended himself over accusations that sexual harassment was rampant in the camp that trains 22 youth and junior runners.
"I am calling them on to report the allegations to the police. And if I am found guilty, I am ready to face the law. Let them not threaten me with reports they sending through the press. The runners' parents know where the truth is and that is why none of them has complained. AK should come up with sufficient evidence to back up their claims," said Mr Kosgei.
He said a team of AK officials visited the camp two weeks ago to investigate the matter and have not made their recommendations public.
Last Monday, Sports Minister directed AK council to open the camp immediately saying they should have dealt with the abuse of office and reprimanded the accused coach.
The directive drew sharp reaction s from AK chairman Isaiah Kiplagat who cautioned the Minister against interfering the management of the federation.
"This is wrong. Let the ministry keep off our affairs... The camp was closed because it violated the rules and we followed the laid down rules in closing it," Kiplagat said.
But Kosgei said he has no reason to down as he believes the federation has no mandate to close down his camp.
"I am ready to look for a job elsewhere if they do not want me to work in this country. AK has no mandate to rule us out. The runners' parents have no problem with us. And I will carry on training them as I prepare to carry the top six runners to the Poland's World Cross Country next year. I have no license from AK, I bank on a certificate from Social Services. I will get to court should continue disrupting my programmes," warned Kosgei.
He trains world 3,000m champion Mercy Cherono, World Youth 3,000m silver medalist David Bett and the youth 1,500m finalist Stellah Chebet.