The Star (Nairobi)

8 December 2012

Kenya: Why Sportsmen Support Raila Presidency

Kenya's next general election will go down in the annals of history as a high stakes election with ramifications in every facet of our national life like no other since independence.

It is not just political careers of the presidential candidates or its implications on the institutional construction of the state and fulfillment of the 2030 vision, its influence will be felt virtually all aspects of our lives including sports.

Neighbouring countries, too, have joined us in holding their breath as they hope for the best for themselves. My concern in this piece is the stake of the sporting fraternity and what the "wait and see" stance means.

Kenya is a sporting nation ranked highly at the global level and can comfortably be ranked first or second in Africa. In Latin America and West African countries, sports are an emotive issue that occasionally determines the outcome of elections. Heads of state have had occasion to push for the inclusion of players in their national football teams due to pressure for results.

The last time Kenya had an involvement of such a degree was in the 1980s when a cabinet minister, Paul Ngei, who had attended the Cecafa football tournament walked into the field to plead with Mahmoud Abbas, Harambee Stars captain, to resume play after his teammates opted to walk out to protest what they considered an undeserved penalty awarded to Uganda Cranes in the final.

Despite this great achievements in sports, Kenya's heroes in that regard have not commensurately evolved into national opinion leaders, particularly in politics.

The media has been lackadaisical in selling our sporting icons to other spheres of greater relevance in social motion. Indeed, it is unconventional for participants in sports to venture into partisan politics. It has even been said that sports being non-political unites the world regardless of diversity.

The Netherlands' football icon, Van Nisterooy shocked the world in the 1998 World Cup by associating the drive for the Holland team to beat Germany to the horrors they suffered during the Second World War at the hands of Germans.

His proclamation sparked uproars dominated by the view that sports icons should steer clear of politics. What the debate failed to capture was that there were virtually no sports tournaments during the dreaded war.

The European Player of the Year, George Wear tops the list among sporting icons that have broken this crippling norm in Africa. After witnessing an endless slaughter of the Sierra Leone's people year after year out by politicians under various regimes, he decided to run for president to enrich the menu from which a choice would be made.

His intention was to bring to an end rampant mismanagement of his country that had, as in the Kenya case, led to mass killings of innocent people.

Have Kenya's sports people been different? Ezekiel Kemboi, the world and Olympic Steeple chase gold medalist joined the ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga on his tour of the Rift Valley endorsing him for presidency.

Weeks later, David Rudisha and Pamela Jelimo joined the reloaded team in a campaign tour of Keiyo, appealing to Kenyans to vote for Raila Odinga.

Kenyans may not have understood the driving force behind the move to support Raila Odinga. What has influenced their resolve to associate themselves with a candidate of the PM's credentials? Does the ICC issue have an influence on the move? The explanation for their brave move goes beyond sheer patriotism.

Where would they be without access to the sporting venues of the world? With a country sporting heroes, where would their future be if they did not have access to global marathons?

Why would they get involved in a brand of politics that would put their participation in international races in jeopardy? In the remaining months to the general election, the ICC suspects will generate propaganda that downplays the weighty matters presented by the reality of their being targets of global law enforcement and justice agencies.

The widely travelled sports icons are not oblivious to what befell the sporting generations of South Africa during the Apartheid regime. In the years that the comprehensive embargo was in force, the South African sporting fraternity was confined to the South African borders never to be heard of for over two decades. In athletics, Caster Semenya of this millennium is their firstborn while the Octogenarian Ben Jipcho is our first.

It may be recalled that in 1979, president Jimmy Carter demanded that the Soviet Union withdraws its troops from Afghanistan or face sanctions. It included a boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980.

These were cold war times and Kenya was then allied to The United States of America in global politics. Kenya Boycotted the Olympics as ordered by Washington.

A Kenyan Athlete, Henry Rono, who was enjoying the prime of his career failed to fulfill his career dreams. Rono who had broken five world records got depressed by the cancellation of the games and never got his life back as he had it.

It is hence easy to understand why the Kemboi team has taken it upon themselves to oppose candidates whose election will invite sanctions.

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