Kenya: Para Swimming Coach Decries Lengthy Suspension

24 September 2020

Kenya para swimming head coach Jennifer Kamande has bemoaned the continued suspension of the sport by the government due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Friday, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said swimming is part of the contact sports that will not be allowed to resume since they are considered high risk. Swimmers have been inactive since March when the government indefinitely suspended sports activities in the country to curb the spread of coronavirus.

"Dealing with disabled athletes is a whole different ball game. Unlike able-bodied sportsmen, they have to work twice as hard to maintain their muscle and mental strength, discipline and persistence. And like most of us I know they will suffer greatly when asked to pick up from where they left since majority have not been training," said Kamande.

Kamande added that since they never hold any local tournaments in the country, it will also be difficult to get all the swimmers back to training when they are allowed to resume. She says those that consistently show up are those that have participated in international competitions notably Anne Wacuka, Benson Murage and Paul Mabwa.

Wacuka, 38, burst into the limelight in 2017 when she won Kenya's first world Para swimming medal. The double-amputee athlete bagged bronze in the women's 50m freestyle S8 at the Mexico City 2017 Worlds.

Tokyo Paralympics

Last year, she competed at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships supported by the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) Agitos Foundation and remains the first Kenyan to qualify for the Paralympic Games.

Before the virus struck, Wacuka had qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics which have been postponed to 2021.

"Compared to athletics, swimming is quite difficult because of inadequate facilities which has been a problem since I joined the sport almost 10 years ago. I really miss swimming and I hope the pandemic ends soon," said Wacuka.

Training venue

Although most federations that run contact sports are eager to resume action, post-resumption challenges continue to lurk in the background.

For instance in para swimming, both the coaches and swimmers will be faced with the challenge of availability of swimming facilities, losing swimmers to other avenues of making a living and the fear of not getting enough swimmers to compete in the qualifying rounds of the Paralympics.

"Getting a constant venue to train at has been extremely tiresome for all of us. We were initially using the facility at Nyayo Stadium but we had to move once it was shut down for renovations. We immediately moved to Kasarani but that again presented the problem for most of the swimmers who had to use more than one matatu to get to Kasarani.

"Additionally, with the hard economic times presented by the pandemic, most of the athletes have definitely ventured into other money making avenues and might find it difficult to return to swimming," said Kamande.

Junior team

Kamande also hinted at formation of a junior team with 16-year old Jack Ndende showing a lot of promise.

With federations requested to present their calendars of events by September 30, Kamande says that they are in communication with their umbrella body responsible for planning their competitions, the International Paralympic Committee to know the way forward.

Kenya made its Paralympic Games debut at the 1972 Summer Paralympics, skipped the 1976 edition but returned in 1980 and has featured in every tournament since then.

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