Another travel scandal rocks Kenyan athletics

Thursday, July 14th, 2022 08:51 | By
Team set for Oregon World Championships, led by AK President Jackson Tuwei (left) when they visited President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, Tuesday. PSCU

The team expected to represent Kenya at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, US, has again been hit by a travel scandal similar to the infamous “Rio Scandal” of 2016.

Top athletes and officials were last evening fighting to have their Visas approved ahead of start of the games tomorrow.

Star sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala — who is expected to compete in the 100m race tomorrow evening — is among those stranded in Nairobi despite his name being among those in the initial list.

In the Rio scandal, Government officials diverted air tickets and sold them to non-athletes, leaving competitors no choice but to seek other alternatives to travel to South America.

A source well versed with the going-ons told People Daily that the American embassy had declined to issue extra visas after it emerged that a list given by the Ministry of Sports had exceeded the 80 approved by Athletics Kenya (AK).

Instead, the ministry forwarded a list of 112, including 32 individuals not known to the athletics body.

Cunning officials, our source confided, decided to send the list in batches in an attempt to conceal identity of the 32 “mysterious” members of the entourage.

A high-placed source revealed that some ministry officials assigned to follow up on the visas issue colluded with some individuals to have them included as part of Kenya’s entourage.

Sources said the 32 individuals paid as much as Sh2 million each for their names to be included in the list, meaning that the ministry officials raked in a cool Sh64 million from the irregular deal that now threatens to lock athletes from representing Kenya only a day after the President presented them with the national flag.

Athletes were initially scheduled to travel to USA a week before the championships. Among those affected is AK President Jackson Tuwei, who was expected to attend the World Championship Athletics Congress today.

“We are anxiously waiting for the US embassy to issue visas for a number of athletes, including Omanyala. Hopefully they will be able to fly out today,” Athletics Kenya executive member Barnabas Korir said. A top official at AK who sought anonymity revealed that the matter was between government to government, which the association plays no role.

“Our sole responsibility is to cater for the athletes and officials. We gave the list of 80 athletes and officials,” said the source.

It was not clear how many athletes were affected, as we could not establish whether the marathon team of eight, which is expected to fly out in a week’s time, had applied for visas together with the rest of the team.

Visas hitch

Omanyala is also due to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in the United Kingdom from July 28 and till August 8.

The issue of the visas hitch, according to our source did not feature during the State House visit.  AK officials, led by Tuwei, were frantically trying to secure the visas, especially for Omanyala, who is scheduled to compete tomorrow.

Our efforts to seek a word from Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed or her Principal Secretary Joe Okundo were futile as both did not respond. Okudo did not call back as promised and did not respond to subsequent calls from us. The athletics body had planned to have the team fly out in two lots on Monday and Tuesday but has to reschedule due to the visa debacle.

Other team members stranded in Nairobi are Team manager Rono Bunei, physiotherapist John Murray, Jessica Shiraku and Japheth Kariakim and team doctor Victor Bargoria.

“It is creating anxiety knowing that the event starts on Friday and we have some flights to connect to our final destination,” Bunei told a local daily in an interview.

Bunei further lamented that some athletes, who already had their visas, were still stranded in Nairobi, as the ministry had not issued them with air tickets.

“One of the athletes is Kumaru Taki in the 1,500m,” Bunei noted.

Among the athletes that were due to leave the country on Tuesday evening are Olympic 800m champion Emmanuel Korir, 400m hurdler Moitalel Mpoke, steeplechaser Abraham Kibiwott and 1,500m athlete Edinah Jebitok.

Also in the entourage were race walk coach George Karouki and Bargoria.

In the Rio Olympics scandal, former Cabinet Secretary Ali Wario was then charged alongside Haron Chebet, who served as Director of Administration and Patrick Nkabu, Richard Ekai, Stephen Soi and Francis Paul for embezzling funds meant for the athletes.

Wario and Soi were found guilty and were sentenced to jail and hefty fines over their involvement in the 2016 scandal.

The former CS was sentenced to six years in jail or a fine of Sh3.6 million. He paid the fine and was released after weeks in jail.

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