Kenya had its most successful Olympics ever in Rio de Janeiro despite chaotic preparations that included missing shoes, ill-fitting uniforms, a brawl among teammates over prize money and completely inadequate training facilities, according to a report reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press. Among the many revelations in the government-ordered report: members of the women’s rugby team had a brawl in an airport on the way home from Rio about how to split prize money, the race walking team wasn’t given any track shoes, many of the athletes received uniforms that didn’t fit, while some didn’t get any and had to provide their own.
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Medical officials tending to Kenya’s top sports stars in case of serious injury had to travel between the spread-out Rio venues on shuttle buses meant for journalists and which only went every 30 minutes and sometimes took over an hour to get to an arena. Also, members of the team began their final preparations for the world’s biggest sports event at a “High Performance Training Center” back home owned by the head of the Olympic committee, and which had a gym only big enough for three people to be in it at any one time, the 90-page report said.
But along with the incompetence and mismanagement on a grand scale stunning for a country that outperformed the United States and Jamaica at last year’s athletics world championships the report committee raised serious concerns over the possible misappropriation by senior sports officials of millions of dollars in money and athlete apparel provided by team sponsor Nike. Those race walkers may not have got their Nike shoes because officials stole them.
The investigation was ordered at the end of August by the sports minister after allegations of corruption being rife at the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK), which was disbanded after Rio amid allegations that some of the $5.7 million Olympic budget was stolen. Since the committee began its investigation, Kenya’s Olympic team leader has been charged with stealing $256,000 and three other senior Olympic committee officials – two vice presidents and the secretary general – face charges of stealing boxes of Nike apparel that were meant for athletes. One VP was arrested hiding under his bed in an apartment filled with brand new Nike equipment.
Because those cases are in court, the report couldn’t refer to them. But there was plenty more investigators could reveal. They demanded that NOCK account for how it has used the $714,000 it’s been given every year by Nike since 2013, and where the $520,000 worth of apparel it received every year has gone. There don’t appear to be records. Also, some of Kenya’s top athletes, including track and field world champions Asbel Kiprop, Julius Yego and Ezekiel Kemboi, may have been cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars in Nike bonuses due to them for winning medals at major competitions, bonuses they have not received from Kenyan officials, according to the report.
Despite the level of ineptitude, and allegedly worse, from those officials, Kenya somehow still won six golds and 13 medals in total in Rio. The track and field team was second on the table behind the US. “The (investigating) committee would like to express concern over serious management inadequacies, poor planning and financial impropriety that affected what would have been an even greater performance,” the report said. “The committee would like to thank our sportsmen and women, their coaches and the honest officials for pulling off Kenya’s best ever performance at the Olympics despite the glaring management inadequacies that they had to endure.”
All of Kenya’s athletes, even their best, appeared to have been affected. Julius Yego, the javelin world champion who won silver at the Rio Olympics, was one example. Yego was based at the so-called High Performance Training Center with the tiny gym in the buildup to the Olympics. He paid to join a nearby private gym that had better equipment. Yego was put in the high altitude town of Eldoret, where heavy rain at that time of year can wash away roads and he was often unable to travel to the stadium to train. Even when he got to the stadium, Yego had to deal with the fact that the javelin runway was about seven meters shorter than the standard length. When Yego got to the airport to travel to Rio, there was no plane ticket for him.
Some other revelations in the report:
The men’s rugby sevens team went on a three-week high-altitude training camp, but returned to the capital Nairobi for a week and then traveled to Rio, which is at sea level, two weeks before their competition, nullifying any benefit from the high-altitude training.Marathon runner Wesley Korir left a pre-Olympics training camp without permission to travel to Canada and run in a marathon as a pace-setter for his wife. The exertion led to him dropping out halfway through the Olympic marathon. Following the women’s rugby team’s brawl, team officials lied and said the players were fighting “over a man.” Players later admitted it was over prize money promised them by the Kenyan government. The sports ministry paid nearly $900,000 more than it should have for 330 plane tickets to Rio, mostly for officials, after a company was hired just to do the bookings.