SPORTS

Kenya surprises with plan for Olympics bid

NAIROBI – Quite a few eyebrows were raised when Kenya’s sports minister announced last week that the east African nation would bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Ochillo Ayacko surprised his audience, which included International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, when he announced that Kenya would indeed place an Olympics bid. «I am announcing this without blinking or batting an eyelid: that Kenya will place a bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games,» said the minister. The previous day, Rogge, who was visiting Kenya for the country’s 50th anniversary of joining the Olympic movement, had said he hoped an African country would eventually host the world’s most prestigious Games. «It is my wish and hope that an African country will one day stage the Summer Games. I am happy that South Africa will stage the FIFA World Cup in 2010. From there, I hope the Olympic Games will be staged in the continent,» Rogge said. But even as the IOC chief talked of the Games coming to Africa in the «not-too-distant future,» sports insiders gave Kenya only a remote chance of being in any position to host them by 2016. «He should have talked of the 2020 or 2024 Games. I think 2016 is too soon for the government to fix the dilapidated roads, improve sports infrastructure, urban transportation, you name it. The Olympics are a big deal,» five-time world cross-country champion and world marathon record-holder Paul Tergat told Reuters. «That Greece spent over 700 billion shillings [6.94 billion euros] to host last summer’s Olympics is one of the facts Ayacko should have gathered on his voyage to Athens so as to know that a country 13 times poorer than Greece must first contend itself with hosting the East and Central Africa soccer championships,» wrote Elias Makori, a respected columnist in the authoritative Daily Nation. «Because even the African Cup of Nations finals is a tall order, as we realized in 1996 when lack of government support and poor facilities forced us to hand South Africa the onus of staging Africa’s biggest soccer show,» Makori said. «Kenya, better known for its potholed streets, rampant corruption and frequent power cuts than for its ability to hold international sporting events, is to bid for the 2016 Olympic Games,» wrote the London-based Daily Telegraph. Rogge, who expressed surprise moments after the minister’s announcement, later said the IOC would support Kenya’s bid. In 1997, Cape Town finished third in the race to host the 2004 Olympics, behind Athens and Rome. In a country where 56 percent of the population live below the poverty line, the announcement by the minister jarred with many commentators. The AIDS pandemic is ravaging the population and official corruption is a major problem. The cost of staging the Athens Games was nearly twice Kenya’s total annual expenditure of 440.6 billion shillings. The Greeks built a new international airport, added two lines to the metro system, improved road networks and constructed sports facilities and accommodation. «Where will the government get the money even to place the bid itself, let alone hosting the Games? From the International Monetary Fund? London, with its massive infrastructure compared to Kenya’s, is struggling with its bid for the 2012 Games. The minister must have been joking,» said sports commentator Ayaki Onyango. Kenyan sport has taken a downward spiral in the past few years, with the country being reinstated by world soccer body FIFA only last November after a ban due to government interference. The members of the national cricket team, which sensationally reached the World Cup semifinals in 2003, becoming the first non-Test side to do so, were sacked following a disagreement with the Kenya Cricket Association [KCA] over contractual issues. Critics say the 60,000-seater Moi International Sports Center, Kasarani, built with Chinese support for the 1987 All-Africa Games, has been run down by the ministry that Ayacko heads. Nyayo National Stadium, the second stadium in the capital, has had its track removed for renovation for the past two years. The athletics federation’s war of words with its elite athletes over governance and transparency continues unabated, with the result that their performances in global championships have gone downhill.