Two questions to sponsors pulling out their sponsorship to athletics in Kenya, by Justin Lagat

Thumbnail image for Kiprop-Masai-Pre12.jpg
Wilson Kiprop, Pre 10,000m, (June 2012), photo by 

Justin Lagat wrote this moving piece on the departure of two sponsors from Kenyan athletics. Justin provides A View from Kenya for RunBlogRun, a weekly column on the sport in Kenya. 

This year, however, the abyss has been nearly reached. The tradition and pride of Kenyan athletics has been besmirched by some who think that rules do not apply for them, and that the price paid if one gets caught is worth the chances. 

In the end, as Justin Lagat notes here, the Federation is not really hurt, but those athletes training for a greater race, for a better life, for the pride of Kenyan athletics, are the ones hurt. 
Two questions to sponsors pulling out their sponsorship to athletics in Kenya.

It is true that there have been wrangles in Athletics Kenya (AK), the governing body for athletics in the country, and that there have been many cases that indicate the institution is suffering from poor leadership, corruption and lack of accountability. This has made the companies and even the government to threaten to stop funding the body if changes are not affected soon.

Safaricom Limited has made true its threat and has finally pulled out from sponsoring athletics. This is the company that has been sponsoring a number of road races and cross country meetings that included the Lewa Marathon, the Gusii 10km series and the Ndalat Gaa cross country events, among others across the country.

However, what these companies need to take into account is that it is not the athletes who are corrupt, but it is them (athletes) who suffer the most out of this. The same athletes are the ones who have been entertaining them at the athletic meetings and attracting the media attention in order for them to market their products. After sweating, toiling and entertaining, a few of these athletes (only the top three) are usually given a little amount as the prize money. The athletes have no idea how much the sponsors give out to AK. The sponsors on the other hand, as expected, also benefit out of this by getting free media exposure across many platforms whenever the event is featured.

For these sponsors to walking out on these athletes at the moment when they need them the most is betrayal of the highest order on their part. It all sounds like a father punishing his child because the child's mother failed to cook for him on time.  Below are two questions I have for sponsors and for the athletic fraternity to ponder about regarding this whole issue.

1.     Did they have the interest of athletes and athletics in the first place?

While there may have been many other reasons why they did decide to sponsor athletics in the first place, one reason remains clear when they decide to walk away; that the interest of athletes and their welfare was definitely not one of their reasons. And, it probably was not the love of athletics as a sport that enticed them either.

If they were concerned with the athletes, then they would have found ways to do it in ways that would directly help them. For example, they could have build a private training facilities for athletes, give out endorsement deals to top athletes in the country to market their products and fund private athletic training camps, among many other activities where they would not ask for accountability from AK. If AK is corrupt, definitely not all athletes in the country are untrustworthy.

There are great exemplary companies in the country that have worked directly with athletes and made them proud of working with them.  For example, Telkom Kenya Limited have worked with Julius Yego, the Olympic Javelin thrower nicknamed "YouTube athlete" and  Kiwi Shoe Polish company have worked with David Rudisha, the 800m Olympic champion, in promoting their products.

2.     Are they doing anything to help the situation?

What it would have been expected unsurprisingly from companies who have the welfare of athletes in their considerations was for them to say they would, instead, channel some of the funds they were giving out to AK to funding other institutions that would help combat the current problems within athletics in the country.

There are initiatives in the country that try to educate athletes on their rights, like the new athletes' union, PAAK. There are others like the Kenyan Athlete initiative that aim to create awareness among the athletes to uphold integrity in sports, among others.

The best thing these companies would have done for the athletes at these trying times was to help fund such projects and to facilitate other good initiatives among the athletes.

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