Kenyan athletes protest, demand Okeyo, Kiplagat step aside amid corruption probe

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Kenya’s government met athletes to discuss their grievances on Tuesday, as runners occupied the athletics federation building for a second day, protesting against corruption and doping allegations engulfing their sport at home and abroad.

During the meeting, the athletes under the aegis of Professional Athletes’ Association of Kenya (PAAK) demanded that Athletics Kenya (AK) president, and Vice-president, step aside for full investigations into corruption allegations against them.

As a condition to end the two-day blockade of the federation’s Riadha House headquarters by the athletes, they presented a seven-point demand to resolve the siege.

During the formal announcement of the end of the Riadha House siege, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Arts (MOSCA), Dr. Richard Ekai, asked Isaiah Kiplagat and David Okeyo to relinquish their positions with immediate effect.

The joint communique read in full: “We the representatives of officials of AK, PAAK and the MOSCA, following a joint meeting at the Nyayo National Stadium to resolve administrative issues with the management of AK, do resolve as follows:

  1. That we immediately embark on the process of reviewing the current AK constitution to make it in line with the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and the Sports Act of 2013.
  2. That PAAK submits a memorandum of their grievances on the management of AK and present it to MOSCA on or before Monday 30th November 2015.
  3. The MOSCA under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary will convene a joint meeting of stakeholders involving PAAK, AK and the Ministry in resolving the issues raised in the memorandum next week.
  4. That the athletes shall be served with dignity and decorum when they visit the offices of AK.
  5. That there will be no discrimination and or victimisation of any athletes.
  6. That alleged issues of corruption and or misappropriation of funds by AK officials be thoroughly investigated.
  7. That any officials mentioned in or investigated for corruption to step aside to allow for further full and conclusive investigations to be done.”

The Siege

On Monday morning, a group of mostly low-level athletes – numbering between 45-60 – swooped on the headquarters in Nairobi ordering staff to leave and barricading themselves inside.

Commissioner for Sports Gordon Oluoch said he would try and resolve their complaints, but did not commit himself to any specific action, and criticised the protesters for resorting to “the laws of the jungle”.

The PAAK officials said it feared that honest athletes could face collective punishment because of scandals about doping and media allegations that top Athletics Kenya officials had embezzled some sponsorship money.

Athletics Kenya has denied all such allegations.

Kenya, boasting some of the world’s finest middle and long-distance runners, has in recent years been rocked by a spate of failed drug tests and the country’s athletics federation has drawn criticism for not doing enough to tackle doping.

Allegations of corruption among Athletics Kenya chiefs tied to a Nike sponsorship deal, combined with Russia’s recent ban from global athletics, have stirred fears that the East African nation could be banned from international track and field.

“We want to discuss the issues raised by the athletes to see if we can resolve the matter,” Oluoch said before a meeting at the Sport Ministry.

“We believe in the rule of the law. So even if the athletes have genuine cases, they must operate within the confines of the law, not through the law of the jungle,” said Oluoch.

Among athletes who joined talks at the ministry were , president of PAAK and former marathon world record holder, and , winner of the 2012 Boston City Marathon who is now also a lawmaker.