The Olympic Games are back and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro has done all it could to get to this day despite the endless reports of how they were not ready to host the games due to preparation delays and that thing virus called Zika. Interestingly, we have seen this trend each time a country that does not have a hold of the global media levers gets to host an international sports event.
I love the Olympic Games because unlike the football world cup, I do not have the pressure to be African by supporting any African team that shows up trying to take on the mighty Europeans or the skilled South Americans in the world’s most popular sport. The Olympics Games leave room for almost any country to take part. Wild cards are given to countries that would not have made it to some sports categories like swimming for example.
At the end of the day, you get to see almost every country represented at the colourful opening ceremonies where athletes walk around the Olympic stadium with pride. Back home we cheer them on and home that that will not be the last time we see our national flag on TV. Unfortunately, the reality soon kicks in that our flags may not really make a comeback unless, of course, it’s Kenyan flags.
Yes, I know we are all East Africans but the truth is only the Kenyans seem to have got their act together when it comes to sports and athletics in particular. The 7s version of rugby is also their thing and they still hold bragging rights for having played in the Cricket World Cup. Uganda will make noise about its football trophies that it collects when it plays with poorer teams (mainly its neighbours), while Rwanda now have cycling as their sport.
I won’t say much about other countries any because the truth is when it comes to sports in the region after Kenya you are basically comparing pygmies. Some East African countries have never heard their anthem played for winning an Olympic Gold while others like my home country one we had to wait 40 years to experience that.
And yet even when Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich won the gold for the marathon, some Kenyans couldn’t let enjoy our moment preferring to ‘claim’ him as one of their own thanks to the arbitrary border lines that spilt certain communities.
At the Olympics, the Kenyans own the long distance and middle distance races, where their only closest competition comes from Ethiopia. In some of these races the Kenyans are no longer interested in just gold but a 1-2-3 finish. They have also begun extending their prowess to field events like javelin with the unrelenting Julius Yego who claimed to have used YouTube to perfect his game.
I know the East African Community policy makers are always organising trips to go and learn from other countries and they even have a fancy name for this - benchmarking best practices. Just this week, commercial motorcyclists from Kisumu were in Kigali to learn from their colleagues here on how not to basically be a menace to society. Others come to learn about how to keep a city clean among other things.
I wonder whether it is time the rest of East Africa sought answers from the Kenyans on how they too can achieve more at the Olympics beyond just sending more officials than athletes. What are the Kenyans doing right that others are not? And do not tell me about highlands because I think those can be found in other parts of East Africa too.
And if they can produce a javelin maverick who points to YouTube, don’t we all have access to the internet? Of course it takes more than that and we should be ready to put in more work as a region because the world of sports is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise that we too should a part of. We need to change our attitudes and look at it like any business that requires investment if one is to reap.
For example, land grabbers who target school playgrounds are as bad those who steal money for drugs in public hospitals. Parents should also stop beating their children for engaging in sports. We all can’t be doctors and lawyers. If we all invest more in sports we can reap and stop wishing we were Kenyans when following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.