SWILA: The EU erred by locking Kenyan athletes out of DL races

Kenyan athletes, hit hard by the effects of Covid-19 pandemic that led to a near shutdown of global sports are staring at yet another chapter of uncertainty after the European Union omitted Kenya from the list of countries whose citizens are allowed to travel into Schengen states when the European Union (EU) opens its borders on July 1.

The borders were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with the EU opening her borders since July 1 2020, several Diamond League races are lined up but Kenyan athletes are unlikely to feature in these races thanks to the EU caveat.

Kenya is among the 54 countries across the world deemed by the EU not to have tamed the virus within its borders hence on the Covid-19 compliance “blacklist” when the 2020 Diamond League circuit resumes next month.

Monaco, a city in the south east of France will kick off the resumption of Diamond League even as Kenyan athletes are likely to miss the Stockholm meet on August 23 in Sweden if the EU doesn’t clear Kenya.

Other races are set to be staged in Brussels, Belgium on September 4 since the Lausanne meet on September 2 will be treated as an exhibition event.

The weight of the EU ban means that Kenya’s world 1,500 metres champion Timothy Cheruiyot will not be able to defend his title alongside former champion Elijah Manang’oi, among others, during the Monaco leg primed for August 14.

The other events lined up in Europe are British Grand Prix on September 12 in Gates head and Rome on September 17 in Italy.

To add insult to injury, athletes from Kenya’s neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda have been given the nod to enter the Schengen states when the travel ban is lifted hence will have the opportunity to compete.

The turn of events is not only a blow to Kenya but a kick below the belt to our athletes who have gallantly bore the brunt of Covid-19, missing the appearance fees as well as potential prize monies they would have mined from global road races which were cancelled due to the virus.

Worse for them, when things seem to be now looking up they are paying the high price for Kenya’s ever burgeoning number of Covid -19 cases which by Thursday this week stood at 6,673 confirmed infections and 149 deaths.

Diplomacy Skills

Athletics Kenya (AK) president Jack Tuwei, shocked by the development, has since made a call on Sports CS Amina Mohamed to engage the EU for a possible reconsideration on the ban.

Tuwei’s call is weighty and should not be taken lightly. Having served as ambassador before, time is ripe for Amina to summon her diplomacy skills and lobby the EU to rescind the decision.

But first things first. Why is the EU subjecting Kenya to ill-treatment? It is a known fact that the EU has been worst by Covid -19 recording the highest number of deaths that dwarfs Kenya’s few numbers.

Italy, for instance, by Friday July 3 2020 had recorded over 240,000 confirmed cases and over 34,000 deaths while Switzerland, earmarked to host the Lausanne leg has had over 31,000 cases and 1,685 confirmed deaths, probably one of the least deaths within the EU.

Whichever way one looks at it, these figures are way much higher than what Kenya has recorded as of Thursday which stood at 6941 and a measly 152 deaths.

Facts are stubborn and if these figures are to be used as a barometer then it beats logic why the EU would put Kenya on Covid-19 blacklist while in reality Kenya has done much better in containing the virus than most of the European Union member countries.

To further aggravate the pain on Kenyan athletes, and prick our pride as a nation, Ethiopia, our erstwhile track opponents have since recorded at least 6,048 cases but are primed to compete in the races.

The move by the EU is thus baffling and does not make any common sense – health wise or otherwise.

What the EU should have done is to put in place stringent health guidelines for persons travelling to these countries, including demand of a Covid-19 test certificate, and where need be follow up tests at their borders.

Coming at a time some of their member states like Germany, Spain and Italy have made major breakthroughs by resuming their football leagues, the blanket ban on Kenya and 53 other states is discriminatory and should be rescinded forthwith.

World Athletics in conjunction with the governments set to host the Diamond legs should borrow a leave from the football associations whose countries have resumed the football leagues by implementing strict adherence to health protocols rather than denying helpless athletes like Manangoi a chance to compete.

Had Kenya perhaps been banned from these races due to doping menace it would have made sense, but not such myopic calls.

My call is on Amina and her Foreign Affairs counterpart Rachelle Omamo to challenge this decision by engaging the EU leadership.

Whether shuttle diplomacy or boardroom deals, the end result should do justice for our athletes.

In the same token the government engaged in high level shuttle diplomacy, spending millions of shilling of taxpayers’ money when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto faced crimes against humanity charges at the ICC, the government must not turn a blind eye on this matter but do all within its powers to ensure Kenyan athletes are not deprived of a chance to earn livelihoods. In competing in world capitals the athletes also market Kenyan’s prowess amongst the League of Nations.

In a related development, this week, Football Kenya Federation chief Nick Mwendwa confirmed that former Harambee Stars captain Musa Otieno had tested positive for the Covid- 19 virus.

What followed thereafter was outpouring of support for Otieno from active and former footballers, football fans and Kenyans at large.

By testing positive, Otieno has perhaps shattered the myth held by many a Kenyan that the Covid-19 disease is non-existent.

Otieno has been a frontline warrior in the face of the scourge, working hard day in day out through the Musa Otieno Foundation to provide food to the most vulnerable members of the society moreso in Nairobi’s Eastlands and could have contracted the virus while undertaking such a noble cause, and Kenyans should rally behind him and offer emotional and psychological support.

Like doctors and nurses, Otieno is a hero and his service to humanity cannot be gainsaid. We share in his bravery, and take pride in his efforts even as we wish him a quick recovery.

By Otieno contracting the virus, Kenyans should learn that no one is immune and the populace must realize that citizen responsibility is key in defeating the scourge. Strict adherence to health guidelines; washing of hands, sanitizing, keeping social distance and wearing of masks will define Kenya’s success.

-The author is the sports editor, RMS Radio and Digital