Running with hyenas
World over, Kenya is known for its prowess in athletics especially in the middle and long distance races. This success hasn’t come easy but through hard work, patience and perseverance.
Understandably, the success has had a trickle effect on youngsters who work hard each passing day with the hope of picking the baton from the established stars.
However, beneath the budding dream, beneath the hard work and determination, beneath it all lies the untold tale of frustration, threats and sexual abuse that they endure in pain and in silence.
When 16 year old Joy (not her real name) met her former coach, she knew she had finally found the breakthrough she had been praying for ever since she discovered her running talent in 2015.
She was promised her free coaching services and accommodation with the pledge of a full education scholarship if she excelled. It was an enticing dream for the teenager considering her humble background.
Not long after joining the camp, Joy discovered that the road to Paradise was bumpy. She and her family had to foot a total bill of KSh3,000; KSh1,000 for coaching and KSh2,000 for food though that did not bother her much.
As she continued to stay in the camp she noticed something was amiss after her coach diagnosed her school mate with an ‘injury’ that needed ‘massage’ after qualifying for the regional athletics competitions last year.
“When we came back from the regional games, coach told her that she has an injury and asked her to change so that he can massage her. His wife had gone for a competition so she was not around. My training partners went and peeped through the window and saw the coach being intimate with the girl,” Joy alleged as tears welled up in her eyes.
In Joy’s own account, the molestation took a toll on the athletes’ performance including a colleague whom she claims could have been impregnated by the coach.
“Am not sure how many girls got pregnant. There was one girl who used to be ‘massaged’ regularly before she suddenly became withdrawn and very stressed up. When I asked about it she could only say that she felt like crying when she recalls the ordeal she had undergone the previous night.”
According to Joy, the abuse went on for quite some time and her schoolmate was not the only victim at the private camp. A situation that has caused most of the athletes to degenerate. She told Citizen Digital that she had undergone a lot of trauma after allegedly witnessing the coach, molest her friend.
“On one Saturday evening, as I was taking food for the dog, I heard a girl crying and decided to check on what was going on. I saw the coach on top of her. I rushed back to the kitchen, called my friend whom we were cooking with so she could see what I had just witnessed. She was very shcoked. I told her we are only three who have not been ‘massaged, we have to think about the next cause of action because our lives which more important than the athletics. God has a plan for each one of us,” she said.
With no help forthcoming from the coach’s wife whom she claims knew of what was going on, Joy plotted her escape the following week on Monday.
“Sunday evening I packed my clothes in a bag and put it near the door. I woke up at 4am while others were dead asleep. After confirming that there was nobody outside. I went back and took my bag and boarded a bus and went home to my parents,” said Joy as she wiped her tears.
As the Citizen Digital went on with its investigations, Athletics Kenya (AK) sent a strongly worded press release expressing their concerns over complaints emanating from a camp in Nakuru and commenced investigations overseen by national youth chairman, Barnaba Korir.
Korir revealed that most of the complains they receive come from private camps set up by ‘quack athlete handlers’ and are neither approved by AK nor the Ministry of Sports.
“We as AK are taking the issue seriously to ensure that our children are not abused. We want to limit nurturing talent for school going children for holidays only and should be at a school set up where the Ministry of Education and AK can monitor them closely,” said Korir a retired athlete.
The AK investigator Elizabeth Ketany said that most of the girls had recounted gory happenings and has handed the report over to the local governing body for action pointing out that the coach has been relieved of his duties temporally until the investigations are over.
“There was one girl who was identified by the rest as the most affected. They said that the coach kept on bothering her to go for massage. In my findings I saw there was a girl who was seriously affected,” said Keitany.
One of the accused coached who is also an athlete vehemently denied the accusations adding that it was a ploy just to tarnish his good name and the charitable work he does for the unprivileged athletes.
“It was just incitement from my competitors’ who were jealous of my young athletes who were excelling everywhere. There was one particular lady who conspired with a young girl and coached her on what to give as a reason when she moved to her camp,” said the coach.
Stories of coaches molesting young athletes are not new in the athletics industry but they are just whispered because if you dare speak out you are labelled an enemy.
“The girl came to me towards the end of June and opened up to me. She told me that she was not happy with what was going on in their camp and wanted to change. I did not to get that involved with the issue because I knew they would say I have got other intentions of taking his athletes and camp closed. so I sought intervention from AK after I saw no help was reaching and the girl had already escaped,” said our source Kathambi (not her real name) who is now keeping a low profile living in fear.
It has now come to a time that Athletics Kenya, Ministry of Sports and Ministry of Sports to come up with stiffer penalties for the offenders and a system to nature and identify talents in our country.
The situation has resulted to a number of senior athletes discouraging their children from joining athletics after going through a number of obstacles in the industry.
-Lulu Hassan and Wilkister Nyabwa contributed to this special report
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