Kenyan athletes try to build own training track as government stadium programme stalls

Kenyan athletes preparing for a global athletics tournament – which their country will host next year – are fundraising to build a basic training track because the government has failed to deliver sport facilities it promised six years ago.

Construction delays and government fumbles are causing bitterness in a country famed for its middle- and long-distance running champions.

And the clock is ticking down to the IAAF World Under-20 Championships, scheduled for July 2019 in Nairobi.

Athletes in Iten, a focal point of running in Kenya and hometown to many world champions, are having to make 35km bus trips to a crowded university track in another town, where they must join a queue for the chance to train, and are not guaranteed a spot.

Work refurbishing Iten’s iconic Karaminy stadium, with its all-weather running track, has stalled and the stadium remains closed, reports the AFP news agency. 

A former sports minister Rashid Echesa toured Iten in January and urged the contractors to hurry up.

He claimed money allocated for the stadium work had been diverted to other priorities, and that the government was seeking new funding sources, said AFP.

Left in the lurch, athletes are trying to help themselves by launching a fund-raising campaign to build a basic track nearer to Iten.

"Athletes have come together. We don’t need complex rooms, just the field to be upgraded," coach Kenneth Kibet told AFP.

When first elected president in 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta promised that nine stadiums would be built or refurbished, including Karaminy in Iten.

Six years on, none are ready.

Continued inaction will hurt the president’s popularity in a country where athletic prowess is a source of national pride.

In 2017 Kenya was stripped of its right to host an international football tournament, the 2018 African Nations Championship, because only one of four planned stadiums was ready. 

Image: Multiple medal-winning long-distance runner Joyce Chepkirui is just one of the Kenya’s star athletes hailing from the town of Iten, where the stadium remains unfinished (Chmee2/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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