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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dominate in Cricket, You are Rewarded, Dominate in Athletics, Get 100 Times Less Pay

There seems to be a ploy within the world of sports aimed at locking out certain teams, nations or individuals from participating in some games in spite of such people or nations being members of such sports bodies.

During the recently concluded International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup, a certain debate was hot on the press besides the thrilling games. Cricket players, pundits, organizers and indeed the fans were involved in a hot discussion on whether the so-called ‘smaller nations’ should be excluded from the showpiece event.

Hit small nations out of cricket!!
These nations which are considered as top associate members of the ICC include Kenya, Canada, Holland and Ireland (who participated in the competition), as well as Scotland and Afghanistan who didn’t qualify.

As expected, there was never really going to be a consensus on this even as Indian-born South African Haroon Lorgat, Chief Executive of the ICC, categorically stated that 10 teams instead of 14 will compete in the 2015 event to be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand. While Australian skipper Ricky Pointing backed the move, England’s Andrew Strauss urged caution.  Ireland captain William Porterfield was more dissenting terming such a move as “an absolute disgrace”. Imran Khan Niazi, former Pakistani cricket team instead challenged the ICC to help the minnows establish proper domestic networks.

According to Wikipedia, the decision to exclude the associates was probably inspired by the commercial disaster during the 2007 Cricket World Cup, when India and Pakistan (two of the nations with the maximum television audience) failed to qualify for the second round after losing to Bangladesh and Ireland respectively.

Pointing however pointed out the no-show performance that the associate members bring to the event. “I am not sure as to how much the teams actually learn when they get hammered in these contests.”

Maybe he has a point considering that the only upset was when Ireland pulled a stunning comeback to beat England by 3 wickets, the only win by an associate member over a test playing nation in this year’s tournament. Canada was the only other team to win beating Kenya by 5 wickets. All the other teams lost their matches with Kenya, the surprise 2003 semifinalists, getting a 10 wicket whitewash from New Zealand.

It is also important to note that since ICC World Cup, the premier international championship of men's One Day International (ODI) cricket started in 1975, only five teams have won the tournament with Australia (4), India and West Indies (2) and Sri Lanka and Pakistan winning once. It’s also these teams, plus England in 1979, 87 and 92 that have contested for the finals.

Perhaps it’s this unprecedented dominance by a few teams that pushed Lorgat and the people he sits with around the ICC decision-making table to consider dropping the other nations. Never mind that other sports like football, basketball and even Olympic games have had the same nations collecting trophies and medals a year after another.

Many, especially the aggrieved, will, rightfully, complain that this is an unfair move for competitive sports.

Dominant Kenyans
But how about this: organizers of the Utrecht Marathon in the Netherlands (an ICC associate member remember?) seem to have resolved to indirectly ban Kenyans from the marathon because they are always winning!! Indirectly because if a Kenyan participates in the 42 km race, already nicknamed the Dutch Battle, on April 25 and wins it as expected, he/she will pocket 100 Euros ($144.67, Sh 12,181.59, £88.526). This will be 100 times lesser than the €10,000 ($14,467, Sh 1,218,159, £8,852.6) that a Dutch athlete who wins the race will pocket.

The Netherlands has five marathon events. The problem is, almost all the marathon and half marathon events staged in Holland over the past five years have been won by Kenyans, or an Ethiopian getting in once in a while.

Just last week, on April 10, Kenya’s Wilson Chebet won the Rotterdam Marathon, Netherlands largest marathon event, and became the 13th Kenyan in a row to win it, while another Kenyan Philes Ongori won the womens’ event.  Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe holds the women’s’ Rotterdam course record at 2:20:47, while Duncan Kibet holds the men’s at 2:04:27.

Last year, Ethiopia’s Getu Feleke won the Amsterdam Marathon to break a four-year dominance of the event by Kenyans. However, Alice Timbilili won the women’s race to compensate for the loss. It might also be important to note that the fastest Dutch woman in Amsterdam marathon is actually Kenyan-born Hilda Kibet.

Kenyan men have also won the last 6 editions of the Enschede Marathon (also called Twente Marathon) with Jacob Yator, last year’s winner,also holding the course record at 2:09:02. The Enschede marathon is the only Dutch race that has not been won by a Kenyan woman since women started participating in 1981.

Then there’s the Eindhoven Marathon. Needless to say, Kenyans have been sharing the Eindhoven title among them for the last 12 consecutive years. Charles Kamathi won last year’s title after Geoffrey Mutai had won it twice in 2009 and 2008. Willy Cheruiyot holds the record for the most number of wins with 4 wins between 2000 and 2004. Ethiopia’s Atsede Habtamu won the women’s event.

And finally, there’s the Leiden Marathon. Kenya’s Dominique Kemboi won last year’s edition, clocking a time of 2:15:08, the second fastest time since the marathon debuted in 1991. No Kenyan woman has won the race.

From the above statistics, (and the table on the left), it is almost possible for one to feel that the organizers of the Utrecht Marathon are justified in their act of excluding Kenyans from the competition. But why have they included the event in the international calendar if it’s a national marathon?

I don’t know what you make of this move which has irked many Kenyans and Africans as a whole. The dominance of especially Kenya and Ethiopia in the middle and long distance running seem to be increasingly rubbing most organizers the wrong way. Unfortunately, it’s here to stay.

The world Cross Country Championship is now held every 2 years. Reason?  To give other nations enough time to prepare athletes good enough to beat the always-winning Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes. This is the same with the world half marathon which has been dominated by Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The International Athletics Federation (IAAF) has not commented on this unsporty behaviour from the Utrecht marathon organizers and it begs the question: should one be punished for being dominant?

Athletics Kenya has asked its athletes to withdraw from the event which of course might not be such a brilliant move because the organizers might decide to shun Kenyans altogether in future events.

But while dominance seems to be a reason to make a competition elite for the dominant like in cricket, in some sports, it’s a reason to bar the elite from competing. I think that’s what they call ‘double standards’ in English. There seems to be a well-written script going around the sports boardrooms that aims to establish a G8 kind of nations. What can the nations which don’t have the wherewithal do?

If they are dominated, they are kicked out of the competition because they are passive. If they dominate, they are again kicked out – or given change money as the Dutch have decided – because they are dominant. Circus.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!