Athletics Kenya applaud President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to speed up investigations and resolution of the circumstances surrounding the heinous murder of world 10,000m bronze medalist Agnes Tirop, which occurred yesterday at their Iten home in Elgeyo Marakwet county.
We are confident the relevant agencies are working round the clock to ensure speedy justice to the family and friends who have been left emotionally scarred by the demise of someone they depended on for financial and psychological support.
As a federation and in our individual capacities, we, once more, condemn this atrocious murder. Nothing justifies taking the life of another person. Albeit the circumstances leading to this incident remain unclear, this was a death that was quite unnecessary and a huge blow not only to the athletics fraternity but also the local sporting industry of which Tirop was one of the fastest rising stars.
One only needs to look at her decorated CV to know that Tirop was undoubtedly on the path to etching her name in history books as one of the country’s greatest athletes.
Last month, she put us on the map after she broke the 10km women-only record, timing 30:01 at the Adizero Road to Records event in Herzogenaurach, Germany. It was a moment that will live long in memory as – in her characteristic smile – she spoke of her excitement at attaining this milestone.
To those who have watched her since she was a teenager, Tirop’s achievement in Germany was no surprise. She was a passionate and majestic athlete who was in love with her craft, with a knack for making history. At the 2015 World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China, she became the second youngest athlete to win an individual title when she timed 26:01.
A year before, she won the junior race at the Africa Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda. Tirop’s other accolades include two bronzes at the 2012 and 2014 World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain and Eugene, United States respectively; second place at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland; and second place at 2012 Africa Cross Country Championships in Cape Town, South Africa. On evidence of what she had achieved in her young career thus far, this is a life cut short, one that will pain us as a federation for quite a long time.
It will pain us because Tirop’s death is the latest in a series of misfortunes that have befallen various athletes in recent past, including suicide, family wrangles, alcoholism and illegal drug use as well as untimely deaths.
As we write this, there is a burial service ongoing for former Africa Junior silver medalist Hosea Macharinyang’ who allegedly took his own life at his home in Murkwijit, West Pokot county. He has represented the country at various international events – most notably, the Africa and World Cross Country Championship – as well as ruling various local events, such as the Madoka Half Marathon.
We continue to condole with the family and pray that God may strengthen and steer them through this trying period in their lives. In view of the latest developments, in honour of our fallen athletes, we have postponed the first and second legs of the AK Cross Country Series, which were to be held on October 16 and 23 in Machakos and Iten, respectively.
We cannot hide our heads in the sand anymore; these unfortunate incidents are products of mental anguish afflicting various sportspersons.
A number of athletes are suffering immensely in their personal spaces but have chosen not to seek help for fear of stigma by society. They are considered as role models who cannot – and should not – do any wrong, as other human beings are prone to.
The pressure to measure up to these societal expectations has compelled such athletes to a sworn code of secrecy in dealing with their tribulations, which only works for a time before hell breaks loose.
The 2019 report of the Mental Health Task Force – chaired by Dr Frank Njenga – noted that mental health is core to human happiness and wellbeing and allows individuals to play their part in the economic progress of a country.
Athletes are an integral part of building the Kenyan brand and growing the economy courtesy of their exponential performances and prize monies won in international marathons, which they plough back to the economy through investments and spending on household products.
Subsequently, the Kenyan brand and economy suffers immensely when our athletes are mentally tormented and distracted from training and performing well on the track and field.
It is for this reason, in accordance with current efforts by the country to improve mental health and wellbeing, that AK calls for more attention to the sports industry with a view to reaching out and helping sportspersons.
They need to be sensitized on how to handle life’s challenges, how and where to access mental health services.
The federation is preparing a workshop on mental in early December during which athletes will be invited for candid sessions to identify issues affecting them with a view to formulating solutions to the same. Considering that these challenges are unique to female and male athletes, there will be separate sessions for the two genders.
As AK, we can do so much; there is also a need for a multi-agency approach to slay this problem, which is clearly ballooning into a monster that may destroy many promising careers.
To our athletes, or any other Kenyan sportsperson, guard your mental wellbeing above all else. It should be your treasured possession because not even the millions in your bank account can compensate for a troubled state of mind.
Recognise and accept there are certain things beyond your control and that there will always be some stormy days in life.
In 2014, we begun to organize seminars for athletes at the end of every annual season.
Initially, this targeted the Doping menace which has been reduced drastically with the help of AIU. Thereafter, we discovered challenges in other areas of concern by our Athletes. To this end, we introduced other topics which included Investment, Banking, Property development, Insurance Contract signing, Social life, Integrity and values, Income tax returns and Retirement.
Professionals have always been invited to come and discuss these topics.
Now, mental disturbance seems to be the biggest challenge affecting our athletes. We want to thank our CS and PS Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage for setting up a Task Force to address the issues for gender and mental effects among athletes. As the Task Force is in the process of finalising their report, we have discussed and agreed with the Ministry’s leadership to use the psychologists identified by the team to assist us.
In this regard, we shall coordinate our activities with them as soon as they are deployed in their offices at Nyayo National Stadium.We shall also give our contact details to all our stakeholders where they can report such issues and seek professional guidance and assistance.
In the meantime, we ask all our Athletes, Coaches and Officials and interested parties to remain calm as investigations to unravel the details of the current case continue. We also call on our Athletes to speak out and seek help where necessary so that these issues can be addressed either individually or collectively.
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