Why Kenyan athletes are switching allegiance
When the Olympics, the world’s biggest sporting event, are held every four years, self-accomplishment and national honour are usually the motivating factors for every athlete.
So highly regarded are the games that every country endeavours to send its crème dela crème to compete in the various disciplines and raise their flag high to bring pride to the nation.
It is for this reason that when Ruth Jebet won the women’s 3,000m steeple chase final, Kenyans from all walks felt entitled to the gold. It, however, belongs to Bahrain.
Jebet was born and brought up in Kenya. She lives and trains in the country, but runs for Bahrain.
She is one of the athletes that have switched allegiance to run for other countries for various reasons.
Athletes are entitled to some bonuses from the International Olympic Committee for appearing at the competition and in addition they receive varied amounts for a podium finish depending on the medals they win.
Some countries are known to offer huge bonuses to athletes that win medals.
The amount varies from country to country, some with huge bonuses and benefits, others moderate, while yet others give nothing at all.
The amount of individual bonuses a country pays is usually the main reason for athletes switching allegiance, with the oil-rich Middle East countries being the greatest beneficiaries.
For instance, of the total gold medals won by Bahrain in the Olympics history, most have been by imports from Africa, particularly from Kenya and Ethiopia.
Jebet stands to receive a cool Sh50 million ($500,000) from the Bahrain government as opposed to the Sh1 million that the Kenya government awards its gold medal winners.
Singapore tops countries that will pay huge bonuses with their first ever gold medallist Joseph Schooling, who won in the 100m butterfly swimming set to receive Sh75.3 million ($753,000).
He will also be exempt from the mandatory national service until after the 2020 Olympics.
Azerbaijan will pay Sh51 million ($510, 000) followed by Bahrain’s Sh50 million while Indonesia will cough up $383,000 (Sh38.9 million) to reward their gold conquering champions.
Others in the top 10 paying league are Thailand $314,000 (Sh31.4 million), Kazakhstan $250,000 (Sh25 million), Kyrgyzstan $200,000 (Sh20 million) Latvia $190,000 (Sh19 million), Italy $189,800 (Sh18.9 million), while Uzbekistan, Belarus and Ukraine will each pay $150,000 (Sh15 million).
In addition to the individual bonuses, countries like South Korea offer military exceptions to Olympic gold medallists, while in Germany, successful athletes receive a lifetime supply of free beer at their discretion.
A few countries like Great Britain will not pay a penny to their gold medal winners.
In Kenya, Deputy President William Ruto announced that Sh1 billion would be set aside for the athletes competing at the Olympics though what each stands to get is not yet known.
The allure of such huge bonuses paid by those countries precipitates the poaching of some promising talent from the continent to those countries, in addition to the stiff competition that locks them out from qualifying in their home countries.