Kenyan Runners Accuse Officials of Stealing From Sponsorship Deal


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Athletes protesting corruption at the headquarters of the national athletics association in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday.

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Dai Kurokawa/European Pressphoto Agency

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s corruption is now so bad that it has sucked in some of the country’s greatest heroes: its fleet-footed runners.

On Monday, dozens of world-class athletes stormed the headquarters of the national athletics association here, accusing top officials of stealing money from a Nike deal and demanding that they resign.

“These guys have eaten so much,” said Julius Ndegwa, a spokesman for the runners, using the Kenyan term “to eat” to refer to official stealing. “Enough is enough.”

Mr. Ndegwa said that more than 70 runners were planning to spend the night in front of the offices to make sure the officials could not get inside. He called on well-wishers to bring food, water and blankets so they could extend their siege.

The International Association of Athletics Federations announced this month that its ethics commission was looking into allegations that officials from Athletics Kenya, Kenya’s governing body for athletics, skimmed nearly $700,000 from a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with Nike.

Kenyan detectives are also investigating the allegations. The officials have denied them, and on Monday, David Okeyo, the association’s vice president, who has been accused of stealing money from the Nike deal, did not return several phone calls and text messages.

“We are cooperating with the local authorities in their investigation,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike conducts business with integrity and expects that our partners do the same.”

Kenya is in the midst of an outburst of corruption revelations. Almost every week it is something else, something big, something the public cannot believe.

A few weeks ago, a parliamentary committee was given a document that was intended to explain what happened to several million dollars that went missing from one ministry. On that document, officials said they spent $85 for simple ballpoint pens — $85 each, that is.

Soon after, a new report by a Kenyan watchdog group was released, accusing Kenyan generals of running a smuggling ring in neighboring Somalia, where the army is supposed to be battling Islamist militants. The fight against the militants along the Kenyan border has more or less stalled; according to the report, Kenyan generals have made millions smuggling sugar.

Now this. Year after year, Kenya’s runners are considered some of the best in the world. The man and woman who won this year’s New York City Marathon were both Kenyan. In a society rived by political and ethnic rivalries, the runners’ success is a source of great national pride.

But many of Kenya’s best athletes remain poor, and not so long ago some carried around their prize winnings in cash in their backpacks months after they won because they did not feel comfortable putting the money in a bank. Many of the runners, despite being famous, continue to live in marginalized parts of Kenya.

On Monday, the runners hoisted signs that reflected the broad anger toward corruption shared by many Kenyans.

“Enough is Enough for Blood Sucers,” said one, its spelling showing the limited education some of the runners have received.

“Your time is over,” said another.



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