Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta paid tribute to his countryman, javelin thrower Julius Yego, in his speech at last week’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
Yego’s inspiring story has been the talk of the sporting world this season after he claimed his maiden Diamond League in Birmingham on June 7. Yego won it in style by hurling an Diamond League and Africa record throw of 91.39 metres.
President Kenyatta said the fact that Yego learnt javelin from watching YouTube, shows that nothing is impossible to achieve.
Yego went on to make history as the first athlete to represent Kenya at the Olympics in field events at the 2012 London Summer Games.
He then won the Africa title twice and the Commonwealth Games once.
However, while political leaders and top government officials in the region like to associate themselves with athletes’ success, rarely do they play an active role in their development.
Yego’s story resonates with Kenya’s Diana Natecho from Vihiga County, who wants to make history as the first African woman to feature in canoeing and rowing at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Back in 2006, Yego vowed to prove Athletics Kenya wrong after they dropped him from the World Junior Championships team despite his having qualified.
Natecho, who is a talented rower with the potential of qualifying for the Rio Games, may not realise her dream because the Kenya Canoe and Rowing Federation lacks funds to take her to the qualifiers.
Lack of funding and support from the government and regional Olympic Committees has proved a challenge, especially for minor sports.
Rowing and canoeing are among the minor sports that have been growing steadily in the region. They have great potential for producing medals at the Olympics but their development is threatened by a lack of facilities and funding.
Last September, 11 regional countries moved to develop rowing and other water sports by forming a federation.
The World Canoe Sprints Championships, which double as continental qualifiers for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, are due from August 19 to 25 in Milan, Italy.
Any African country hoping to make it to Rio and any other second qualifying tournaments must send their contestants to the Milan event.
Any African country that won’t be represented at the Milan event won’t qualify for the Olympics even if they perform well at the Africa Canoe Sprint Championship slated for March 24 to April 4 next year in South Africa.
The World Rowing Championships are due from August 28 to September 7 in France.
Unlike the Canoe Sprints, where countries must feature at the World event to qualify for the Rio Olympics, rowers will qualify from both the World and the Africa Rowing Championships due in October 2 to 10 in Tunis, Tunisia without conditions.
Kenya has already selected its teams for the Canoe Sprints and Rowing qualification, but has been held back by lack of funds. While the two sports are managed by one body in Kenya, Canoe Sprints and Rowing are managed separately in Uganda.
Kenya has four rowers for the Canoe Sprint event: Natecho (Kayak 1), Josphat Ngali (Canoe 1), Vincent Oudo (Kayak 2) and Kelvin Luanyonyi (Kayak 2).
Natecho will also feature in the open single category. Others are Steve Juma (single lightweight), John Okeyo and George Wakamuyu (double lightweight) and John Mugabe (single heavyweight).
The Uganda Rowing Federation has five rowers who will take part in France and Tunisia, training either in the United States or Tunis. They are Gerald Chemambo, who is in the USA, Susan Nabukenya, Douglas Chisarare, Ronald Omony and Raymond Adiga.
However, Uganda has withdrawn its team from the Olympic qualifiers as they face the same predicament as Kenya of lacking funds.
Kenya needs $38,000 to take the team to the World Canoe and Sprints Championships in Milan and $27,000 for the rowing qualifiers in Tunis.