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Kenyan athletes use sports to join elective politics

08 April 2013, 18:06 Ben Ochieng

Nairobi - The recent winning of parliamentary seats by three sportsmen during the March 4 Kenyan general elections synergized the actuality that sports has positive implications on politics.

During the recently-concluded polls, Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir and former national volleyball team captain Dan Wanyama were among the aspirants who won parliamentary seats.

Another former Boston Marathon winner Elijah Lagat successfully defended his legislative seat.

The 30-year-old Korir, who vied as an independent candidate, won the Cheranganyi parliamentary seat after he garnered 19,712 votes against his opponents 17,514 and immediately declared that he will defend his Boston Marathon title scheduled for April 15 despite his changed fortunes.

He is also a past Los Angeles Marathon winner and runners-up at the 2011 Chicago Marathon.

Veteran international volleyball player and former long-serving national team captain, Wanyama won the Webuye West parliamentary seat during his second attempt by trouncing his rival after commanding 11,145 votes against his closest rival's 10,176.

Popularly known as "Amboseli" during his heyday, Wanyama turned out for Kenya Airways and Co-operative Bank teams at club level and was also the overall team captain for the Kenyan contingent to the 1999 All Africa Games in Johannesburg, South Africa before he later joined sports management as Secretary General of the Kenya volleyball Federation.

Lagat, who won the Boston Marathon in 2000, 12 years before Korir achieved his feat, also accomplished his political dream when he won the Emgwen seat in 2002 while still in active competition like his now parliamentary colleague.

Lagat was also winner of the 1997 Berlin Marathon, 1998 Prague Marathon and also participated in the Marathon at the Sydney Olympic Games.

However, Ibrahim Hussein who became the first Kenyan to win the Boston Marathon had earlier failed to capture the same Emgwen seat during the 1997 general elections after he lost during the primaries.

The victory of the trio is not the first time that people in the sports arena in Kenya have used sports as a springboard to national politics.

Three heads of Kenya's football administration have in the past used football, the country's most favorite game to leapfrog into elective politics.

Ex-politician Kenneth Matiba was the first football manager to join politics after he used his privileged position to popularize himself through Kenya's most popular pastime.

He even rose to become a powerful minister as well as a presidential candidate in the 1992 general elections in which he was runners-up to the eventual winner, Presidential Moi.

He was closely followed in the heels by Clement Gachanja and Joab Omino who both became MPs with the later rising to become the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.

Kenya Volleyball Federation First Vice-Chairman Charles Nyaberi who also lectures on sports management at Kenyatta University in Nairobi says politics and sports have in the past been used to influence social relations.

"Owing to the fact that sports transcend cultural differences, it has the effect of bringing people together. The use of sports and politics has had positive implications and sports competitions have had the intention to bring about change in certain cases because it can whip nationalistic fervor," Nyaberi told Xinhua Saturday.

At the international scene, Nawal al-Moutawakel, who became the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she won the 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Games once served as Sports Minister in her native Morocco.

She is currently serving as International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President and is a leading contender for the IOC presidency.

Former Cuban track athlete, Alberto Juantorena, who became the first athlete to win the 400 and 800m when he achieved the feat during the 1976 Olympic Games, once served as Minister for Sports in Cuba after retirement from track.

He has also served in many official capacities, including as the Vice President of the National Institute for Sports and later Senior Vice President of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

He is also a member of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Former Pakistani international cricket player Imran Khan entered politics after retiring from two decades of active playing.

After retiring in 1992 after leading Pakistan to its first and only World Cup victory, Khan established a political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) in 1996 and became the chairman of the party.

He represented Mianwali as a member of the national assembly from 2002 to 2007. Additionally, numerous athletes have sought political office, some of them unsuccessfully, on either the national level or sub-national level.

- Xinhua


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