KTB’s sports tourism partnership with Kipchoge laudable, long overdue
Eliud Kipchoge’s tour of the Maasai Mara last weekend as Kenya Tourism Board’s brand new destination ambassador couldn’t have come at a better time.
It fell on a weekend that London Marathon organisers announced arrangements for this year’s (October 4) rescheduled race, and coincided bang with what could have been the closing weekend for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Kipchoge is the title holder of the London Marathon, a race he has won four times (2015, 2016, 2018, 2019).
The world marathon record holder is also the Olympic champion and would have been defending his title in Sapporo last Sunday, if the Olympics hadn’t been pushed to next year by the coronavirus.
On Friday, London Marathon race director Hugh Brasher announced that this year’s rescheduled race would go ahead on October 4, but with elite athletes only and no spectators allowed along the route to guard against a possible spread of the coronavirus.
And on Sunday, Kipchoge went on a 10-kilometre morning run in the Mara, on a day he would have otherwise been battling to become the first man to defend, successfully, the Olympic marathon title since Waldemar Cierpinski (of the then East Germany) won back-to-back titles at the 1976 and 1980 Games.
Ethiopian legend Abebe Bikila was the first man to successfully defend the marathon title at the Tokyo Games in 1964, having won his first title at the ’60 Games in Rome, amazingly clocking two hours, 15 minutes and 16.2 seconds while running barefoot!
How things have changed from then to present day where shoe technology is crucial in winning marathons.
After a protracted battle between Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger and Germany’s Puma, Bikila signed a contract with the latter, retaining his title in Puma racing shoes at the Tokyo Olympics, much to the chagrin of Tiger who would have loved to see a home triumph for their shoe.
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the Japanese are following Kipchoge’s every move with keen interest, just as the organisers, media and fans of the London Marathon are.
Which makes the Kenyan legend’s presence at the Maasai Mara last weekend of extra significance as images of him bonding with the wild flew out to global news channels along with updates on the London Marathon and a celebration of what could have been the Tokyo Olympics’ closing event.
In the process, Kenya’s foremost tourism attractions, including the current wildebeest migration, were thrust once again into the limelight through the power of sport.
For many years, we have been advocating for greater use of our sporting prowess to market the country, rather than over reliance on traditional tourism expos where, more often then not, officials are in them for the per diem, rather than to gain mileage for Kenya.
Kipchoge’s dalliance with tourism will certainly reap maximum benefit if only well curated and jealously sustained.
Equally, the decision by Balala’s ministry to launch an inter-ministerial approach towards the Safari Rally’s return to the World Rally Championship is well thought-out.
Developing the competition’s service park at the Kenya Wildlife Training Institute and locating the spectacular power stage at the Hell’s Gate National Park will certainly play a huge role in selling the country to millions of eyeballs globally when the cars roll off the ramp next year.
Having attacked the Hell’s Gate section from Olkaria last week, I’m convinced that the roaring engines and activity at this power stage won’t interfere with the natural wildlife habitat, contrary to the chants of sceptics.
It’s a misconception that rally activity will criss-cross the national park and destroy the animals’ abode.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
On the contrary, the rally will contribute towards conservation in many ways, including generating much-needed income towards the under-funded Kenya Wildlife Service for the use of both their training institute and sections of Hell’s Gate.
With an estimated Sh6 billion expected to be pumped into the Kenyan economy through the WRC Safari Rally, such income will play an essential role in the Tourism Recovery Initiative as the first major event, post Covid-19.
In fact, KWS director general, retired Brigadier John Waweru, must be smiling gleefully given the fact that the development of the KWS Training institute for WRC Safari Rally purposes will also make it the biggest single event venue in the Rift Valley.
This means that KWS will have bigger revenue streams and not rely too much on the under-pressure exchequer for income to sustain wildlife conservation.
And given that it’s not going to be business as usual as the world battles Covid-19, diversifying offerings will determine the future of Kenya’s tourism, and that’s why focus on sports tourism can’t be over-emphasised.
KTB should also move with speed to open up the North Rift’s sports tourism potential so that running enthusiasts can enjoy packages to travel to Iten, Kapsabet, Kaptagat, Eldoret, Kapsait, etc to see the touristic attractions, and at the same time train with our world-beating runners.
We also badly need a national sports museum where artefacts from our runners, rally drivers, boxers, footballers, volleyballers, etc can be displayed.
This can be managed by the National Museums of Kenya, and institution that, after all, sits in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage.