Nairobi is preparing to host the first World Athletics Continental Tour Meeting on African soil. The anticipation over the tour is high, partly because it will be the first major athletics event on the continent since the coronavirus struck.
“This is an event that is really important, especially for Africa,” says Athletics Kenya President Jackson Tuwei. “It is going to open our sports in the country and most likely in Africa, because since Covid-19, there has not been any major championship in Africa.”
Nairobi was to host the World Athletics U20 Championships this year but the event was rescheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the Continental Tour is giving Athletics Kenya another chance to put on a great show this year.
“We want to organise it bearing in mind that the success of the Continental Tour in Nairobi will also resonate on how Africa can organise events,” says Tuwei.
“It will give us an opportunity to ensure that other events can spring up all over Africa, so that we are also able to have our own series that can help and build athletics on our continent.”
The meet – named the Kip Keino Classic after distance legend Kipchoge Keino – was initially planned for May but was moved twice to its current date of 3 October. However, the organisers are no less enthusiastic.
“A lot of disruption was experienced not only in preparations but also the athletes were affected and so it was a bit of a challenge when it was postponed. But we are very excited and looking forward to hosting a very successful event,” says Tuwei.
There are five core events in the gold meeting series this season – the 200m, 3000m steeplechase, triple jump, discus throw and hammer throw for both men and women. The Nairobi meet will also include javelin throw, the 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m. The organisers have also included some national events to give local athletes the chance to compete in a season ripped to shreds by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have decided on our own to have curtain-raisers to give athletes not engaged in those five events a chance to compete and win a small prize before the continental tour starts proper,” says Tuwei.
Hosting ‘as much as possible, a Normal Event’
The meeting will take place at the Nyayo National Stadium, which is newly refurbished to meet the standards of World Athletics competitions.
There will be fewer athletes than initially expected but considering the circumstances, meet director Barnaba Korir is pleased with those who have shown interest in it so far.
“Normally, we were expecting over 400 athletes in May. We are still hoping that we will get athletes from Europe, America and also Asia but mainly we are getting athletes from the East African region and West Africa, so we are looking at about 250 athletes.”
Amongst those signed on is world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot, who took part in a virtual 2000m race at the Oslo Impossible Games and more recently won the 1500m in Monaco. 3000m steeplechase world champion Conseslus Kipruto was also scheduled to compete but this is no longer certain as he recently tested positive for Covid-19 and was not able to travel to Monaco for the Wanda Diamond League meeting.
“What we want to do now is to engage with other countries’ athletes who are also interested in coming,” says Korir. “There are quite a number of athletes from Egypt, Philippines, South Africa and Nigeria and many others who have requested to come but it all depends on the outcome of the pandemic.
“Following all the guidelines that have been given, we will ensure that they have the test before the leave their country, when they are here and then when they are leaving also.”
Meanwhile, the success of the Turku Continental Tour Gold meeting that had spectators at the venue has given Korir the confidence to plan for spectators at the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi.
“What we are doing is to make sure that we have as much as possible, a normal event,” he explains. “Going by what we already know, we will have some spectators, of course making sure that we follow the guidelines and allow for the appropriate social distancing. We have seen what has happened with the first tours and we will apply some of the lessons here.”
There are plans to admit up to 15,000 fans in the 30,000-seater stadium.
“We have directions from the government of Kenya and the ministry of health and therefore we will coordinate activities in such a manner that we don’t put any athlete or any other person in jeopardy,” Tuwei reassures.
There is a live broadcast planned, which is expected to be handled by the Kenyan outfit, NTV.
“They are going to broadcast it live and they are beaming it in Africa and also in Europe so that those who cannot come to the stadium can watch it live,” says Korir. “We have made the arrangements with the TV broadcasters while making sure that they have the parameters and the technical equipment that meets World Athletics standards.”
After a mostly dormant year in athletics in Africa Tuwei is confident that everything is in place for a brilliant event in October.
“We feel that this is going to open this sport on the continent and we hope that things will work out in such a manner that the athletes get a chance to start competing again within the continent and outside.
“We are ready and we are prepared,” he says. “We want to assure all the athletes who will be coming to take part in the first continental tour in Africa that they will enjoy themselves and they will have a very good competition.”
Helen Ngoh for World Athletics