‘No thanks. No Kenyans in our race... because you always win’

Kenyan runners (including the fastest marathoner last year, Patrick Makau, right) cross the Erasmus Bridge during the Rotterdam marathon last year. Kenyan dominance has worried Utrecht Marathon organisers.

There is outrage over a move by organisers of the Utrecht Marathon in The Netherlands discouraging Kenyan athletes from competing in - and winning - the annual 42-kilometre race.

Organisers of the marathon are offering Kenyan runners 100 times less prize money than what is up for grabs by Dutch nationals who cross the line first, a move that has been subject to vitriolic attacks from sections of the Dutch public, media and equal rights activists.

Subsequently, Athletics Kenya has ordered all Kenyan athletes invited to compete in this year’s edition of the race on April 25 to withdraw their entries.

Against the Dutch laws

The outrage started pouring immediately after the Volkskrant newspaper reported last weekend that the Utrecht Marathon organisers are offering 100 Euros (Sh12,100) to Kenyan and other foreign winners of the race, while Dutch winners will pocket 10 times as much - a cool 10,000 Euros (Sh1,210,000).

The Volkskrant quoted event director Louran van Keulen as saying that the prize money arrangement was legally worked out because banning Kenyans outright would be against the Dutch laws, whereas “discouraging them from taking part is legal,” the DutchNews.nl website reported.

On Wednesday, Athletics Kenya secretary David Okeyo termed the move “discriminatory” and said AK was withdrawing Kenyans from the competition altogether.

“If any Kenyans are listed, they should not run at that meeting,” Okeyo said. “It they (Utrecht Marathon) do not change the prize structure, we will not recognise that competition.

“What they are doing is not fair as far as the rules and spirit of competition are concerned...it is discrimination of the highest order.”

But media reports indicated that only Dutch runners have been invited to this year’s Utrecht Marathon which is dubbed “the Dutch battle.”

“According to television programme EenVandaag, only people with a Dutch passport have been invited to take part in the (2011) race,” DutchNews.nl reported.

The move by the Utrech organisers comes after Kenyan runners won big marathons in the Dutch cities of Rotterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven, Enschede and Leiden last year.

And only last weekend, Kenyans again dominated this year’s edition of the Rotterdam Marathon - the biggest marathon in The Netherlands - with Wilson Chebet maintaining world record pace in the first half of the race to win in a 2011 world leading time of two hours, five minutes and 27 seconds.

Another Kenyan, Vincent Kipruto, was second (2:05.32), while the women’s race also fell to a Kenyan, Philes Ongori (2:24.19).
Interestingly, in second place was Kenya-born Dutchwoman Hilda Kibet (2:24.26) whose time earned her qualification for the Dutch team to next year’s Olympics marathon race where she will follow in the footsteps of her relative Lornah Kiplagat, another Kenya-born Dutch star athlete.

Swept the boards

With the big city marathon season having started, Kenyans are also expected to dominate this weekend’s London and Boston marathons.
Last weekend, Kenyans also swept the boards in the Milan and Paris marathons, with Solomon Bushendich (2:10.38) winning the Milan race and Kenya completing a double in Paris through Benjamin Kiptoo (2:06.31) and Priscah Jeptoo (2:22:55).