A Dutch entrepreneur has offered to step in at the last minute so that Kenyan athletes can take part in the Utrecht marathon. Gert-Jan van Wijk has offered to put up prize money worth 10,000 euros.
By Liesbeth Tjon A Meeuw, Hilversum
The move comes after the race organisers ruled that only Dutch nationals would be eligible to win the top prize in this year’s marathon. Foreigners must be content with just 100 euros, even if they come first.
For several years Kenyan runners have carried off the first prize and beaten several records with their fast running times. But the race organisers believe that Dutch runners are discouraged from taking part because the Kenyans always win. They want to give Dutch athletes more incentive by reserving the top prize for them.
Mr van Wijk made his offer so that runners from Africa will not feel discriminated against. He says :
“I do this because I think the Netherlands is afraid of competition, afraid of the unknown, afraid of different cultures. Holland is turning inside herself, instead of becoming stronger by taking up the competition.
Complaining about Kenyan runners is making Dutch runners look like bad losers. If you can’t stand the heat, then go and play checkers.”
However, Mr van Wijk’s offer may have come too late for the Kenyans to participate in this year’s race which takes place on Easter Monday. Because the race organisers did not invite them, most Kenyans decided to stay away. Even though Mr van Wijk’s offer has put the top prize money back on the table, it is too late for the runners to apply for a visa which takes up to two weeks to process. They must apply at least 15 days before arrival in the country.
The city council of Utrecht says a shadow has been cast on such a great international event. Athletics Kenya has encouraged all the athletes in their country to boycot the Utrecht marathon because of what it sees as discrimination.
Mr van Wijk says he is appalled by the ban on the Kenyans winning the top prize.
“I understand the intentions of the organisation to stimulate Dutch runners, but I disagree with how they want to succeed in that. If I spoil the Dutch battle, I don’t have a problem with that. But that’s not my goal. My goal is to create a strong competition. May the strongest win and if that is a Dutchman, then I’m okay with that too.”
Kenyan athlete and trainer John Kipchumba says that the Utrecht marathon is already out of the question for his training group. “When we heard that foreign runners were not welcome anymore it was a big disappointment. We have to put our focus elsewhere. It’s been affecting the team spirit. What if other cities do the same thing? Every year we send runners from our group to marathons in Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Enschede and Utrecht.”
According to Kipchumba it’s now too late to make arrangements, even if the group wanted to. “The journey to Holland would not be smooth but very stressful. The marathon is already next week.” Only the athletes who already applied for a visa have the chance to win Van Wijk’s award.
One of the Kenyan athletes is Sammy Chumba. He is still waiting for the invitation letter to arrive. He‘s confused when he hears about how the Utrecht marathon is being organized this year. "I feel bad about it. Every year I'm invited. I thought the letter was delayed. I’ve been training since December for this marathon. I even won the marathon in 2008 with a time of 2 hours 12 minutes 06 seconds.”
Although Van Wijk’s gesture comes too late for the Kenyan runners, it still sense out a supportive signal for the disappointed athletes.