Kenya Risking Paris Olympic Ban over Lack of Federation Elections

Photo Courtesy: Cathleen Pruden

Kenya Risking Paris Olympic Ban over Lack of Elections

World Aquatics has voted to continue Kenya’s suspension from the world stage over a lack of governance and elections in its swimming federation.

Kenya has been effectively suspended from international competition as a nation since 2021. (Kenyan swimmers competed at the recent World Championships in Fukuoka under the Suspended Member Federations, or SMF, flag and at the 2022 Commonwealth Games as neutrals.) World Aquatics this week issued a letter to the country’s Aquatics Stabilization Committee about its failure to hold elections and warned Kenya to do so in the next 90 days.

Governance in Kenya has already shifted from the disbanded Kenya Swimming Federation to the Kenya Aquatics Federation, but the gridlock hasn’t ceased. The impaneling of a stabilization committee hasn’t compelled the Kenyans to action, either.

“The World Aquatics Bureau met to discuss these concerns and has determined to maintain the current suspension in place and with this, exclude Kenya from any activity within World Aquatics, including participation in its events,” World Aquatics executive director Brent Nowicki is quoted as saying by Capital Sports in Kenya.

A temporary suspension was first enacted in December 2019, though the turmoil goes back at least to the 2016 arrest of Kenyan swimming federation head Ben Ekumbo, which forced his resignation in early 2017. World Aquatics (then FINA) implored the country to hold elections for its aquatics federation in the fall of 2019 and then twice in 2020, leading to a full suspension last May. Elections were due to be held again in July but cancelled at the last minute.

Outlets in Kenya are reporting that a pending court case stands in the way of elections, despite the interest of many stakeholders to hold elections.

Kenya was allowed to send swimmers to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but time is running out on making the changes that World Aquatics requires and patience appears to be running thin. Kenyan swimmers are not allowed at this year’s World Junior Championships in Israel, for instance. The biggest cudgel that World Aquatics wields is the right to participate in the Paris Olympics next year.

“Despite the installation of a Stabilization Committee, the issues within Kenya Aquatics persist,” Nowicki wrote. “And with this, the Bureau continues to have deep concerns with respect to the ongoing failures within Kenya Aquatics, the continued failure of the Stabilization Committee to hold elections and the historical inability to comply with the rules and decisions of World Aquatics.”

“It will be a disaster if our swimmers don’t go to Paris due to a failed electoral process,” Nairobi County secretary Kenneth Karani told The Star. “We will be denying them a chance to compete on the grandest stage.”

The secretary general of Kenya’s National Olympic Committee, Francis Mutuku, is among the members of the stabilization committee. He is reportedly meeting with the cabinet secretary for sports, Ababu Namwamba, on the matter.

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