PtG Article 28.06.2007

Kenyan runners kickstart local development process

In April this year, Robert K. Cheruiyot from Kenya won the annual marathon in Boston and took home 100,000 US dollars in prize money. A week later another Kenyan, Martin Lel, won the marathon in London with a prize of 55,000 US dollars. Prize money from running has become a very important part of Kenya’s economy as many runners take the money home to invest them.

The Kenyan newspaper The Nation has made a survey of how much money runners bring back to Kenya each year.  The amount was 500 million Shillings which is the equivalent of 7,5 million US Dollars. A bit of a surprise because - as the newspaper wrote - athletics has long been regarded as a sport for people who cannot make it in formal employment.

Small and big prizes are invested in agriculture and new buildings, and in Eldoret - a centre for Kenyan runners - the annual growth rate is three times as high as in the rest of the country. Other runners invest their prize money in development projects, schools and training centres. 

How Joseph makes his money

Not all Kenyan runners win staggering amounts at big international events but that is not necessary either in order to secure a good income by Kenyan standards.

Almost 60 per cent of all Kenyans live on less than two US dollars per day. For anyone with a bit of talent it means that it quickly makes sense to get accepted into one of the training camps where you do not make money but get food, board, lots of training - and the chance to run for money when you are good enough.

For a couple of years, the Canadian newspaper, the Ottowan Citizen, has been following the Kenyan runner Joseph Nderitu who has been travelling to Canada twice a year for the last seven years to take part in races with relatively small prizes. The newspaper outlines his story as  typical for many Kenyan runners who come to North America.

In 1996, Joseph Nderitu was 22 and very poor. He left his wife and child in the care of his family and then moved into a training camp owned by the runner John Ngugi. For three years he made no money but received board and lodgings until he was invited to Canada in 1999 to take part in races.The deal was that first he should win enough money to cover the costs of his journey and his stay in Canada. Any prizes he won after that would be his to keep minus a 10 per cent fee to his agent. After his first year, Joseph Nderitu came back with 600 Canadian dollars in his pocket and bought two calves for his family. The next year he won enough money to buy a piece of land and build a house for his family. Since then he has continued to travel to Canada in order to be able to support his wife, four children, his parents and 13 siblings. 

Investment training for runners

The majority of athletes know very little about how best to invest their money. Therefore two of Kenya’s major runners, Martin Keino and Paul Tergat, have begun organising investment seminars for the winners.

For Paul Tergat it is important that the money is put to work in Kenya.

”Some runners flee to other countries and invest their money there. I find it a pity. They could contribute so much to the development of their country - for example by motivating young people at school, advising young athletes about their careers, investing money in companies or helping family and relatives to go to university and by helping to build up the intellectual capital of our country,” Tergat said to the magazine Supporter last year. 

Lornah’s money goes to women

One runner who is following the path suggested by Tergat is Lornah Kiplagat who is one of the world’s best female marathon runners. With her prize money she has built a training centre specifically for young talented female runners.

There is plenty of running talent amongst Kenyan women but it is hard for them to be accepted into training camps run by men and if they do they are often expected to act as servants to the men.

Lornah Kiplagat wants to change this state of affairs but she also says that it is important that women learn more than just how to become good runners:

”We want to teach the girls that they can make something of their lives. Whether it is in athletics or in something else. And so we also teach them to bake bread, for example, as well as bookkeeping, working with computers and cultivating vegetables. When they leave here they need to be able make their own decisions, to be in control of their lives,” Kiplagat said to the magazine Supporter.

In February this year, Lornah Kiplagat and her Dutch husband have started the Lornah Kiplagat Foundation. The aim of the foundation is to pay for the high school fees of Kenyan girls. At the moment 10 girls are attending high schools with fees paid by the foundation, but the goal is to get 50 girls to complete high school.