Kenya: Our Elite Female Athletes Deserve Tons of Respect


The case has closed on Naomi Osaka. Now, we must honour her for her courage in bringing to the fore the sticky issue of mental health among athletes.

To steer the conversation to a different direction, I’ll share an encounter I had last Thursday at Safari Park hotel where the female athletes that are set to represent Kenya in next month’s Olympics were hosted for lunch by Rose Wacuka from the sports ministry and Ann Michira from sponsors Tusker.

At the table where I was sitting, I had the misfortune of listening to a vexing conversation among four males whose identity I will not reveal. I was quietly aware of the silly banter even as I focused on the great discussion on the podium from Rose and Ann, God bless their souls.

I was bothered by the chatter from the four, that was by then louder in response to the clapping from the athletes in appreciation of the two speakers. It was then that the eldest among them, who was rising up to take one more still photo, complained that covering female news sources is where the hard work in photojournalism really lies.

He said he was expecting the subject to call his employer asking to see the photos in advance, “to make sure her better side had been captured and her caked make-up wasn’t showing too much and that her posture wasn’t suggestive”.

“Oh, what a drag it is to cover female news subjects,” he lamented, and made sexist remarks about how annoying female news subjects, including female athletes, can get with their exactitudes and shyness and “petty, petty preferences about perfect angles and perfect postures.” The only thing he didn’t say, although he implied it, was that he was there straining his kidneys only because his boss, a woman, was waiting for publishable photos before deadline time.

He continued that his boss was just part of the problem. That she was “completely clueless” about sports and had sent him to that event knowing full well that it was a PR exercise from which an article worthy of newspaper space would take an enormous level of creativity to write.

And even then, he said, it would be reduced to a mere brief in an obscure corner of the page where no one would read. And I was flummoxed because the not-so-gentle man had conveniently forgotten that he was in the company of an Olympic-bound team that consisted of boxers, record breaking athletes, a winter Olympian and, wait for it, the nine-time African volleyball champions Malkia Strikers.

Their captain, Mercy Moim, was standing right next to him, and instead of interviewing her, instead of angling for a close up photo of the maverick spiker or even a selfie, he packed up his bags feeling that he had wasted precious time. Such warped perspective!

And I struggled to contain myself in that frying pan of emotions, but it was hard work. Hard because shortly afterwards, another ignoramus said that he once watched the Serbia volleyball team in action at the Grand Prix in 2017 in China and wondered aloud, “are these girls really any match for the Serbians?”

“Yes,” I said. “They have already conquered Africa. Now watch them conquer the world.”

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