Kenyan authorities have rejected blame over a US visa hitch that may have robbed African 100-metre champion Ferdinand Omanyala of a chance of a medal at the World Championships in Oregon.
Many in Kenya were outraged when the country’s 26-year-old sprint star secured a US visa only at the last-minute, meaning he landed in Oregon just a few hours before his heat last Friday.
Omanyala, currently the third fastest man in the world, made it through the heats but could only manage fifth place in the semi-finals.
Athletics Kenya chief Jackson Tuwei said the organisation had engaged an external firm to process the visa applications for the contingent of athletes and officials heading to Oregon.
While a number of athletes received their visas on July 8, Omanyala’s passport was not released as the embassy required further information from him, Tuwei said in a statement late on Monday.
“Neither the (sports) ministry nor Athletics Kenya could intervene because the required processes by the embassy had to be undertaken individually,” he said.
A magnanimous Omanyala — who ran a time of 9:77 in September to win the crown of fastest man in Africa — had said after finally securing his visa that “there is no-one to blame here”.
But former Kenyan government spokesman Ezekiel Mutua said Omanyala should have been accorded diplomatic treatment.
“The US visa delay controversy for our 100m sensation Ferdinand Omanyala should be an international relations matter,” he said on Twitter.
“A sportsman of Omanyala’s calibre should be treated like a diplomat and accorded such honour. He cannot just be stranded in a visa matter like a commoner.”
Kenya’s Sheila Chepkirui, who had been expected to compete in the 10,000m, failed to even get to Oregon because of a similar visa issue.
“The (sports) ministry should have fought for me as well if they indeed intervened for Omanyala. I was left on my own,” said Chepkirui, who is set to travel to the English city of Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games starting next week.
Tuwei meanwhile also branded media allegations that people other than Kenya’s 45 athletes and other support staff had travelled to Oregon as “false and unsubstantiated”.
Police have confirmed they are investigating the claims, which mirror another scandal that engulfed Kenyan athletics at the Rio Olympics in 2016, when so-called “joyriders” were allowed to travel with the Kenya team.
Former sports minister Hassan Wario was convicted in September last year of abuse of office and the misappropriation of 55 million shillings ($460,000) over the scandal.
The charges covered allegations of embezzlement, the purchase of unauthorised air tickets, overpayment of allowances and expenditure on unauthorised persons.