Are Kenyan runners stoking violence?

Are Kenyan runners stoking violence?

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As anyone following the sport of running knows, a sizable chunk of the world’s fastest runners hail from Kenya, a country rocked by violence after a disputed December 2007 election. Now a paragraph in a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) says elite runners there may be funding, training, and commanding militias.

Kenya’s speediest runners are chiefly from the Kalenjin tribal group. Coaches say Kalenjins have snagged about 40 percent of top awards at world and Olympic events, from the 800m to the marathon, since 1980. These top athletes have invested their running-earned riches in farmland and other real estate.

The Kalenjins have a longstanding animosity with the Kikuyus, the tribal group of President Mwai Kibaki. ICG, based on interviews in the region, says Kalenjins reportedly want to run Kikuyus off their farms and property. Kalenjin athletes, many of whom have a military background, are allegedly funding, training, and even commanding Kalenjin militias to attack Kikuyus. Lucas Sang, a runner in the 1988 Olympics, may have been killed while leading a group of raiders, the report says.

Athetics officials vigorously deny that the pride of Kenya, its beloved runners, are fueling violence. They point out that runners there have been involved in local competitions to foster peace. Paul Tergat, the Kenyan who held the marathon world record until last September, told Reuters, “I am sure that no athlete would want to finance or promote violence.”

But if they are, it’s a sad day for amateur runners everywhere. It’s hard to stomach the news that some of running’s role models may be running campaigns of violence.