NAIROBI, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) –– As nations across the world celebrated their star performers from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics throughout the week, the lukewarm reception accorded to Kenyan Olympic heroes sparked a furious debate.
Matters were not helped when images from neighboring Uganda, where the country’s president Yoweri Museveni gifted Olympic medalists with new cars which started circulating online, drawing angry reactions from Kenyans.
For the second Olympics in a row, Kenya topped the African medal charts at Tokyo 2020, albeit with a reduced medal haul of four gold, four silver and two bronze compared to the six gold, six silver and two bronze the country minted at Rio 2016.
That saw Kenya slide from 15th overall in Brazil to 19th with the performance eliciting a mixed response from a country that saw its dominance in distance running threatened by countries such as Uganda and Morocco.
The last batch of Team Kenya representatives returned home from Tokyo on Wednesday night with no government representation of fans waiting to receive them at an airport in Nairobi.
Local media and social media erupted in condemnation of the athletes’ cold reception, with men’s 800m silver medalist Ferguson Rotich the only runner who was feted with a heroic welcome by the government of his home county of Kericho.
Kenya’s stars of Tokyo 2020, including the now two-time Olympic champions Eliud Kipchoge and Faith Kipyegon, arrived in Nairobi and proceeded to their local counties with a whimper.
“It was a proud moment and people tend to get carried away by such. COVID-19 protocols had to be observed even at the airport. Kenya was in position 19 in the competition worldwide and was leading in Africa. We are proud as the Government of Kenya for the good efforts the athletes put in Tokyo,” government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna said on Thursday.
A nationwide curfew is in place as one of the measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but the majority of Kenyans online did not buy the official explanation.
“Kenya finished on top of Africa at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but the reception was lukewarm as usual for the Kenyan athletics giants.”
“Contrast this with the triumphant return of Kenya’s 1968 Mexico Olympics team and how the Ugandans received a respectable welcome,” seasoned journalist John Nene, formerly of the BBC, wrote on Twitter.