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Patriotic Kenyan Athletes Who Rejected Handsome Multimillion Deals From Foreign Countries To Change Citizenship

Kenya is known to produce the best of athletes who have put the country on the global map especially in long distance races. A majority of these athletes hail from the Rift Valley and take advantage of the high altitude training centres which improves on aerobic capacity and lactic acid tolerance.

But Kenya has been losing some of her athletes to foreign countries thanks to mouth-watering money deals that are simply irresistible. For other athletes however, the cutthroat competition in our country was enough reason to change their allegiance. This ensured that they made appearances in otherwise elusive international ambitions.

Joan Chelimo, Stella Ruto and Delvine Meringor acquired Romanian citizenship in 2021 in what was reported to be a way of beating the tough competition of flying the Kenyan flag.

Stephen Cherono, an athlete who bagged medals in the 3000m steeplechase changed his nationality to Qatar in 2002 after being offered a lucrative deal.

This came just after he had won in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He would go on change his name to Saif Saeed Shaheen and is the world’s record holder for the water and barrier race.

It is not clear if the change in nationality brought good tidings to Shaheen’s life with the deal remaining undisclosed. What is in the public domain is that Shaheen has battled various lawsuits including child upkeep and a Ksh 22 million debt he allegedly owed a pacesetter.

In this article, we feature Kenyan athletes whose patriotism saw them decline lucrative deals as they maintained by representing their motherland.

Ezekiel Kemboi

The decorated retired athlete was known for his brilliance in the 3000m steeplechase. Kemboi is a four time world and double olympic champion whose prowess saw the sweet tunes of the Kenyan anthem played on the global stage.

But all these could have changed had Kemboi accepted deals that came in during his maiden days of the career. Without mentioning specific countries, Kemboi says that he received lucrative deals from Asian and European nations between 2002 and 2003.

There were several approaches by individuals representing the interests of Asian and Western countries who made several visits to the country and wanted to offer huge money to athletes including myself to represent their nations,” he told the Standard.

According to Kemboi, he would land a monetary fortune had he accepted the deals. However, his conscience was clear on why he wanted to represent Kenya.

“There is something called patriotism. After being approached, several Kenyan athletes went to Bahrain and Qatar, but I decided to remain in Kenya and continue representing my country,” he says.

Moses Tanui 

Tanui’s name is in the history books as the first individual to run the half marathon in less than an hour. Currently, he is the Eldoret City Marathon race director and is a two time Boston Marathon winner.

Moses Tanui, a retired marathoner. [Photo|Courtesy]
According to him, he was previously offered a big money bargain in order to switch allegiance to Italy. But he declined because it would portray him as a man who betrayed his country.

He told Standard: “I had been offered Italian residency but I declined because during my days, patriotism was key. The rewards by the foreign country were huge, but running for your country comes with a sense of pride.

Tanui is the owner of Grand Pri Hotel in Eldoret.

Julius Yego 

Julius Yego is a self made Javelin star who defied all odds and became a force to reckon with in the discipline. According to various reports, Qatar was poised to lure Yego with a cool Ksh 1 billion reward just after he won gold in Beijing World Championships.

But Yego stood firm and set records straight even before a formal deal was tabled. He said not even the lucrative offer could make him change his nationality.

“Even if they had formalised the offer, I would not have represented another country in any event because I am a police officer who loves his country and would do everything to lift its flag high,” he says.