Konchellah ‘back’ home

Monday June 8 2009

Gregory Konchella (left), in one of the 800m

Gregory Konchella (left), in one of the 800m race heats at the Beijing Olympics. With him are Sudan’s Ismail Ahmed Ismail and Kenya’s Alfred Kirwa. /Picture: Mohamed Amin 

By Chris Musumba

ASIAN GAMES 800 METRES record holder Youssef Saad Kamel, 25, formerly known as Gregory Konchellah is counting his losses. Though currently in Kenya, he is legally stateless.

Kamel’s problems started last November when he quit training claiming unpaid salaries and bonuses and asked Bahrain to release him to revert back to his Kenyan nationality and compete for Kenya. Bahrain did not grant him his request.

“As we speak, I cannot compete for Kenya or Bahrain. Bahrain officials confiscated my Kenyan passport and I have a Bahrain passport which they don’t want me to use either,” he said. This means, he neither compete in international meets for Kenya nor his adopted country of Bahrain.

Kamel claims his adopted country owes him millions of shillings in unpaid salaries and bonuses and that he cannot honour invites to race in the lucrative athletics Grand Prix, because his adopted country is yet to grant him a release.

The fact that he cannot compete is affecting his focus on training knowing that he is ineligible to represent either countries. The fact that Bahrain has refused him to use the country’s passport, while they are holding his Kenyan document makes him stateless.

His slot for the Grand Prix at the Nike Prefontainne race in Eugene, Eregon US on June 7 was taken up by another athlete.

“I need to get back to active competition. But the logistics are taking longer than I expected. It has dashed my plans. I need to know if I will be able to compete in the World Championship in Berlin for Kenya or not, this has to end,” said Kamel.

According to the International Amateur Athletics Federation rules, if in a mutual agreement Bahrain agrees to release Kamel unconditionally, and Kenya grants him back his citizenship, the runner will be eligible to compete for Kenya in the World Championship in Berlin in August.

However, normally it takes four years for an athlete to be eligible to compete for another country once they change nationality.

Athletics Kenya secretary general David Okeyo said all is being done to see that Kamel gets his Kenyan travel documents so that he can resume training and get on with his career.

“We are working on the final touches on his quest for release from Bahrain. We communicated with Bahrain and we are in the process of sorting out the issue. I believe we will beat the deadline for him to take part in the World Championship in August,” said Okeyo.

“Bahrain was told to release Konchellah unconditionally so he can start preparing for future competitions,” said Okeyo, adding “Once the logistics are over, IAAF will free him to run for Kenya in Berlin.”

Like many young runners from the Rift Valley province, an unknown Konchellah left the country to take up Bahraini nationality in 2003 and competed for his adopted country at the Arab games in Tehran, Iran the same year and finished third.

HE CAUGHT THE attention of Athletics Kenya officials in 2004 at the Athens Olympics when he competed for Bahrain in the two-lap race finishing third in 1:46.94. He finished fifth in the 800m final at the Beijing Olympics.

In 2008 when he finished third at the World Indoor Championship in Valencia, Spain, clocking 1:45.26 behind Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki Khamis (1:44.81), and South Africa’s Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (1:44.91), many back home celebrated his success, although the medal was credited to Bahrain.

Kamel is also the World Indoor Games bronze medallist and is the son OF two-time world 800m champion Billy Konchellah.

Kamel’s problems surfaced late last year when after the Olympics in Beijing he declined to return to Addis Ababa, Bahrain’s training base and instead headed to Nairobi.

His concern was unpaid allowances and bonuses.

“For now I just need to focus on training. Money is not an issue. Let them hand me my release,” said Kamel.

Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat said five other Kenyan athletes representing Bahrain had also sought help from him to get their Kenyan passports from Bahrain authorities.

The athletes, Saleh Marzooq Bakheet (aka Simon Mbuthia), Ishaq Isaak Abedeen (aka Isaack Waweru), Dawood Sultal Khamis (aka Dominic Kiprono), Majjid Saleh Basheer (aka Ronald Kipchumba) and Eyad Juma Yaqoob Basheer (aka Eric Chirchir) are all stranded in Kenya with their Bahrain passports confiscated.

A number of Kenyan athletes have defected to the Gulf States, lured by cash and better training conditions and to avoid Kenya’s competitive selection process for international races.

At last year’s World Cross Country Championship in Amman, Jordan, students Isaac Kemboi Chelimo, Edwin Chebii Kimurer, Stephen Kamar and Gladys Cherotich Kibiwot represented Bahrain.

WITH THE WORLD championship just around the corner, Kamel’s plight will bring to the fore the battle that Kenya started fighting first in THE Athens Olympics in 2004 when Kamel burst into the limelight and they wanted him to run for Kenya.

Over 30 Kenyan athletes have so far changed nationality and moved to their adopted countries, but Kamel refused to move to Manama, Bahrain throughout his four year period as a Bahraini national.

In 2007, Kamel became training partners with Bahrain’s world 1,500m champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal. He also moved training venues from Narok to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where his Kenyan-turned-Bahraini girlfriend was based. He also took on a new coach, Tareq Yacoob Sabt.

But suddenly things are not so rosy between him and his adopted country and his career is on the line.

He knows the battle to represent Kenya will not be easy. But he is sure about one thing, he wants to run for Kenya.