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Bahamian athlete detained in Kenya

O’Neil Williams

.April 3, 2020

Sheldon Longley

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Bahamian national record holder O’Neil Williams was among a group of athletes detained in Iten, Kenya, for training against the government of Kenya’s regulations.

According to the nation’s latest order, put in place as a means to help control the spread of COVID-19, no two athletes or any group of athletes are allowed to train together, whether it be through running, performing drills or just regular exercises.

Williams, who has been training in Kenya for the past nine years, said he was unaware of this latest directive passed down from the government of Kenya. He and another foreign training partner were out running together when they were stopped by health and government officials.

“To be quite frank, it was stupid. We got up about nine on Monday to go running, and after about a mile of running, we saw some health officials on the road. They stopped us, saying that there is a rule in place stating that only one athlete could train at a time. We went to the police station, they took our names and put us in a holding cell for about seven hours. After a while of detainment, they brought in some high-ranking government officials and they explained why they don’t want us to be running in pairs or big groups because our droplets would be falling all over the place. They told us how they were giving us a second chance and then warned us from doing it again.”

Kenya is one of the least affected nations in the world, based on population size. Despite having millions of people, there are only 110 cases and just three people have died. The total number of cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide soared over a million last night and there are over 50,000 deaths.

Williams, who is vying to represent The Bahamas in next year’s Olympics, said he was upset, stating that there was no official communication sent out.

“There was no official communication but here we are being detained. They should be in a position to educate the people first and then enforce the rules, and that was not done,” said Williams. “Also, there were about 40-50 people walking through the police station in close proximity of each other with no masks and no gloves, and they’re telling us that we’re doing something wrong. They’re probably transferring the virus more than us. I was trying to figure out what’s the big deal with just two athletes running together when they have a bunch of people congregating everyday. I just figured that they’re making a big fiasco out of nothing.”

According to the Kenyan publication Daily Nation, a dozen athletes were arrested after continuing to train during the government’s ban on social gatherings and sports activities. Of the 12 athletes arrested, two were foreigners – including Williams – and all were taken to the police station in Iten before local Athletics Kenya officials intervened on their behalf.

Athletics Kenya acknowledged that the athletes were at fault, with Coach Elkanah Ruto calling the incident unfortunate because it risked the lives of the public and other athletes, according to the Daily Nation.

Ruto said: “The athletes were arrested by security officers in collaboration with the county’s department of health. The same departments had, earlier on, engaged us on how we are supposed to conduct our training to ensure that we stay safe from the coronavirus.” He also mentioned that a number of foreign athletes were unaware of the government order.

World record holder David Rudisha is one of the famous athletes to come out of Iten. The report stated that Athletics Kenya has ordered all training camps in the country to close, indefinitely, and has instructed athletes to practice social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As far as the Olympics is concerned, Williams said he remains focused on qualifying. He is attempting to become the first Bahamian to qualify for the Olympics in marathon running. With the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021, Williams now has more time to train and achieve the qualifying standard.

“Well, now I would have 16 months to get prepared rather than four months. I was kind of rushing and putting in heavy mileage, like about 21-22 miles per day, so this postponement works in my favor, as far as time is concerned,” he said. “With financial support, I will definitely give it a run at 2021 and I feel confident that I will make the time. I’m happy and a [little] disappointed at the same time. The curse is the coronavirus. It came and devastated everyone’s lives, putting us in fear and taking a lot of people out. I pray that this disease is suppressed and we could continue with our normal lives. It’s not going to go anywhere right now, but if it is suppressed through social distancing and other measures, hopefully everything will settle back into place.”

Williams thanked those who have come onboard to assist him, including his aunt, Joan Sweeting; adopted father, Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar; local coach, Wilson Bain; and everyone who has been supporting him over the years.

“I appreciate them so much. For me, right now, it’s all about the proper funding. Once I could receive sponsorship to train and to go to qualifying events, I am certain I will make the qualifying standard. I have confidence in myself that through God and with proper funding, I will qualify for the Olympics and make The Bahamas’ team,” he said.

Williams, 37, holds the national record in the men’s marathon – a time of 2:29.26 – done for a 59th place finish overall out of more than 13,000 runners at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in Amsterdam, Netherlands, last year. The qualifying time for the Olympics is 2:11.30.

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