Travel ban frustrates Cheptegei, Nakaayi

Monday July 27 2020

Record breaker. Joshua Cheptegei. Courtesy Photo

Local and global athletics audiences were treated to great news early this month after organisers of the Monaco Herculis Diamond League Meeting announced that Joshua Cheptegei and Halimah Nakaayi would be part of their star cast.

The Ugandan duo were named among other world champions such as American Noah Lyles (200m), Briton Katarina Johnson-Thompson (heptathlon), and Kenyans Hellen Obiri (5000m) and Conseslus Kipruto (3000m steeplechase) who are lined-up for the first event of the new Wanda Diamond League (DL) season at Stade Louis II on August 14.

But Cheptegei’s and Nakaayi’s chances of travelling to France hang in the balance, especially after President Museveni maintained in his address last week that borders and Entebbe airport remain closed “until the situation abroad settles.”

“For the moment it remains a challenge,” Cheptegei’s manager Jurrie van der Velden told this paper.

“We’ve reached out to authorities for help. It’s time the government did something for these exceptional athletes to facilitate their to travel,” he said.

Cheptegei is understood to have engaged Foreign Affairs ministry and last evening, in a conversation with this paper, gave indications that the discussions could yield fruits anytime.


Disrupted calendar
The global athletics calendar was disrupted but World Athletics announced that Monaco would be the first DL event in the re-organised calendar.

World 10000m champion Cheptegei last year became the first Ugandan to win a DL final when he floored tough Ethiopians to win the 5000m title in Zurich, Switzerland.

On February 16, Cheptegei broke the 5km world record (WR) at the Monaco Run 5K and, he is plotting another WR when the 5000m race comes in under three weeks’ time.

In an attempt to reach his goal, Cheptegei produced an impressive display during a time trial in the company of his coach Dutch Addy Ruiter, Nakaayi and their training partners at Namboole Stadium last week.

But the Covid-19 travel restrictions are demotivating the pair and Jurrie only hopes that Uganda can borrow a leaf from other governments that facilitated their sportsmen and women to travel to Europe, like Eritrea for their cyclist and Colombia for several athletes.

“It would be great if the Ugandan authorities would go the extra mile for their athletes as now they need their help more than ever in order to prepare for the Olympics,” he said.

After four months of global freeze on athletics due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is slowly embracing a return and the Monaco DL is expected to set the mark for athletics.

2019 Diamond Leauge - Uganda wins
June 13 Oslo, Norway Halimah Nakaayi (800m)
June 30 Eugene, USA Joshua Cheptegei (2-Mile Run)
Aug. 18 Birmingham, UK Ronald Musagala (1500m)
Aug. 24 Paris, France Ronald Musagala (1500m)
Aug. 29 Zurich, Swiss Joshua Cheptegei (5000m)