By AYUMBA AYODI
Isaiah Kiplagat, one of Kenya’s most illustrious and flamboyant veteran sports administrator, is dead.
Kiplagat, 72, who battled cancer for years, took a final bow at his Karen home shortly before 9am on Wednesday morning.
Kiplagat was one of the longest-serving sports administrators in the country, having worked in various capacities at Athletics Kenya (AK) for the last four decades.
Former AK secretary-general and vice president David Okeyo, who eulogised Kiplagat as a fearless and visionary sports administrator, said he received a call from Kiplagat’s family at 9.30am shortly after he had passed on.
“They wanted me in Nairobi immediately,” said Okeyo, who was speaking from Kisumu. “It’s sad to receive such news in the morning and my condolences to the family.”
Love him or hate him, Kiplagat, who was fondly known as “Fundi” by his peers, endeared himself to both friends and foes as a shrewd administrator, who worked his way out of difficult situations to retain his position as Athletics Kenya chief since 1992 before stepping down last year.
Under his watch, Athletics Kenya transformed to a firm and vibrant federation that has been the envy of many, winning awards both locally and internationally.
The consistent performance showcased by the association saw AK bag the federation/association of the year award in the SOYA awards gala for three consecutive years from 2009.
But to his foes, Kiplagat’s iron fist rule coupled with divide-and-rule method have what has seen him glued at the helm, having retired as the Postbank managing director in 2002 after serving for 14 years.
Kiplagat, who took over Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (KAAA), now AK, as chairman in 1992, turned the Association from a non-profit making entity to the richest federation in the country.
By the time of his unceremonious and controversial departure last year, AK had Sh130m in current assets and almost Sh1b in fixed assets including the AK headquarters, Riadha House.
STILL UNDER INVESTIGATIONS
Kiplagat passed on while still under investigation alongside three other former AK officials by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Ethics Commission.
Kiplagat alongside vice president David Okeyo and former treasurer Joseph Kinyua were suspended for six months in November last year for their alleged involvement in graft and subversion in anti-doping control in Kenya.
The suspension was extended for another six months in June this year to enable the Sharad Rao-led Commission more time to conclude the investigations.
This year has seen sweeping changes at Athletics Kenya headquarters, Riadha House. Kiplagat, who had served both locally and internationally for four decades, exited the scene under controversial circumstances.
Kiplagat had in May last year stepped aside as AK president so as to concentrate his energies in campaigning to become one of IAAF vice presidents later in August of that year. However, he was defeated.
Efforts to return to the AK office was scuttled when an AK executive met and suspended him and two other officials as athletes also staged a protest at Riadha House in November to stop Kiplagat’s return.
“Though seen as harsh, it was not out of bad faith since Kiplagat wanted athletics to grow from strength to strength and that is why many people are enjoying the dividends from his hard work now,” added Okeyo.
Kinyua said Kiplagat has left a legacy that will be remembered for many years.
“I worked with him for 16 years after [he hand-picked] me from Kenya Science. We took over KAAA with a Sh 2 million debt to where it is now,” said Kinyua.
Kiplagat was also at the helm of other sports federations. He was the chairman of Safari Rally Ltd, a member of the World Rally Championship from 1999 to 2003. He was also the chairman of the Automobile Association of Kenya that was also affiliated to the FIA over the same period.