For the better part of last week, sporting fraternity and sorority expressed their displeasure over reports that basketball coach Philip Ombajo had allegedly sexually preyed on a young female player. In a recorded telephone conversation doing rounds on social media, the girl says that Ombajo tried to force himself on her after locking himself with her in a hotel room at night.
“He said nothing is for free, and he thought that I am mature and I knew how things are done. He told me that he would connect me to go abroad but nothing is for free,” the girl says in the conversation.
But Ombajo who stepped down from all basketball responsibilities moments before Kenya Basketball Federation (KBF) notified him of the allegations, denies the claims, saying they are political.
“They decided to fix me. The main story here is about the elections, targeting those of us who campaigned for Otula, the current KBF chair because if you look at the people pushing this they were campaigning against Otula,” he said.
As investigators get to the bottom of the claims, the saga has lifted the veil of silence on sexual harassment in sports.
According to Kenya Basketball Women’s Commission chair Nelly Odera, there are cases but most girls fear coming out and reporting the perpetrators.
“You know how it is with girls. They don’t want to report these things. Even this girl was thinking, how would she look, everybody would know it is her. But now we have more complaints,” said Odera.
She said since the story went viral more people have raised similar complaints. “What we are going to do on our part is putting the names forward. A number of girls have called us and we are keeping a record. We have written to the Kenya Basketball Federation and we copied the women’s commission in National Olympic Committee of Kenya and FIDA,” she said.
And it is not basketball alone. Maria, who lives in Kariobangi, Nairobi, says she decided to be a football coach for young girls to protect them from sexual predators.
Graveyard of dreams
Maria became pregnant at teenage, but decided to become a pillar for young girls taken advantage of by coaches.
For most of these girls, the football pitch is the source of hope for a better future. Unfortunately, the same pitch is the graveyard of their dreams.
Some of the girls were camera shy and decided not to speak. But the few who did painted a grim picture.
“The girls come to me and complain that the coaches have touched their breasts and they don’t want to go back to the pitch. Parents tell me that they took their daughters to the pitch to nurture their talents but now they are pregnant,” says Maria.
However, she says it is not just male coaches who harass the girls. “We have female coaches who sexually harass the girls. I don’t understand why one would use their power to harass others while you can just find an adult and have consensual sex,” Maria says.
Last week, Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed warned against mistreatment of women in sports.
“I am very disappointed and saddened by information in the public domain concerning the indecent treatment of women in sports, especially in basketball. It is my expectation that the necessary investigations will be conducted and concluded speedily,” she said.
Amina appointed a nine-member Gender Welfare in Sports Committee that will give a report within 30 days on gender issues in local sports.