Nairobi, Kenya – Suleiman Wanjau Bilali, one in all Kenya’s best boxers with medals at worldwide occasions, has been out and in of rehabilitation centres 3 times due to his alcohol habit and despair since he was sacked from his job in 2012.
Bilali is unkempt, determined and can’t coordinate his thoughts effectively whereas talking. He talks in sheng (Swahili-English slang) whereas chewing miraa – a stimulant, also called khat. It takes quite a lot of probing and persistence to have the ability to perceive what he’s saying.
Carrying an outdated, black T-shirt and outsized khakis, Bilali seems pale and skinny. You may odor the alcohol in his breath. His fingers tremble as he sits down.
Bilali’s state of affairs is broadly documented. Many Kenyans have been protesting on social media and native media retailers since 2012, calling on the federal government and sports activities our bodies to assist the previous boxing star that Kenya was as soon as pleased with.
Regardless of this outcry, the federal government has by no means provide you with a plan to assist Bilali.
After intense public stress final yr, former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko was the final one who paid for his remedy at a rehabilitation centre utilizing his personal funds.
“Sonko took me to a rehabilitation centre and likewise catered for my remedy,” Bilali informed Al Jazeera.
“After I left the centre late final yr after spending three months there, I went again to alcohol and miraa. I’ve no home and I battle for meals. Associates assist me with meals and a spot to sleep. A few of my good buddies give me little money which I exploit to purchase alcohol and miraa.”
Along with the medals and representing Kenya on the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, Bilai can also be a recipient of the Head of State Commendation.
However two accidents – in 1998 and 2004 – triggered the beginning of his fall.
“Within the first accident, I used to be knocked down by a dashing automobile whereas coaching alongside the street and I had a fractured leg. Within the second, I bought head accidents and a fractured shoulder.
“I misplaced my job in 2012 and my life has been stuffed with distress since. I used to be depressed and my life took a completely totally different flip. I misplaced all my investments and my spouse left me. As a result of illness, making ends meet is my greatest problem.”
Bilali typically visits the Muthurwa Neighborhood Centre, positioned on the fringes of the Nairobi enterprise district. He says many boxing stars are battling psychological well being points and whereas he’s keen to educate kids within the sport, with out assist he’s unable to return out of despair and combat off the urge for alcohol.
Stephen Muchoki, 65, is one other former nationwide boxing star. He now lives alone in a small compound in Nairobi’s Dandora property.
His life now is stuffed with struggles regardless of him elevating Kenya’s boxing flag excessive at worldwide levels.
“I retired from novice boxing in 1978 after profitable the world title on the World Newbie Boxing Championships in Yugoslavia. The identical yr, I received gold on the Commonwealth Video games in Canada,” Muchoki informed Al Jazeera.
For 5 years, Muchoki took half in skilled boxing in Denmark however returned to Kenya in 1983.
“My coronary heart was in Kenya. I wished to serve Kenya and symbolize my nation. Sadly, my life has by no means been the identical. There have been no correct constructions to facilitate and care for former boxers like myself. I used to be alone. The little I had invested completed and I used to be again to zero.
“Nobody bothered to even give me some pension after I had introduced fame to Kenya.”
Muchoki now volunteers as a coach on the Kariokor Boxing Membership in Nairobi. He says he has been residing in poverty with out earnings after he retired.
“Smoking makes me really feel good. It’s not simple as a former star to reside in poverty. I’ve no pension or something that brings cash for me, this kills me slowly.”
David Munyasia is one other bantamweight boxer (54kg) who solely hangs on the hope that in the future, his legacy can be remembered and appreciated.
Munyasia began his profession within the early Nineties when he participated in junior championships. He then represented the Kenya Defence Forces and the nation at worldwide occasions.
Now, Munyasia has no work and is hooked on chewing khat.
“I really feel depressed as a result of I’ve no job regardless of being a boxing legend in Kenya,” mentioned Munyasia.
Kenya’s tradition and sports activities ministry didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s request for remark.
Dancun Kuria, a communications director on the Boxing Federation of Kenya, agrees that there are numerous former boxing stars who at the moment are residing in deplorable situations.
“We have now been accused of neglecting former boxers,” Kuria informed Al Jazeera. “A few of them did effectively at novice stage however issues modified after they went skilled. We can not intervene within the case of pros as a result of it isn’t inside our mandate.
“In skilled boxing, gamers take care of a boxing fee the place brokers and promoters organize for video games.”
Kuria mentioned he’s conscious of the state of affairs Bilali, Muchoki and Munyasia are in.
“Our fingers are tied. We don’t have sufficient sponsors and a few of these instances are tough to deal with with out monetary assist.”
Kuria additionally mentioned a few of the boxers affected are to be blamed themselves for the state of affairs they’re in.
“Many of those boxers didn’t have a plan for his or her post-boxing lives. They bought carried away by fame and after boxing, their lives modified and lots of at the moment are depressed and affected by different social issues.
“We’re encouraging new boxers to take training severely by means of our present coaching periods in order that they’ve an additional talent. We additionally convey onboard trainers on monetary administration, therapists, and psychologists.”
Given the remedy a few of the former boxers have obtained, Charles Mukula, a coach at Dallas Boxing Membership, is apprehensive about the way forward for a sport he believes can take Kenya far.
“I’m a volunteer coach. I’ve youngsters as younger as 5 coming right here to be educated,” Mukula informed Al Jazeera.
“I don’t have correct boxing gear for coaching. It pains me after I see the zeal for boxing from youth but nobody cares. I typically get outdated boxing gear from former boxers who educated by means of this membership.”