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Kenya's millionaire athletes

From left, Ezekiel Kemboi, Victor Wanyama and
From left, Ezekiel Kemboi, Victor Wanyama and Mary Keitany. Kenyan athletes are raking in millions and making an impact in the economy of their home areas. PHOTOS | AFP 

With $300 million (Sh30 billion) earned this year, American boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather lived up to his nickname once again, topping the global sports rich-list as the world’s highest paid sportsman.

Mayweather’s earnings were almost four times those of Portugal’s celebrated football star Cristiano Ronaldo of Spanish giants Real Madrid who was third on the 2015 list compiled by Forbes with $79.6 million (Sh7.9 billion), ranked behind another boxer, Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines who raked in a tidy sum of $160 million, or Sh16 billion.

While no Kenyan sportsperson was anywhere close to the top 100 on the Forbes rich list, with a reported salary of £30,000 (Sh4.6 million) a week, or 18.4 million a month, English Premier League side Southampton midfielder Victor Wanyama is easily one of Kenya’s highest paid athletes today.

Elgeyo Marakwet and Nandi counties in the North Rift region have the Kenya’s highest concentration of millionaires per square kilometre, made through race earnings by Kenya’s world-beating athletes who live and train at high altitude.

Last year, Iten-based former world marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang received the biggest pay day after topping the standings in the six-race World Marathon Majors Series that earned him a handsome $500,000 (Sh50 million) jackpot.

This was besides the impressive earnings he made in winning individual races in the series, like the London and New York Marathons.

In April, 2014, Kipsang won the London Marathon in a course record two hours, four minutes and 29 seconds.

Bonus payment

The victory earned him $55,000 (Sh5.5 million) while for running a sub-2:05 time, he banked a bonus payment of $100,000 (Sh10 million) besides a further $25,000 (Sh2.5 million) bonus set aside for anyone winning the race in a course record time.

With a special “appearance fees” as a world record holder, that rises to as much as $100,000 (Sh10 million), and a special winning bonus from his kit sponsors Adidas, Kipsang’s London pay day was no less than Sh20 million, on the conservative side.

Athletes’ managers usually take up to 15 per cent in commissions, with the runners also off-loading a considerable amount in taxes both in the countries of competition and to the Kenyan taxman.

The issue of double taxation is still a major debate with Kenya yet to sign tax treaties with many nations.

Edna Kiplagat, Mary Keitany and Priscah Jeptoo raked in as much as Kipsang by winning the Majors series in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Keitany has invested her earnings in constructing the high-end Winstar Hotel she runs with her husband Charles Koech in Eldoret town.

In Uasin Gishu County alone, Kenya’s world-beating runners account for a massive 35 per cent of the real estate business.

Statistics on exact investment figures are scanty, and getting the exact athletes earnings, or information on their investments and private lives, equally difficult given their introvert nature.

“Because of the privacy of the athletes, I cannot disclose what they are worth of what they earn,” says Dutchman Gerard van de Veen, who manages top Kenyan athletes including Kipsang, current world record holder Dennis Kimetto and former World Marathon Majors winner Geoffrey Mutai.

Invest wisely

“But what I can say is that many of them invest wisely,” he adds.

But the county’s trade executive Philip Melly appreciates the huge contribution by the athletes in revamping the Uasin Gishu and North Rift business and economic landscape.

“Real estate, farming and cottage industry investments by the athletes all have good returns because of easy access to markets, in the case of farming, and a ready market for property developments,” Melly explains.

World champions Ezekiel Kemboi and Asbel Kiprop are known for their outgoing styles and can be spotted driving flashy, high-end cars in Eldoret town.

Kemboi has a top of the range Range Rover Sport in his collection with Kiprop having recently written off a BMW X5 in an accident on the Kapsabet-Iten road.

Most of the athletes, however, prefer the Landcruiser pick-up which comes in handy on their farms and during training as they can carry their training partners, water and other training provisions.

Low key life style

David Rudisha, the World and Olympic 800 metres champion and record holder, shuttles in a Toyota Harrier and, like many fellow athletes running under the Kenya Police banner, prefers a low-key lifestyle.

Most of the athletes have either purchased or put up residential buildings in Eldoret’s up-market Elgon View Estate where most of them reside along with most of North Rift Governors and other well-heeled politicians, professionals and businesspeople.

Keitany, who like Kipsang is based in Iten, won this year’s New York Marathon on November 1 in 2:24:25, pocketing $100,000 (Sh10 million) in prize money along with a time bonus of $25,000 (Sh2.5 million) for running a sub-2:25 time.

Keitany says athletics is like any other career whose prime reason is to make a better future out of it.

“Athletics, like any other career has proceeds. An athlete is paid after winning a race just like an employee of a company,” Keitany told Business Daily in Eldoret this week.

“The reason we want to take up the challenges of employment and business is to save a few coins for our futures.”

Like most athletes from the region, Keitany shuns a luxurious lifestyle and flashy cars, her modest Iten home is proof of this.

“Just mind every shilling and cut down on unnecessary spending,” she says.

“In athletics, there are low points, for example when you get an injury. Some injuries keep an athlete out of competition for even five years, that means only investments will keep you going for that time,” she says.

And like Keitany, Kipsang is in the hotel industry. He owns Keellu Resort, one of Iten’s biggest hotels.

Former world steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui is probably the athlete with the biggest investments in the region. Kiptanui owns the iconic Komora Centre and Tulin Supermarket, both in Eldoret town, buildings he purchased after winning three straight world steeplechase titles in 1991, 1993 and 1995.

Besides real estate, Kiptanui is also big on farming with a nascent dairy business in Cherangany. He owns several acres of maize fields in Trans Nzoia County.

Benjamin Limo, the 2005 world 5,000 metres champion, advises athletes to save up for the future.

“Human beings do not live forever. Whenever an athlete wins some money, they should consolidate the cash somewhere so that they can thereafter figure out what investments to venture into,” Limo, who has invested in large-scale farming and residential houses, says.

Along with Paul Tergat, Moses Tanui, 50, was among the pioneers in big money athletics, winning the gold medal in the 10,000 metres at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.

He invested in the hotel business, opening up the Grandpri Hotel in Eldoret town which he later converted into a medical centre with private consultancy rooms for doctors.

Kiptanui blames many athletes for failing to heed investment advice and losing their hard-earned earnings in the long-term.

“The problem with many athletes is that they come from fairly poor backgrounds and when the big money comes, they don’t know how to use it and so end up squandering it,” he says.

“I also shift part of the blame to Athletics Kenya who should be spending more time on athlete education programmes touching on investments, because the athletes listen to them more.”

Besides Kipsang and Keitany, several other athletes have invested their hard-earned cash on hotel businesses in the North Rift. They include former 800 metres Olympic champion Wilfred Bungei who owns the Tortoise Hotel in Kapsabet.

Even local-based stars earn a decent living from running. After winning the top Sh1.5 million at last year’s Kass Marathon in Eldoret, Philip Kangogo used part of the money to expand his poultry farm in Iten.

Jairus Birech may have missed a medal at last August’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, but the African steeplechase champion pocketed a cool $40,000 (Sh40 million) for becoming the overall Diamond League Series winner, for the second time after pocketing the same in 2013.

The overall Diamond League prize is exclusive of Sh8 million earned from victories in each meeting, and Birech won six of them in the 2014/2015 season collecting a total of Sh48 million.

Meanwhile, Nicholas Bett won Sh6 million following his 400 metres hurdles victory at the Beijing championships. The father of three spent his money to finish up a quarter acre green house project at his Simat Village in Uasin Gishu County.

When he’s not jumping hurdles on track and not on duty as a police officer, Bett tends his potato and vegetable farms.

Last month, Eliud Kipchoge won the Berlin Marathon despite a shoe malfunction, taking the winners’ $45,152 (Sh45.5 million) with compatriot Gladys Cherono winning the women’s title. Kipchoge is on course for the $500,000 (Sh50 million) World Marathon Majors Series jackpot pay day which is comprised of the Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons.

US marathons are the richest in terms of prize money with the Boston Marathon paying winners $150,000 (Sh15 million) while New York and Chicago paying $100,000 (Sh10 million) for the top prize. This is besides the traditional “appearance fees.”

Kipchoge, 31, has had an impressive year, winning three of the biggest marathon events in the past 12 months.

In October 2014, he won the Chicago Marathon and six months later, in April this year, he won the London Marathon in a time of 2:04:42 before going on to set a world leading time of the year in winning the Berlin Marathon in September in a time of 2:04:00.

Face of confidence

Stanley Biwott, winner of this month’s New York Marathon, enjoyed a Sh20 million pay day.

Last year’s New York Marathon silver medallist Jemimah Sumgong also believes athletes should invest to better their lives. She says athletes need to get knowledge from investment experts to avoid funding ventures that may not bring good returns.

Meanwhile, with Eldoret hosting the North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb) business summit this weekend, organisers are actively engaging athletes in drumming up support for investment in the eight-county cluster.

“Our athletes are a brand and at Noreb, we are engaging them actively because, through their investments in the region, they have put a face of confidence in investing in the North Rift,” Melly says.

“For a sportsman with a high-risk career that only lasts a short period, putting all the cash they win in the region shows a lot of confidence and that’s why we are using them to showcase the advantages of investing in the North Rift,” he adds.

Melly further notes that all investments in the North Rift, from real estate to farming, have good returns with athletes having especially changed the large-scale farming landscape in the North Rift through their massive investments.

Eldoret is strategically positioned as the North Rift economic hub, a fact that has attracted most athletes to invest in the Uasin Gishu capital.

“Being their home and due to the fact that they live and interact with their peers, the athletes love investing in Eldoret where they are also assured of good quality education and medical services for their children and families,” Melly says.

“Banks like Chase Bank, National Bank, ABC Bank and others have conducted seminars right where the athletes live and have helped to bank unbanked athletes,” Mutai says.

“We now need to see them involved with the primary school athletes so that when they start making money, they are not faced with a culture shock,” he adds.

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