When Kenya’s leading athletes get to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 in September, few will think of the logistics of how they got there. It will be all thanks to the work of a woman nowhere near as popular as the star athletes the east African country often produces.
Her is name is Susan Kamau, the chief administrative officer of Athletics Kenya.
As chief administrator, Kamau oversees the day-to-day management of the federation, and interacts with high-level government and private sector offices to seek support for teams that travel to represent Kenya in various continental and world events. She is also involved in marketing events to complement the organisation’s operational budget.
A long way
“It has taken me 22 years to get to the position of chief administrative officer,” says Kamau.
She began as a volunteer for the federation in 1996 and slowly worked her way up to the top.
“I was offered a job as a secretary, then grew to be the administrator of Athletics Kenya. I was later appointed by the board as the acting CEO until April 2019 when I was confirmed to my current position.”
Kamau is one of a few women rising among the ranks in decision-making positions in athletics on the continent, as national and international bodies strive for gender equity in the management of athletics.
As part of the widespread reforms adopted by the IAAF Congress at the end of 2016, the IAAF has added minimum gender targets into its constitution to establish parity at all levels in the sport’s governance.
Following the election of the first female vice president at this year’s IAAF Congress, two of the four vice president positions will be filled by women in 2027, the same year the council will have a 50-50 representation for men and women.
Member federations are also showing the first signs of a move towards gender parity, especially in Africa. On the continent, women are gradually gaining leadership roles as seven out of 54 CAA member federations now have women in top decision-making positions. This includes the Malagasy Athletics Federation, led by NorolalaoRamanantsoa.
She waded into the world of athletics 30 years ago when she and her husband began sponsoring the sport in the southern African island nation.
“My husband and I were actively participating in the events and competitions of the federation,” says Ramanantsoa. “We also personally supported some sprinters and middle-distance runners. In the year 2000, the newly elected president formed his team and asked me to join the steering committee, which I accepted.”
She served as a counsellor for eight years before taking up a role in the executive as vice-president in 2008. When her predecessor resigned four years later, Ramanantsoa ran for president in 2013 and won.
Kamau and Ramanantsoa rose through the ranks when women were still a scarce find in the higher levels of athletics management, especially in Africa. For both of them, it was hard work.
“I had to go back to college to study business administration and management,” says Kamau. “Kenya being a country with a high level of athletics talent, there has been continuous need to nurture the upcoming talent and ensure we have a continuous flow of good athletes.
While Kamau went to school to learn the ropes, Ramanantsoa found out that embracing her ambition to lead the Malagasy Athletics Federation after years of serving on its executive board was anything but easy.
“It took me twice as long as my male colleagues to achieve my goals,” she says. “Elections have always been difficult because our opponents have used every means to try to get elected, but I did not let myself go.”
Much has changed now. Ramanantsoa says parity is fairly respectedin the Madagascar Athletics Federation. “The general secretary, the president, the deputy treasurer general and the principal coach are all women. Major decisions are made collegially with other members.”
Over in Kenya, Kamau is also influencing the development women athletes as a member of the federation’s sub-committee for women.
Athletics Kenya has achieved a lot during Kamau’s tenure, including being named Kenya’s Sports Federation of the Year in 2017. Kenyan athletes continue to rack up medals at global competitions, with them finishing second behind the USA with 11 medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics and 13 medals at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
Ramanantsoa has continued to lead Madagascar to modest success at the Indian Ocean Island Games, with the country’s athletes hauling in 44 medals in athletics – 20 of them in gold – at the 2019 edition in Mauritius.
Her leadership has gone beyond Madagascar, as she is now one of four women in the Confederation of African Athletics’ council.
Both Kamau and Ramanantsoa have words of encouragement for women thinking about pursuing careers in managements in athletics.
Courtesy of the IAAF