Paul Bitok: How series of KVF missteps soiled legacy of distinguished Malkia Strikers coach

© Paul Bitok

Paul Bitok: How series of KVF missteps soiled legacy of distinguished Malkia Strikers coach

Joel Omotto 11:30 - 19.05.2024

Paul Bitok deserved a better farewell after what he has achieved with Makia Strikers but a number of poor decisions at KVF conspired to water down his storied legacy.

It is now one week since Kenya Volleyball Federation (KVF) unveiled their ‘new-look’ technical bench for the Malkia Strikers to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

On May 12, KVF unveiled the Malkia Strikers technical bench to the Olympics that had veteran tactician Japheth Munala as head coach, KVF deputy president Paul Bitok as his assistant, alongside former player Janet Wanja, with federation president Charles Nyaberi as Team Manager.

KVF said this was a result of a ‘democratic vote’ but the decision was met with disdain and uproar at how the federation’s president and his deputy would also double up as technical officials.

The fact they even put themselves up for a vote, raised eyebrows with many feeling they used their positions to get on the team over other deserving people.

The public uproar and the pressure that came after has since seen Bitok step down from his role while Nyaberi has not budged.

However, for Bitok, it is a sad end to an incredible and successful career that soils his storied legacy.

Bitok is a highly respectable figure in Kenya and African volleyball circles and he deserved to exit in an honourable way but recent decisions, whether on his own or collectively, have somewhat spoiled the good name that he built for over 20 years.

A former KCB player and coach , Bitok was the first Kenyan volleyball player to play in a foreign club, securing stints in Tunisia and later in Croatia and would join coaching after retiring from playing.

After coaching KCB, Bitok was headhunted by Rwanda where he worked for 10 years, establishing an elaborate volleyball programme in the country that had an emphasis on nurturing young talent from schools before they were integrated into the national team.

Bitok returned to Kenya in 2019 and was immediately appointed Malkia Strikers coach, his appointment coinciding with an upturn in fortunes for the team.

Under his stewardship, Malkia Strikers won the 2019 African Games title before qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games after a 16-year wait.

They participated in the 2022 World Championships then claimed a record-extending 10th Africa Cup of Nations last year which saw them seal back-to-back tickets to the Olympics.

After that, there have been a series of missteps within KVF that have dragged Bitok’s legacy into the mud.

Bitok was elected KVF Deputy president in August last year and promised that he would now leave coaching and concentrate on his administrative duties.

During Malkia Striker’s win in the African Championships that secured the Paris Olympics ticket, the team benefited heavily from the expertise of Brazilian coaches.

World volleyball governing body FIVB has been running an empowerment programme since 2021 when they seconded six Brazilian coaches to offer technical support to the national women's team ahead of the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

They included head coach Luizomar de Moura, assistant Jefferson Arosti, Thiago Moreira (physiotherapist), Marcelo de Souza (strength and conditioning), Leonardo Barobosa (statistician), and team manager Beto Opice alongside Kenyan coaches Bitok, Munala and Josp Barasa, who worked together to tune the Malkia Strikers ahead of the Games.

Ahead of the 2024 Olympics qualification journey, the programme was extended and they helped the team seal a ticket to Paris while there was also a number of tournaments in Europe that gave the team exposure.

However, heading to the Games, KVF opted against extending the deal when the players were expecting more support.

KVF wanted three Kenyans in the technical team to Paris, a similar number to the Brazilians, but FIVB was keen to retain the formula used in Tokyo when the experts were three with one local on the bench.

They did not reach an agreement and KVF went ahead and named their own technical bench to the Paris Olympics which has now become a hot potato that saw Bitok exit from his role unceremoniously.

As KVF deputy president, Bitok was part of the team that made the decision to do away with the Brazilians and will not escape blame when Malkia Striker underperform in Paris.

After what he has done and achieved in the game, Bitok deserved a better sendoff but he will now have to endure the embarrassment of being forced out even as he looks to focus on his role as KVF deputy president.

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