The Murder of Kenyan Runner Agnes Tirop Sheds Light on Issue of Violence Against Women

In Iten, Kenya, women athletes are reportedly being abused as they work hard on the professional training ground.

After a police inspector found the bloody body of 26-year-old Kenyan professional long-distance runner Agnes Tirop at her bungalow in October 2021, steps have been taken to monitor and raise awareness about the attacks against women in the area.

According to Bloomberg, Tirop had been hard to reach the day she missed an early morning training session, leading her friends and family to report her missing. Police broke through a padlock on the front gate of her house and forced their way in.

“As soon as I entered, I knew something was wrong,” Tirop’s friend and running partner, Victor Koilel, said. “Blood was creeping into the living room. I ran out of the house and cried.” A few days later, Tirop’s husband, Ibrahim Rotich, 44, was found 13 hours away near the Tanzanian border and was arrested for the alleged murder of his wife.

According to legal documents, Tirop had been beaten and abused by her husband several times. The murder of the cross-country champion has attracted international attention to the domestic abuse women athletes face in Kenya as a result of traditional customs being confronted, such as men controlling a family’s wealth and women staying at home.

“When a man is able to drive the career of a woman—drive in terms of suggesting what she has to do, suggesting what is good—tensions can arise,” said Gianni Demadonna, a former marathoner and current representative for athletes with Adidas contracts, like Tirop who signed in 2012. “It is not in the business of a company to follow the family affairs of athletes,” said Demadonna, who helped Tirop recover from a knee injury he later realized was linked to domestic violence, adding that neither he nor Adidas was informed of the abuse. “Nobody could think she was in danger to be killed.”

Tirop’s Angels, an advocacy group formed following her death, was launched to raise awareness about the issue of violence against women through seminars and workshops backed by male runners. “Agnes was a huge talent, and her life was captured,” Joan Chelimo, a runner and victim of an abusive relationship, said. “We promised ourselves, me and my friends, that we don’t want it to happen to any other woman.”

The group has reported several cases alleging domestic abuse to the police. Cases include women who have been hit, slapped, manhandled, had their bank accounts hijacked, or had property deeds changed.

Adidas spokesman Stefan Pursche said the company supports the advocacy by establishing safe housing for women. “We are following the events in East Africa with great concern and were devastated by the tragic loss,” he said.

Sarah Ochwada, chief counsel at Snolegal, is working on getting sports federations to initiate policies on gender-related crimes, banning any violators. Ochwada added that Kenya’s Sports Registrar should register every coach, manager, and athlete. This would ensure all professionals in the country are legitimate.