Doping cases cast a blight on Kenya’s track and field success

By: SEAN CARDOVILLIS

This has been a very sad week for sport, with Kenya’s hard-earned reputation on the line in athletics, which was sensationally rocked to the core on Monday by allegations of widespread doping, bribery and corruption.

This follows hot on the heels of the Fifa scandals and threatens to bring several countries down, including Kenya.

This was a brilliant year for Kenya’s international athletes. At this year’s World Athletics Championships the country topped the leaderboard with 16 medals, including a first ever gold in the field events thanks to Julius Yego in the javelin. At the recently held New York City marathon, Kenyans scooped both the men’s and women’s races.

But questions are increasingly being asked about whether talent alone explains the country’s success in the sport. Over the last few years, more than 35 runners have been found to be using performance-enhancing drugs. Following the news that the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) is recommending that Russia be banned from next year’s Olympics due to wide-ranging doping infractions, the question is: could Kenya be next?

In August, an investigation by ARD, a German broadcaster, and the media, claimed to have obtained access to blood tests of athletes involved at the highest level of the sport. Of the 800 athletes to have been found to have “abnormal” test results, 77 were Kenyan.

The report describes Kenya as a “blood-doping hotbed,” alleging that 18 of the 92 medals the country’s athletes won from 2001 to 2012 went to runners who exhibited abnormal results. Only Russia had more athletes tied to the suspicious blood tests. The investigation also alleges systematic corruption in the sport in Kenya, with officials regularly accepting bribes from athletes caught doping to spare them getting banned.

Kenya was not mentioned in Wada’s report this week. However, there are fears that a separate investigation by the anti-doping agency into the allegations documented in the media and ARD report could lead to serious sanctions against Kenyan athletics.

Last week, chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya Kipchoge Keino said that Wada could recommend that Kenya be banned from the 2016 Olympics, adding that it’s no longer just a threat, they do think that Kenya is sweeping doping issues under the carpet.

Wada officials are getting frustrated that Kenya is not confronting the issue more aggressively. For example, two athletes who tested positive for banned substances at the World Championships in Beijing in August are still to be sanctioned by the local authorities, and while the government has created an anti-doping agency, Wada officials say it exists in name only.

The crisis point could have serious repercussions for the future of Kenyan athletics. It could mean that the country with some of the best track stars in the world will be absent at next year’s Olympic games.

BIG WEEKEND FOR RUGBY

Kenya will join eleven of Africa’s top men’s sevens teams going head-to-head at the Barnard Stadium in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, today and tomorrow for a sought-after spot at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Botswana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe are the other countries competing in the tournament, with the winning team qualifying for the Olympic Games alongside the Springbok Sevens squad from Africa.

The Blitzboks gained automatic qualification for the international spectacle by finishing second in the 2014/2015 HSBC Sevens World Series. Benjamin Ayimba’s men will enter the Olympic Qualifier among the top contenders to win given their status as one of the core teams on the HSBC Sevens World Series, and will look to use this experience to stamp their authority against their neighbouring countries.

Namibia, who’ve have acquired the services of former members of Kenya’s technical bench Vuyo Zangqa and Graham Bentz on a temporary basis in the lead-up to the tournament, will also look to make their presence felt. The team prepared for the continental showpiece at the Springbok Sevens’ training base in Stellenbosch last week week before departing for Johannesburg.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe trained in Pretoria this week, and Nigeria arrived in Johannesburg early in the week to acclimatise to the Gauteng conditions and hot temperatures.

Kenya and Mauritius will kick-off the tournament at 11am today, which will be followed by a clash between Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Each team will play three matches on the opening day, with the top eight sides advancing to the Cup Quarter-finals, while the four lower-ranked teams will face off in the Bowl section.

CLASSIC SAFARI IS HERE

The drivers and their crews are busy putting final touches for the 2015 East Africa Classic Safari Rally that gets underway on Thursday.

The rally is trying to replicate the spirit of the original Safari Rally, which was born in a legendary, much-quoted conversation between Eric Cecil and his cousin Neil Vincent. A true motorsports fan, Vincent refused to compete at the newly-built Langa Langa circuit. “I can’t imagine nothing more boring than driving round and round the same piece of track,” he declared.

“But if you will organise an event where we get into our cars, slam the door, go halfway across Africa and back and the first car home is a winner, I’ll be in it.”

Together with Ian Craigie, the Competitions Secretary, Cecil encouraged the Competitions Committee to organise a long distance rally. Their moment came with the death of King George VI and the coronation of the new Queen, Elizabeth II in June 1953.

A proposal to organise a rally through East Africa to pay tribute to the new Queen was accepted by the Management Committee; and the ‘Coronation Rally’, starting from Nairobi around Lake Victoria through Uganda and Tanganyika, before returning back to Kenya was established.

The East African Safari Rally continued every year thereafter, with great interest from international rally federations. In 1957, the FIA marked the East African Rally on its international motor sport calendar, and the date of the event also moved forward from the end of May to the Easter weekend, so as not to interfere with other European events.

Back to this year’s event, expect muddy and challenging conditions reminiscent of years gone by. The international crews will go all out to halt Ian Duncan’s defence of the title, and we’ll be following closely what should be a very fascinating contest.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION