Athletics Kenya should strive to keep athletics clean

The latest doping claims made against Kenyan athletes—although discounted on most counts—should remind local athletics authorities that it has a duty to ensure that our competitors remain squeaky clean.

Already, Athletics Kenya (AK) has dismissed the claims by a German television network as malicious, unfounded, and designed to distract the national track and field team’s preparation for the World Championships in Athletics in Beijing, China from August 22.

Nevertheless, AK must be aware of more credible claims about growing doping cases among our athletes and therefore it must be less casual about how their training is monitored. Even though the new claims are largely unfounded, the fact that they were made in the first place is bad enough.

It, therefore, calls for serious soul-searching and honest appraisal of our athletes’ preparations and lifestyle.

How do these athletes relate with their foreign managers and coaches? How safe are they from manipulation as they compete both in Kenya and abroad? AK and all athletics stakeholders must take a huge interest in how our athletes prepare for competition, particularly the very young ones. Their growth and development must be monitored closely to ensure that these impressionable youngsters are protected from potentially harmful substances, or individuals who are out to exploit them.

Why do we demand this at this point in time? We do so because we realise that others may want to make capital out of our misfortunes. Other countries have already realised that rival nations will stop at nothing to tarnish their reputation.

Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, whose country has been adversely mentioned, claims that a power struggle at the top of athletics’ world body, the IAAF, is behind the damning new doping allegations which he dismisses as “nonsense”.

Kenya has been defended by more credible authorities.

Legendary former athlete Sebastian Coe, who is gunning for the IAAF presidency, has described the allegations as tantamount to a declaration of war. “This, for me, is a fairly seminal moment. There is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug testing that warrants this kind of attack. Nobody should underestimate the anger at the way our sport has been portrayed. The fightback has to start.”

Despite this spirited defence of Kenya, we should not lose focus — we must put mechanisms in place that will safeguard our athletes against being lured to use performance enhancing substances. Owing to the high stakes involved, there are several forces at play — dark forces that will stop at nothing to win, even if it means employing underhand means. Another athletics legend, Ukranian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka, vividly captures the dire straits athletics is in and insists that independent agencies rather than national associations should be involved in conducting investigations about doping and helping to put in place proper systems of governance and accountability.

It is for a good reason in light of comments by Victor Conte, who ran the Bay Area Laboratory called BALCO in San Francisco, USA, that became the epicentre of a massive doping scandal in the early 2000s. Conte insists that the fight against doping is half-hearted because, “there is a financial conflict of interest” and therefore, “these tests are bad for business.” Nothing can be further from the truth. Owing to Kenya’s track prowess, AK must be at the centre of keeping the sports clean. If the sport falls into disrepute, the achievements of thousands of Kenyan track stars will count for nothing.

AK president Jackson Tuwei has a golden chance to seize the moment and prove that our world famous athletes are clean and beyond reproach.

Even as we wish our team well in the forthcoming World Championships in Athletics, we must ask our athletes to be wary of others who may want to exploit them.

But for now, they should not be distracted from unfounded claims and focus and preparing for the premier championship. As always, we expect them to uphold the highest ideals in their quest for medals.