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Where are you? WADA wonders! Why Kenyan athletes have no excuse on whereabouts rule

ATHLETICS By Paul Ochieng and Gerald Lwande | July 28th 2020
Marathoner Wilson Kipsang accompanied by his ralative Dismas Kiplimo (left) during the interview at his Keellu Resort Iten in Elgeyo Marakwet County yesterday. He said he will appeal over the decision made against him. 04.07.2020. PHOTOS BY PETER OCHIENG/STANDARD

Doping:  21 Kenyan runners have either been suspended or banned over the last one year

Athlete Central App makes it easy for runners to give an update on where they have been.

In elite running the difference between a winner and a loser could be as little as a hundredth of a second or even less. When one wins by such a margin, the edge could be anything from the body posture at the tape to the breakfast menu that morning.

However, at times that difference is as a result of a techno-scientific innovation that enhances an athlete’s performance. When does innovation transgress the boundary between natural and artificial?

What if an athlete’s body naturally produces a certain hormone in excess that gives them an advantage? Who is to arbitrate over that and by what rules?

Body authenticity is a vital principle in fair sports, a fact well understood by sports personalities. However, increasingly, financial and social rewards lure athletes to go for anything that will give them the bodily edge to win a contest.

An athlete who overcomes their genetic limitations to triumph over a seemingly superior opponent is more revered and celebrated. However, mismatches caused by techno-scientific adaptations are not held in the same esteem because sports is inherently a human and social activity centered on body authenticity.

World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has the unenviable job of ensuring that whatever techno-scientific enhancements an athlete uses, it doesn’t bestore an unfair advantage over their competition.

Testing millions of athletes across all sports for banned substances is an impossible task and therefore the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) that enforces Wada rules among track, field and road athletes has narrowed those to be tested to those most likely to win a major race and also those who, based on intelligence, are the most at risk to cheat.

The AIU set up the international registered testing pool (RTP), which has the effect of leveling the playing field coupled with the minimum impact and inconvenience on the athlete population.

In the last one year, 21 elite Kenyan athletes in the RTP have either received suspensions or sanctions from the AIU for anti-doping violations.

A quarter of the violations were on whereabouts failures. This has led to many Kenyans wondering why athletes should be banned yet no prohibited substances were detected in their systems?

Kenya's Elijah Motonei Manangoi celebrates winning the gold medal in the Men's 1500m final during the World Athletics Championships in London Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017

Locally, the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak) has the national registered testing pool made up of elite athletes who undergo regular anti-doping related monitoring to ensure a clean sport. 

This process of monitoring an athlete as part of doping control begins with the provision of whereabouts information. As the name suggests, whereabouts filing is the sharing of personal location information for both in and out of competition testing. Why should an athlete provide such private information?

Anti-doping testing should be both random and programmed. Some of the prohibited products and methods can clear extremely fast from an athlete’s system but have long term competition benefits.

To overcome this challenge, randomness is adopted especially during out of competition testing to ensure that the athlete is “clean” at all times.

To enable this doping control process, AIU developed the anti-doping administration and management system (ADAMS).

This is a web-based app that makes it easy for athletes to provide their email address, telephone number, where they will be spending overnight each day of the quarter, location for regular activities, competition schedule and identify a 60-minute time slot and location for testing each day of the quarter.

Many athletes found the web-based app cumbersome and not user friendly, in November 2019, AIU launched a simpler application, the Athlete Central app where athletes can use their mobile phones to file whereabouts information on their own.

When an athlete relocates from the initially provided location, he should further update the database to make it accurate. This is because in the event the testing officers fail to find the athlete within the designated testing window of one hour, a missed test will be filed. A combination of three missed tests or filing failures within a year by an athlete in either the national or international registered testing pool is classified as a whereabouts failure and therefore punishable.

Athletes have previously argued that they missed the test because of a competition out of the country. AIU further recommends that they should share their complete competition schedule, travel itinerary and accommodation venues for the quarter.

Often, those who are accused of whereabouts failures are handed a tampering charge. In this case, tampering is defined in the broadest sense of the word as interfering with the doping control process without necessarily using a prohibited method or product.

By athletes not clearly describing their whereabouts information, they are providing fraudulent information that further interferes with the antidoping control process.

Is whereabouts filing new?

Although these anti-doping related violations appear new in Kenya, they were introduced in the Wada code of 2003. Therefore, Wada, AIU and Adak require that athletes be responsible and adhere to both the anti-doping process and keep away from prohibited products or methods.

To assist with compliance, every season Adak holds training for athletes and their managers to ensure literacy in clean sports matters.

The Whereabout rule was received with both smiles and frowns in equal measure. Initially, athletes felt the regulation would make it hard to lead a normal life and that it was a serious invasion of privacy.

Elite sports is about winning and to ensure fair competition, every athlete should be willing to undergo an authenticity test at any time and this is entirely proportionate to the wider benefits for global sport.

Sports is an institutionalised social activity and athletes need to appreciate the huge public investment and interest in it.

This further comes with a responsibility to be a custodian for future generations. The governing bodies have the responsibility of maintaining the elevated position of the athletic body within sporting competitions for public trust, a not-so-easy job to do considering the ever-evolving symbiotic relationship between sports and technoscience.

Elite sports is for the disciplined and diligent. Therefore punctual filling in of whereabouts information should be second nature, since it goes a long way in building public trust in sports as a contest between human bodies.

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