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Kenya dodges athletics ban, fears remain

Kenya is one of eight ‘Category A’ nations deemed by the Athletics Integrity Unit to have the highest doping risk that threaten the overall integrity of the sport. [iStockphoto]

It was the moment the global athletics world had been waiting for with apprehension: would Kenya be sent into exile following a spate of doping cases?

The official response elicited sighs of relief. World Athletics said there was no need for a lengthy blanket ban, but it would ‘closely monitor’ the situation.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, during a council meeting on Wednesday in Rome, Italy, said Kenya had made impressive progress in the fight against doping.

Kenya is one of eight ‘Category A’ nations deemed by the Athletics Integrity Unit to have the highest doping risk that threaten the overall integrity of the sport. The others are Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkey and Uzbekistan. The World Athletics Board will decide today whether Kenya will remain in the group.

There had been speculation that Athletics Kenya would be banned from international competitions after cheating cases threatened to spiral out of control. But Kenya is not out of the woods yet. This is what Lord Coe had to say about the matter.

“Building trust will be a long process for Kenya. We will continue to monitor Kenya closely after an assurance by the sports minister of additional funding.

“I received a letter from the sports minister (Ababu Namwamba) last week which I have been given permission to share with you, and in it the government has confirmed its agreement to add a further Sh619 million ($5 million) annually over five years.

“This will fund more people, more tests, more investigations and certainly bolster the already comprehensive education programmes in place.

“The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) will continue to work closely with Kenya to implement the plan and help progress and achievements.

“I know that Athletics Kenya and the Kenyan Government feel that this has been a disfiguring period in what should have been a Herculean period for Kenyan athletics.

“But all the stakeholders that matter both domestically and internationally are now aligned to do everything we can to resolve this situation.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we have taken very seriously the escalating problem that has arisen in Kenya.

“Over the course of one year, 40 per cent of all doping positives reported involved Kenyan athletes.

“This is not something we are prepared to sit and allow to develop. I’m pleased to say that the Kenyan Government has taken some really serious action to try and resolve this problem as soon as possible, although my instinct is it is still a long journey.

“The letter was very important in that it was a recognition from the highest levels of Government that this was an issue that was disfiguring.

“Kenyan athletics is not just important to the world family of athletics, it is also a very important part of the brand values of Kenya, and we needed some collective action in this case.”

Athletes sanctioned

At least 55 Kenyan athletes are serving bans with a further eight provisionally suspended by the AIU, while the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak) has sanctioned 22 athletes with an additional nine active cases.

The upshot? It has been, and will continue to be, a long journey ahead.

It was March 26, 1988, and the nation was anxious as it runners competed at the World Cross Country Championships inside Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland, New Zealand.

Then the big news broke: Cosmas Ndeti had tested positive for the stimulant ephedrine.

That was the first doping ban for a Kenyan and, so far, more than 200 athletes have failed doping tests. The highest number, including high-profile athletes, testing positive for banned substances this year.

And it’s not only runners. Two Harambee Stars players have been banned by Adak after they were found to have used banned substances.

Tusker FC midfielder Teddy Osok and his Bandari FC counterpart Whyvonne Isuza, are now staring at a combined six-year ban.

Turn back the clock to February 18, 1993 when John Ngugi, the 1988 Olympic 5,000m champion, was sanctioned one month before the World Cross Championships in Amorebieta, Spain. Ngugi was banned for four years for missing an out-of-competition test. Back then, Athletics Kenya had not educated athletes on this method of testing. That was the second doping ban for Kenya. 

Since then, the number of drug cheats has steadily increased. Worse still, there have been instances where athletes are barred from competing on the race day or dragged out of the Athletes Village in major competitions like the Commonwealth Games, World Championships, and the Olympic Games.

During the 2015 World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China, Francisca Koki and Joy Sakari were evicted from the Athletes Village after testing positive for the prohibited diuretic furosemide.

Alex Oloitiptip, who registered his third whereabouts failure on July 19, 2019, was allowed to compete in the 10,000m final at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, on October 6, 2019. He was not censured until March 17, 2020.

At least 55 Kenyan athletes are serving bans with a further eight provisionally suspended by the AIU. [iStockphoto]

In Oloitiptip’s case, however, there was no athlete’s explanation to explore; he never offered one to the AIU. It took the AIU 242 days to suspend him.

Former national 100m champion Mark Otieno was suspended minutes before making his Olympic Games debut in the Tokyo Olympic Games last year for failing a drug test.

Otieno was set to make his Olympics debut after qualifying alongside Ferdinand Omanyala at the Kenyan trials in Nairobi. But as he prepared for the heats, he got the heartbreaking news.

Anabolic steroid

According to results from his urine sample taken two days before the race, Otieno tested positive for an anabolic androgenic steroid and was subsequently barred from stepping on the tartan.

In July, former Boston and Chicago marathons winner Lawrence Cherono was provisionally suspended for testing positive for the drug trimetazidine just hours before he could take part in the World Championships marathon showdown in Oregon, USA.

Trimetazidine, an injectable drug, is used for treating heart-related conditions like angina. It helps metabolize fatty acids, which helps the body to use oxygen. The drug allows for more blood flow to the heart and limits quick changes in blood pressure. This can help lessen chest pain from blocked blood vessels. 

Before the dust had settled, Philemon Kacheran  was provisionally suspended for testing positive for exogenous testosterone, just before the start of 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmigham, UK.

So far, barely a week goes by before a Kenyan athlete is flagged for either testing positive for doping or failing to update their whereabouts.

Athletes competing at the international level are required to set aside one hour a day within which doping control officers can find them to take samples for testing. This means they must give details of where they will be over that time to enable testers find them.

Usually, athletes are not told on which day the doping control officers will visit them, and incase of any emergency an athlete must declare their unavailability three hours prior to the time they had earlier given. Should one fail to be available for testing after three attempts within 10 months, they are banned for four years.

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