Kenyan athletes pour cold water on fight against doping menace

Former world champion Milcah Chemos (left), Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) boss Brett Clothier and two-time world and Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon in Eldoret. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

It has now come down to desperate times for Kenyan athletes.

Today, head of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) Brett Clothier is meeting Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba after a five-day fact-finding mission, and the renewed anti-doping war is likely to be top on the agenda.

Clothier has been in the country since Monday for a fact-finding mission, which saw him listen to athletes and their support personnel in interactive forums organised by Athletics Kenya (AK) to find ways of dealing with doping, a menace that has in recent years ruined Kenya’s reputation as the powerhouse of the sport.

During the meetings held in Eldoret, Kapsabet and Iten from Tuesday, the AIU Chief Executive Officer was candidly told how a combination of ignorance, dishonesty and desire to win millions of prize monies was plunging the country into the abyss of doping.

More than a thousand athletes attended the Iten forum on Wednesday evening. Clothier was accompanied by AK President Jack Tuwei and the federation’s Nairobi chairman Barnaba Korir.

The following are some of the questions that linger as AIU, AK and the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) meet CS Namwamba over the menace.

How will Kenya change tack in the fight against doping?

On November 30 last year, speaking after a World Athletics council meeting, the body’s president Sebastian Coe said Kenya had been spared a ban but will continue to be in the anti-doping watch list.

When the forums attended by Clothier came to a close in Iten on Wednesday evening, the country’s top athletes explained why they wanted a paradigm shift in the war against performance-enhancing drugs.

“I have talked to many athletes and they tell me that they take nothing home after anti-doping seminars,” marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge said in one of the forums.

In Iten, some athletes said they were not aware of Erythropoietin (EPO), a performance-enhancing substance that has landed several Kenyan athletes in trouble.

How will the Sports Ministry work with investigative agencies to nab cartels suspected of importing and supplying banned substances?

Athletes put the Kenyan government to task as they sought answers on why there were no efforts to thoroughly probe the importation of substances such as EPO, which is purely injectable.

“Which animal is this called EPO? Who is importing it? Why can’t the government arrest them? And why can’t we arrest the athletes who are found to have used it and then they are grilled to explain how EPO got into their bodies, and where they got it from?” an Iten-based coach asked.

How will the Ministry of Sports use the additional Sh661 million it has reportedly earmarked for the fight against doping?

Clothier proposed that the money be used to enhance surveillance, anti-doping investigations, and placing more athletes in the testing pool.

The AIU boss insisted that it would be prudent for Kenya to invest in “education and more education” among Kenyan athletes.

Former World Half Marathon record holder Kibiwott Kandie said it was only gold and silver-label athletes who were in the testing pool.

How will AK and other stakeholders help athletes deal with the pressure to win hefty prizes and lavish lifestyles?

Former Tel Aviv Outdoor Meeting winner Carolyne Jepkosgei told the interactive forum in Iten how athletes were sinking into depression over pressure to produce stellar performances.

She said pressure from society, coaches and individual athletes are affecting mental health and triggering temptations to dope.

“Please, let us have a sports psychologist closer to the athletes. The doping menace is thriving because of pressure from society to perform. Self-pressure is also a major issue making athletes resort to doping,” Jepkosgei said.

How will ignorance be tackled in the anti-doping war?

It emerged during the interactive meetings that some Kenyan athletes were ignorant of doping, while others were simply dishonest.

Iten-based doctor Castro Mugala, one of the medics in the Kenya Doctors Network (mandated to treat athletes), said athletes were consuming drugs without consulting doctors.

“Athletes take simple drugs used to treat ailments such as common cold over the counter and find themselves caught up in doping because many common drugs have banned substances,” said Mugala.

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