MWANGI: Kenya can never go the Russian way


MWANGI: Kenya can never go the Russian way
A man walks at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) venue on the eve of the Fifth World Conference on Doping in Sport in Katowice, Poland, November 4, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski via REUTERS

In Summary

  • The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2017 conducted a research into the status of doping in Kenya. The global body concluded that “doping practices by Kenyan athletes are unsophisticated, uncoordinated and opportunistic.” This means that at no given time has the country ever tinkered with the prospect of putting in place an elaborate doping machinery like has been alleged elsewhere.
 Simon Mwangi in the UK

On January 14th an interesting opinion piece was penned in The Times, a UK based newspaper, by Rick Broadbent titled: “Is it Time for Disgraced Kenya to Follow Russia in Exile?”

In the article,  the writer points out how Kenyan athletes are continually being cited for Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) with the most recent case being the provisional suspension of former World Marathon Record Holder Wilson Kipsang.

Indeed, the growing numbers of Kenyan elite runners being flagged for anti-doping transgressions should sound a warning bell to sports administrators in the country. However, the country cannot get to the Russian level because of various glaring reasons.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2017 conducted a research into the status of doping in Kenya. The global body concluded that “doping practices by Kenyan athletes are unsophisticated, uncoordinated and opportunistic.” This means that at no given time has the country ever tinkered with the prospect of putting in place an elaborate doping machinery like has been alleged elsewhere.

In the case of Russia, state-sponsored doping resulted in the stripping of 43 medals from the  country’s athletes so far. This is the largest number of medals stripped from athletes from a single nation in the world.  It followed from arduous investigations conducted by WADA and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) which revealed ‘systematic doping’ allegedly orchestrated by KGB officials posing as anti-doping personnel. Subsequently, WADA last year banned Russia from all major sporting events for four years.

In the Kenyan context, anti-doping samples are shipped to the Middle East, Qatar to be specific, and South Africa for analysis. This means that there are no mediating factors, whatsoever; between the times the sample is provided to when it arrives at the laboratory for analysis all through to the time when the results are relayed back to the testing authority who in this case is the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK).

Similarly, Kenyan anti-doping officials are continually trained by some of the world’s leading anti-doping organizations such as the UK anti-Doping (UKAD) and Norwegian body-Anti-Doping Norway (ADNO). These officials include anti-doping educators and sample collection personnel in Kenya.

It is no secret that Kenya is ranked among the countries with the highest risk of doping by the World Athletics. Nevertheless, it is ranked together with other powerhouses in athletics such as Ethiopia but this is not reason enough to insinuate that the country’s anti-doping systems are shambolic. As a matter of fact, on the flip-side, another reason for this kind of categorization could be attributed to the fact that Kenya boasts of a large pool of talent in athletics which is unrivaled the world over.

Clearly, when you are the bedrock of bubbling talent in middle and long-distance races chances are that the risk premium also goes up. It is also common knowledge that without the electrifying performances by Kenyan athletes in field and track events the occasions would be dull and devoid of the global recognition accorded to them.

Broadbent, in his opinion piece, goes on to quote Brendan Foster-who is a European Champion and Bronze medallist in the 1970s-who rightly notes that world record-shattering performances nowadays by hitherto unknown athletes raise more questions than answers.

Unfortunately, the hard fact is that going by a report released by WADA in 2016 ranking athlete nationalities with the highest number of ADRVs, Kenya featured nowhere in the top ten. It is important, however, to note that the report ironically placed athletics as the sport with the highest number of ADRVs committed by athletes.

It is worth noting that Kenya has cooperated with the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which is the global body charged with protecting integrity in athletics, to the extent that there have been two joint anti-doping education sessions between it and ADAK targeting athletes and their coaches. One was held in Nairobi and the other was held in Eldoret last month.

In other words, in the writers suggestion, World Athletics’ option of banning the country on account of not meeting the stringent anti-doping regime set by the AIU is almost fantasy since the mutual working relationship enjoyed by the two entities is proof that such an occurrence would not easily take place.

Lastly, Kenya stared at being barred from participating in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil not because it was doing nothing about doping but because the country was in the process of beating strict deadlines in establishing a robust anti-doping program in the country. Perhaps for purposes of clarity, the country had to recall members of parliament who were on recess so as to enact and pass the Anti-Doping Act, 2016 which established ADAK.

The law making process in Kenya is no walk in the park because of its consultative nature and it is therefore important to acknowledge the effort behind ensuring that Kenya still fulfilled all requirements and sent a strong 89 member team to the Olympics that year.

Simon Mwangi is a former Head of Corporate Communications  at Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK)

 

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