Kenya banned athletes allege doping bribery

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EMBU, Kenya (AP) — Two Kenyan athletes serving four-year bans for doping at the 2015 World Track and Field Championships say the chief executive of Athletics Kenya, the country’s governing body for track and field, asked them each for a $24,000 bribe to reduce their suspensions.

Joy Sakari and Francisca Koki Manunga told The Associated Press that CEO Isaac Mwangi asked for the payment in an Oct. 16 meeting, but that they could not raise the money. They were then were informed of their four-year bans in a Nov. 27 email, but never filed a criminal complaint because, they say, they had no proof to back up their bribery accusation and also feared repercussions.

Mwangi dismissed the allegation as “just a joke,” denied ever meeting privately with the athletes and said Athletics Kenya has no power to shave time off athletes’ bans.

“We have heard stories, athletes coming and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I was asked for money,'” Mwangi said. “But can you really substantiate that?”

Sakari, a 400m runner, and Manunga, a hurdler, told AP they would be willing to testify to the ethics commission of the IAAF, the global governing body of athletics.

The commission already is investigating allegations that AK officials sought to subvert anti-doping in Kenya, solicited bribes and offered athletes reduced bans. The probe has led to the suspensions of AK’s president, Isaiah Kiplagat, a vice president, David Okeyo, and AK’s former treasurer, Joseph Kinyua.

Sharad Rao, a former director of prosecutions in Kenya who also has adjudicated cases for the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is leading the ethics investigation for the International Association of Athletics Federations. Sakari and Manunga’s decision to come forward could be a breakthrough, because Kenyan athletes have been unwilling to act as whistleblowers.

“There is obviously the reluctance on the part of the athletes to come forward,” Rao said. “They don’t want to stand out.”

As many as a half-dozen banned athletes have privately indicated to the IAAF commission that AK officials sought to extort them and that they feel their sanctions might have been less if they had paid bribes, Rao said.

AP’s interview with Sakari and Manunga is the first time Kenyan athletes have detailed such allegations publicly.

“That information would, of course, be very, very significant, very important for us,” Rao said.

Rao said he has been talking to at least one other athlete who may have been approached for a bribe, and that his first priority was to get responses from Kiplagat, Okeyo and Kinyua — all three of whom have flatly denied to him that they took or solicited bribes.

Sakari and Manunga, both police officers in Kenya, said Mwangi asked them for 2.5 million Kenyan shillings — or $24,000 — each.

“I told him I’ve never seen that much money in my life,” Manunga told AP. “Even if I sold everything, I wouldn’t be able to get together that amount of money.”

The athletes tested positive in August for furosemide, a diuretic banned because it can mask the use of forbidden performance-enhancers, and were sent home from the worlds in Beijing. They told AP the drug was sold to them by a chemist in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, who said it would alleviate side effects of supplements they were taking. The chemist testified in defense of the athletes to AK, saying he gave them furosemide to combat water-retention caused by the supplement.

Compared to doping cases involving other athletes, their four-year bans appear harsh. World Anti-Doping Agency rules classify furosemide as a so-called “specified substance,” distinguishing it from hardcore performance-enhancers like steroids or the blood-boosting hormone EPO.

For specified substances, IAAF rules allow for lesser bans of no more than two years, or even just a reprimand and no ban, if athletes can prove they weren’t at fault or negligent.

To impose a four-year ban, the rules require authorities to establish that athletes intentionally cheated. But AK appears to have discounted the chemist’s testimony. In the letter it sent to Manunga announcing her ban, AK said there was no “plausible explanation” for using furosemide and that the federation “can only infer” she took it intentionally as a masking agent.

Last year, Serbia’s athletics federation imposed a two-year ban on 800m runner Nemanja Kojic for the same substance. He can return to competition in 2017; Sakari and Manunga were banned until 2019.

They said they visited Mwangi’s first-floor office together, seeking news of their case. During that meeting, they said, he asked for the bribe, dangling the possibility of shaving time off their bans.

Both athletes say they are sure of the date of that meeting — Oct. 16 — because, they say, they went to the KCB bank together later that day to open accounts and deposit 600,000 Kenya shillings ($5,785) paid to each of them for being on Kenya’s team in the Bahamas.

“He was waiting for us to give him money, so that this ‘thing’ disappears,” Manunga said. “We left, kept quiet and later that’s when our names came out and we were told that we’ve been banned because we did not deliver that money.”

“He asked us if we could give him something. That’s what he said,” said Sakari. “He asked for money.”

Mwangi denied that he met privately with the athletes.

“Why we avoid those kinds of things is because we know athletes are fond of making any kind of claim,” he told AP.

“It is not possible to give anyone money to meddle with your case,” he added. “I will contact the athletes officially and I will ask the athletes to come, the two of them, and like I said they are police officers, so we will have to involve the police force.”

Soliciting a bribe is a crime in Kenya.

The athletes have told their story privately to the Professional Athletics Association of Kenya, an advocacy group of Kenyan runners. The association’s secretary, Julius Ndegwa, said Sakari and Manunga came to see him and a lawyer in January.

The athletes spoke to AP in an on-camera interview in Embu, a ramshackle town 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of Nairobi where they were housed in police accommodation.

Sakari also raced at the 2012 London Olympics and 2009 Worlds. In Beijing, she competed under the name Zakary, but Sakari is her preferred spelling. She indicated that she is now done with athletics, because she will be 33 when her ban expires.

Manunga, 23, said she would have paid to return sooner to competition.

“For me, those four years are too many,” she said. “If I had the money, I’d have paid. But I didn’t have it. So I just left.”

MORE: Kenya marathon runner-up arrested for cheating in race

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too. The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Mikaela Shiffrin ties world Alpine skiing championships medals record

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Mikaela Shiffrin took silver behind Italian Marta Bassino in the super-G for her 12th world Alpine skiing championships medal, tying the modern individual record.

Bassino edged Shiffrin by 11 hundredths of a second in Meribel, France, for her second world title after sharing parallel gold in 2021.

“That was the best run I can do on this track,” Shiffrin told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “I had one turn … coming off the [final] pitch where I almost lost it all.

“I’m so happy with my run.”

Austrian Cornelia Huetter and Norwegian Kajsa Vickhoff Lie tied for bronze, 33 hundredths back in a discipline where five different women won this season’s five World Cup races.

Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami, the reigning Olympic and world champ, led at the last intermediate split but lost 44 hundredths to Bassino in the final 18 seconds of the course and ended up sixth.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

With her 12th world medal, the 27-year-old Shiffrin tied Kjetil Andre Aamodt, a Norwegian star of the 1990s and 2000s, for the most in individual events since World War II. Aamodt earned his 12th and final medal in his 27th world championships race. Shiffrin matched him in her 15th worlds start.

Swede Anja Pärson holds the overall record of 13 modern medals. She won two in the team event.

Shiffrin has six gold medals, one shy of that modern record.

Shiffrin, the greatest slalom skier in history, is selective when it comes to the speed events of downhill and super-G. She has never raced the downhill at worlds and will not enter Saturday’s race.

In the super-G, she now has a world championships medal of every color and is one of two skiers in history to make the super-G podium at three consecutive worlds. The other is Austrian legend Hermann Maier.

“I’m emotional because I don’t really feel like I should be winning a medal in super-G right now,” said Shiffrin, who had a win and a seventh place in two World Cup super-G starts this season and was sixth in the super-G run of Monday’s combined. “There are so many women who are strong and fast.”

Shiffrin rebounded from Monday’s first race of worlds, where she was in line for combined gold before losing her balance with five gates left and straddling the third-to-last gate in her slalom run. That snapped her streak of a medal in 10 consecutive world championships races dating to 2015.

After Wednesday’s race, Shiffrin called the past 48 hours “stressful.” She shed tears in the live ORF interview soon after her run, then later clarified that she misunderstood what the interviewer said in German.

“The last two or four weeks, well, really the last year, but especially in the last few weeks, I must have answered 100 questions about this world championships and basically if I’m worried that it’s going to be the same as what the Olympics was last year, if I’m worried about the disappointment, if I’m afraid of it,” Shiffrin, whose best individual Olympic finish last year was ninth, with three DNFs, said in a later press conference when asked about the ORF interview. “I was like, ‘I survived the Olympics, so I’m not afraid that it’s going to kill me if I don’t win a medal this world championships.’ That’s what I’ve been saying, but for sure, you get asked the same thing again and again. It’s so hard to keep the balance in your mind to answer this question and still be positive and still think I can do this. I can ski my best. I can make it to the finish. And then after the combined, I was like, you have got to be kidding me. My DNF rate now in my entire career, over 50 percent of it is at Olympics or world championships. Like, c’mon. It’s almost funny. And it’s only funny because I was able to win a medal today. The pressure’s not off, but there’s for sure a little bit of relief.”

Worlds continue with the men’s super-G on Thursday. Shiffrin’s next race is expected to be the giant slalom on Feb. 16.

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