Never before have Kenya’s fabulously successful runners gone to the Olympics in such a negative light.
Kenya has a doping problem, no doubt, but seemingly not on the same scale as Russia. There’s no indication that the East African country has a state-sponsored conspiracy to hide cheating.
While Russia’s anti-doping program appears corrupt – leading to a ban for its track and field team and a narrowly-avoided blanket ban for all Russian competitors from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics – Kenya’s drug-testing program is best described as inept.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious issues and allegations in Kenya. The country’s track team goes to Rio – there was a moment when it also might have been thrown out – with its reputation at stake.
The Kenyan doping mess explained:
THE PROBLEMS: – At least 40 Kenyan track and field athletes have failed doping tests and been banned since the 2012 Olympics in London.
Four senior officials at the Kenyan track federation, including the top two, have been suspended by the IAAF – track and field’s international governing body – after being accused of trying to corrupt the anti-doping process.
It’s almost three months since Kenya’s entire drug-testing program was declared non-compliant and suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency because of problems with how it’s run.
Seven men – five Kenyans, an Italian coach and an Italian agent – are facing criminal charges in two separate cases in Kenya related to allegations of supplying and administering banned substances to runners.
THE CONTEXT: – Although 40 doping cases in four years is a significant number, the vast majority so far have been lower-level runners who haven’t won major titles. There are a couple of exceptions: Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo and two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet are among those banned.
Kenyan authorities promised extensive testing of their Olympic athletes to show that the stars – such as 800-meter world-record holder David Rudisha – are clean. In the last few weeks, the sports minister said, around 400 tests were conducted on Kenya’s full Olympic team of just over 100 athletes.
The Kenyan track federation president, vice president, the former track team manager and federation chief executive are all being investigated by the IAAF over allegations they sought to hide positive doping tests or arrange lenient bans while seeking bribes from the athletes involved. Unlike Russia, the anti-doping agency and government departments haven’t also been implicated.
While Kenya’s anti-doping program is currently declared non-compliant by WADA, so is Spain’s. Non-compliance doesn’t immediately mean a country should be banned from competition. It does mean that the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya wasn’t able to do tests in the run-up to the Olympics, leaving it to one of WADA’s regional bodies to do so.
The court cases involving Kenyan men accused of supplying banned substances to athletes appear to be getting to the heart of Kenya’s problem. Allegations were made as far back as 2012 that people were selling banned substances to athletes in remote training bases. Kenyan police and anti-doping authorities have clearly been slow in shutting that drug supply line down.
WHAT SPORTS AUTHORITIES HAVE DONE: – WADA described Kenya’s anti-doping regulations as “a complete mess” when it declared the country non-compliant in May, but WADA doesn’t have the power to ban Kenya’s track and field team from international competitions.
That falls to the IAAF and, in the case of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee. The IAAF stopped short of throwing out Kenya, but placed the country on a doping “monitoring list” until the end of the year. If there aren’t significant improvements, the IAAF could decide on sterner punishment.
In June, the IOC told international sports federations to test individual athletes in Kenya to make sure they are clean before Rio.
REPUTATION AT STAKE: – Kenya’s sporting pride revolves around its world-beating distance runners. If just one of Kenya’s athletes fails a drug test at the Rio Olympics, then all of them – maybe unfairly – are going to be under suspicion. It’ll also probably revive the question of why Kenya’s track team was given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to go to the Olympics.
Kenya’s javelin world champion Julius Yego said the scrutiny is going to be severe: “Everybody will be looking at the Kenyans and all sorts of bad things will be mentioned about Kenya.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta repeatedly warned the athletes against doping when he addressed the Olympic team last week.
“Show them we can win clean. Even if we don’t win, show them we can play clean,” Kenyatta said.