Do they win because they run or because they dope?

By David Onjili

Article 2.1, through 2.8 of the World Anti-Doping Code has eight rule violations including possession of prohibited substances, trafficking of the substance, tampering or attempted tampering with any part of doping control, effusing or failing to submit without compelling justification sample collection after notification as authorized in the applicable doping controls, presence of a prohibited substance or its metabolites or markers in an athlete’s sample. 

It is hence evident that it is highly likely for an athlete and or country to fall victim of any of the eight categories into which doping is categorized. One way in which nations have tried to help their athletes is by ensuring that they are under professional managers who keenly monitor them. This is a huge challenge in a country like Kenya where many upcoming athletes have been sold to the false dream of athletics riches and seek quicksand success. Fear of biting poverty, plagued by injuries and the demand to win races or participate in lucrative athletics meets in Europe and America forces unscrupulous coaches, agents and athletes themselves to seek shortcuts to glory.

A 12-man anti-doping probe committee that was chaired by Professor Moni Wekesa concluded that doping was prevalent in Kenya. The committee laid blame squarely on Athletics Kenya (AK), whom they accused for failing to carry out anti-doping awareness for athletes at the grassroots. The committee also highlighted the failure of AK to keep an eye on, and effectively control, the influx of foreign agents in the country as a contributing factor.

There was an era when Kenyan athletes believed in their own prowess, hard work during training. A joke in the athletics circles was that they despised Vitamin C and Iron so much that they would quip, “Hiyo ni ya Wazungu” (That’s for the whites). Today focus has moved from faith in training to trust in drugs. 

“This, even as the amount of vigilance and the fact that Kenya is on the anti-doping watch list and faces the threat of bans from international athletic meets,” observed a seasoned local journalist who has covered athletics for almost two decades but sort anonymity on the issue.

Doping, he said, is a grey area in athletics, just that Kenya, Jamaica and Ethiopia are so much in the spotlight with regards to it. The capacity of a country like Kenya to fight this vice is very limited. We do not have a laboratory or resources to not only collect and store but also analyze the samples. Drugs like Erythropoietin (EPO) are easily accessible and can even be imported from countries like China.

What should raise eyebrows is the fact that in the late 90s and early 2000s, tier A athletes like David Rudisha, Lorna Kiplagat, Samuel Wanjiru were never victims or suspects of this vice but rather it was the tier B athletes who indulged in a view to catch up with the top athletes. The fact that the prize money for athletics has also been standardized is also another factor. Back then runners who finished even as low as position 30 would get decent monetary rewards. Currently only the very top finishers get money while the rest can only salivate after spending a tidy sum to prepare.

On April 14, 2018, the Anti- Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), Pharmacists and Poisons Board (PBB) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) conducted a raid in Eldoret town during which they made an arrest of a man alleged to have injected an athlete with a banned substance. While such isolated acts are commendable, there’s a general consensus that the efforts to fight off the vice are not seriously taken in the country. 

The story of doping in Kenya has been so negative that a host of athletes who used to throng high altitude training areas like Iten have opted for Ethiopia as their new training ground. What is interesting is the fact that Ethiopia too is slowly turning into another haven where banned substance like EPO is easily purchased and used by athletes.

Another journalist who has vastly covered Kenyan runners and also spoke on condition of anonymity had an interesting perspective on the doping matter in the country. She poked holes in the notion that coaches were involved. According to her, a great number of the athletes found guilty of doping were athletes who were under no manager. They handled themselves and most of them also came from Kapsabet town. Her point was that individual athletes were susceptible to this because they lacked professional guidance of coaches or managers.

Yet, this same assertion can be challenged when athletes from a particular agent are found guilty of the vice. Reliable sources say that some managers have learnt how to avoid being detected. Their athletes take the drugs on alternating days and stop at a particular time before the competition and this makes it difficult to detect the substance in their urine. The truth is that all these athletes have devised dubious ways to win the money and since competition has become stiff, many are involved, even the celebrated and famous runners.

Kenya being a third world country with limited resources may not be able to have a database of their athletes. Neither have those found guilty of doping faced adequate consequences to deter others. Jail terms and hefty fines would warn both athletes and sellers of the drugs. Sadly, the guilty easily find their way out of the mess.

EPO, the banned substance is credited with increasing the number of Red Blood Cells for an athlete. It acts like a substitute to high altitude training. Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) nicknamed the clear is a substance that was lab produced to beat detection during doping.

Famous sprinters Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers of the USA were guilty of using the two to enhance their performance. It is thus a general consensus that doping is not a new phenomenon in the athletics circles. Guilty athletes have always admitted and been given reduced sentences as long as they collaborate with IAAF to help identify and arrest the sellers of these substances.

So, was Asbel Kiprop guilty? Yes is the overwhelming verdict from those in the athletics circles that spoke to this writer. What Asbel would have done was plead guilty and help fight the vice but not lie to the public as most athletes lie then later come back to admit guilt. While Athletics Kenya may be blamed, they do not have the monetary capacity to fight the doping, it is all down to a collective effort from the Government, athletes and coaches to fight this vice that’s eating into our athletics pride as a nation. 

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