Initiate long term funding for anti-doping research in Kenya

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When presiding over a ceremony that was the official opening of an anti-doping workshop for over 100 fourth-year students undertaking sports related courses at Kenyatta University in February, the Vice Chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina observed that the solution to cases of doping among Kenyan athletes lies in education and acquisition of the necessary knowledge by our sportsmen and women to embrace the concept of clean sport.

The don further went on to reveal that the university has so far graduated two doctorate students whose theses were on doping issues in Kenya and challenged the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) to embrace recommendations from the studies in their campaigns.

Doping is a contemporary phenomenon in Kenya, and it is only after the creation of ADAK that attention to the use of performance enhancing substances among athletes was thrown into sharp focus. A lot of back and forth between the Kenyan Government and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), international pressure and a real threat of the country being barred from participating in the infamous Rio Olympics in 2016 are some of the main factors that saw operationalisation of a national anti-doping program in Kenya.

Before then, the field was generally an area that hadn’t received a lot of attention, especially from social and medical science researchers in the country.

Though a few academicians, lawyers, physicians and sports administrators had tried to scientifically probe the issues in the anti-doping world in Kenya, much of it did not catch the public’s attention.

However, times have changed and with the realisation that the fight for clean sport is a global agenda with a huge impact on a country’s sporting sector, a lot of activity especially research related has taken root. This has also been helped by the media’s continuous highlighting of issues revolving around promotion of clean sport and protection of the clean athlete.

ADAK recently conducted a scientific investigation on the use of food supplements and traditional herbs as performance enhancing substances among Kenya track and field athletes. The findings were fascinating, just as were some of the discoveries from a laboratory test conducted on a popular herbal plant used for medicinal purposes in some parts of the country.

What similarly caught my attention, though, is the intricate and expensive laboratory procedures employed in the extraction of minerals from the herbs and the meticulous experiments carried out to study them.

In the Kenyatta University event, the institution launched a partnership with ADAK for annual sensitisation of all fourth-year students undertaking sports related disciplines. As pointed out by the Vice Chancellor, a lot of collaborative research areas between the two organizations are being pursued.

This points to a realization of the value of research as supportive discourse in the fight against doping in Kenya. It is a clear indication that there is need to interrogate all the factors that contribute to doping, as well as those which can be addressed to ensure that the country continues to glow at the international sporting arena without the threat of being declared a doping country.

Research the world over is capital intensive and especially if the issues being investigated are scientific in nature. While academic research is critical to the establishment of foundation blocks for knowledge and development of theory, experimental research is crucial to revealing complex issues associated with doping in sport.

It is for this reason that the country finances ADAK’s program which includes a doping control process that entails transportation of blood and urine samples to WADA accredited laboratories in Qatar and South Africa for analysis. As things stand, the country has a WADA Approved laboratory; LANCET, which only deals with blood samples for the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) anti-doping program.

This shows that there is an urgent need to prioritise funding for anti-doping research in Kenya. The government through the newly established Sports Fund, should show willingness and commitment to slay the doping menace in the country by dedicating some of the funds to financing scientific and academic research in anti-doping.

ADAK has continued to challenge universities in Kenya, especially those offering sports related courses, to introduce anti-doping as an examinable unit. The area is currently taught as a topic in some of the sports courses offered in universities.
As delegates from across the globe trooped to the Africa Sports Management Association (ASMA) International Sports Conference held at the Mount Kenya University (MKU) last week, focus was on their recommendations on funding in anti-doping research.

And as the new Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and Heritage settles into office, she should realise the value of a long-term anti-doping research financing model that will not only be sustainable but beneficial to the fight against drug cheats in Kenyan sport.

(Mwangi is the Head of Corporate Communications, Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya – ADAK)

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