NAIROBI, November 10 – Kenyan athletics officials and media warned Tuesday a “generation of athletes” risk exclusion if doping is not stopped, amid fears the east African country faces similar threats as those facing Russia.
A damning report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on Monday outlined evidence of systematic cheating with the consent of the government in Moscow, noting that drug tests for athletes were conducted at a Russian lab that totally lacked credibility.
Many in Kenya fear doping is rife among their top class athletes too — runners who have been the source of enormous national pride.
“A generation of athletes in all disciplines could be lost to the ban,” The Star newspaper warned in its editorial Tuesday, adding Kenya had “fallen short” in efforts to stem doping.
The Daily Nation newspaper called on athletes, managers and the government to “study the report”, which called for athletics’ governing body IAAF to suspend Russia’s athletics body.
The newspaper said officials must use it as a “learning experience” to put in place action to “detect, deter, and punish doping” in sport.
Kenyan athletics legend Kip Keino recently warned that WADA may consider “recommending Kenya be banned from all competitions for four years, including the 2016 Rio Olympics,” media reports said.
Keino, who also heads the national Olympic committee and met WADA officials on a recent visit to the United States, told reporters in Nairobi WADA feels Kenya had failed to act on allegations of widespread doping in the country.
“They think Kenya is sweeping doping issues under the carpet,” said Keino, the 1968 Olympic 1500 metres gold medal winner.
– Kenya’s ‘brand ambassadors’-
Over 30 Kenyan athletes have been suspended and five more banned since 2012 after testing positive for banned performance enhancing drugs.
“Athletics officials have kicked the can of anti-doping down the road once too often, failing to deal with the issue,” The Star added, saying efforts to set up a Chinese-backed anti-doping centre had been rejected.
“It is time for the country to meet its obligations, and be seen to do so,” it added.
But while newspapers were vocal, Athletics Kenya (AK) declined to comment on the issue, saying that only the IAAF could talk.
“If Kenya had been mentioned in the report, we would have had a right to react,” AK president Jackson Tuwei told AFP.
Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto in September announced plans to criminalise doping, after two of the east African nation’s athletes were banned after positive tests during the Beijing world athletics championships.
The Kenyan team topped the medals table for the first time since the championships started in 1983, taking seven golds, six silvers and three bronze medals.
But the runaway success was punctured by hard questions after two of their athletes — Koki Manunga and Joyce Zakary — became the tournament’s first to fail drugs tests.
Kenya was rocked this year when marathon star Rita Jeptoo was banned for two years after being caught doping with the banned blood-boosting hormone EPO, the same drug that was part of the cocktail used by disgraced Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong.
“Kenyan athletes are also the country’s brand ambassadors… which means that they are always in the limelight,” the Nation added. “Therefore, they and their managers have a responsibility to protect the integrity of their performance and how the country is perceived.”