Athletics Athletics

Kenyan public supports AK graft probe- Rao

AK boss, Isaiah Kiplagat, who failed in his bid to win one of the four IAAF Vice-President posts. PHOTO/File
Suspended AK boss, Isaiah Kiplagat. PHOTO/File

NAIROBI, December 13- The lawyer probing alleged corruption and covering up of doping offences in Kenya’s national athletics federation has received “many” offers of people wanting to provide evidence, he told AFP on Wednesday.

Sharad Rao, formerly Kenya’s deputy prosecutor, was appointed by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) Ethics Commission on Monday, to investigate three top Athletics Kenya (AK) officials, suspended due to graft allegations.

After just one full day on the job, Rao said he was pleased by the level of public support – and offers of help to ensure the inquiry is effective.

Many in Kenya fear doping is rife among their top class runners, who have been the source of enormous national pride.

“There has been a tremendous amount of goodwill, and from among the many messages I have received from people who have actually welcomed the inquiry and said they were prepared to come forward with information,” he told AFP.

“So with that kind of cooperation, I think will make my job easier.”

Kiplagat, who led the national athletics federation for more than 20 years, was suspended along with his vice-president David Okeyo and former treasurer Joseph Kinyua over suspicions they had diverted sponsorship money from multinational sportswear giant Nike and subverted anti-doping controls, charges they all deny.

– ‘Herculean task’ -Their suspension was the latest hammer-blow to global track and field, with the IAAF ethics commission suspending them in the “interests of the integrity of the sport”.

Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper alleged last month that Okeyo, along with two other then-unnamed officials, had siphoned off $700,000 (650,000 euros) out of the federation’s bank account from a sponsorship deal between the national association and Nike.

“The allegations which have been made… are very serious and warranted the investigation,” Rao said.

Kenya, under scrutiny amid allegations of widespread doping in world athletics, this month announced the establishment of an anti-doping agency, with the aim of easing concerns over the east African country’s internal anti-doping policy.

Dozens of Kenyan athletes have been suspended or banned since 2012 after testing positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs, among them marathon star Rita Jeptoo.

Rao also called on whistleblowers to come forward from among the country’s athletes and officials to provide information.

“Cooperation is really necessary,” Rao said. “Cooperation and willingness — like the athletes themselves — to come forward to tell us honestly what they know and what has been happening, without being vindictive against any of the three officials.”

Kenyan newspapers welcomed the inquiry, although the Daily Nation newspaper warned Rao he faced a “Herculean task”, but that, “the public demands to know the culprits behind this menace.”

The Standard newspaper warned Wednesday that “national pride” was being tarnished.

– ‘Tainted reputation’ –

“Nothing has etched Kenya so deeply onto the world map like athletics,” The Standard’s editorial on Wednesday read, condemning, “the conduct of a few individuals out to line their pockets at the expense of the country’s reputation.”

Rao admitted he faced a hard task.

“The investigation is a very challenging one, I hope only I will be equal to the task,” Rao said.

But he said he also had the backing of the police and state prosecutor’s office, which are carrying out parallel criminal investigations into any possible wrong doing.

“We are determined to see that the investigation will be very objective, very fair and anything that surfaces will give them the fullest opportunity to defend themselves against those allegations,” he added.

“It is a serious inquiry and it involves three officials, at least two of them who have been there for a very long time.”

Rao said the outcome of the inquiry would save Kenya from further international embarrassment ahead of the Rio Olympics next year.

“Our reputation as a country, and of our athletes, has always been good until recently when these cases of doping resurfaced,” Rao said.

“We always thought our athletes are the cleanest in the world. This has tainted our reputation, and the sooner that we are able to control it — and put it to rest — it will be to our benefit.”