NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 21 – Beijing 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Wilfred Bungei has warned that Kenya might fall in the same trap as Russia if the Government does not move with speed to formulate and see legislation passed that will criminalize doping.
Over the past year, Kenyan athletics has been rocked by several cases of anti-doping related sanctions with former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang handed a four-year ban.
“Unless we criminalize doping, this thing will continue and it will tarnish our name. If we are not careful, we will be banned like Russia,” Bungei said in an interview with Capital Sports.
He adds; “If I know that if I dope I will go to jail, then I will not. But if I know that I will just be banned for two years, so what? I will just continue training and because I am not being followed, I will dope properly and train like crazy. When you come back you just need three weeks of not using it and it is not in your system.”
Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has been on record several times saying she will push for the criminalization of drug cheating with the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) already working on proposed legislation that will be presented before Parliament.
“We are amending the Act because we have to bring it in line with the new international terms,” Amina said in a previous interview.
Bungei who captained Kenya at the 2008 Olympics believes this will be the only way to curb the vice that nearly saw Kenya stopped from competing at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and it had to take a series of shuttle diplomacy led by CS Amina, then at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Kenya to escape a possible suspension.
“We are always afraid to bite the bullet and that’s why people have not been talking about criminalization. They say oh, you can never wear the Kenyan uniform again if you are found doping…. Some people don’t care about the uniform. They only care about making money forgetting that if you are caught, its is the name of Kenya being tarnished,”
“The only solution is to criminalize doping. This is like stealing because you steal someone else’s victory. We always jail thieves so why not jail those who are caught doping?” poses Bungei.
He gives an example of China where he says the vice was stemmed once they criminalized the vice.
Bungei spoke to Capital Sports on a wide range of issues, including his opinion on why Kenya is losing its grip on the traditional events such as the 800m and the steeplechase.
He says the major reason as to why Kenyan athletes are no longer shining as much in the international stage in world championships and Olympic events is because of the needs driven by the market.
“Agents play a very big role. Most of them come to the country looking for Marathoners. If you look at the other track races there are very few in a year and no athlete wants ot be running on the track only. Most would want to combine with road races,”
“The athletes are being pushed by circumstances. There are very few races and you have to combine to get the money. There’s not s much money now in athletics and when you combine, you ca get something. It is very difficult to specialize. The market has killed specialization,” he explains.
However, with more events being rolled out by World Athletics including the Continental Gold Tour which will have a stop in Kenya for the first time ever, Bungei believes the market will open up to more money-making opportunities.
At the same time, looking back at his career, Bungei says he does not have any regrets at retiring early, and says he was satisfied with what he gave the country, revealing that he was pushed by circumstances to add two more years to his career.
“I don’t regret even a minute. Since retiring 10 years ago, I have never looked to go back and you hardly find me in a training shoe. I feel I did my part and when I won the Olympics, I decided that it was over for me,”
“But, when I announced I was retiring after the Beijing Olympics, my agent was very mad at me because he had secured a very good contract with Adidas. I ran in 2009 and 2010 but there was no more motivation for me. I had won the Olympic gold which was my dream and I felt I had done my part,”
“I am one athlete who was never motivated by money and I thought what I had made up to 2008 was enough for me,” explains Bungei.
He has also picked captaining the Kenyan team to Beijing as the highest moment of his career, especially with the country coming off the effects of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
“We had come from the post-election violence and the only thing that brought the country together was the Olympics. The success of that team was so unique. Every Kenyan celebrated a win not because Wanjiru (the late Samuel) was a Kikuyu or Bungei was a Kalenjin. That is why it touches me every time I look back,” He says.
The performance of the 2016 team has since eclipsed the 2008 haul, but Bungei still believes that the 2008 team was the best Kenya has ever had at the games.