Kenyan athletics in “intensive care” in the face of repeated doping cases

Kenyan athletics in “intensive care” in the face of repeated doping cases

Kenyan athletics is in “intensive care”, warns an official of the Kenyan Athletics Federation, with no less than 25 athletes sanctioned for doping in 2022, a record that further tarnishes the reputation of a flagship nation of discipline.

“At the moment, we are in the intensive care unit,” one of the Federation’s leaders, Barnabas Korir, told AFP.

“At this rate, Kenya may not get through the year, he warns. There are several bad signs that point to a banishment from Kenya and its athletes will no longer be able to participate in international competitions.”

As marathon star Eliud Kipchoge admits, speaking of a national “shame”, Kenya has a big problem.

According to the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), in 2022 alone, 25 Kenyan athletes were suspended for doping and 19 cases are under investigation.

The problem, however, is not new: Kenya, renowned for its long-distance and middle-distance runners, has been classified since 2016 as category A on the watch list of world athletics and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). .

Most of the athletes suspended or banned this year for doping are road runners or marathon runners. Among those who fell is Diana Kipyokei, winner of the 2021 Boston Marathon, and trail runner Mark Kangogo, winner of the famous Sierre-Zinal trail in August.

– “Aggressive education” –

The substances incriminated are norandrosterone and triamcinolone acetonide. Long used for doping use in cycling, the latter is used to lose weight, gain muscle and endurance.

As many as ten Kenyan athletes tested positive for triamcinolone acetonide in 2021-22, the IAU found last month. This product was still authorized in certain forms last year before being banned in January.

According to Sarah Shibutse, head of the Kenyan Anti-Doping Agency (Adak), the increase in cases is linked to the forced break in competitions during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted the incomes of athletes often from from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“When the races resumed, the competition was fierce, she told AFP. This prompted many of them to say to themselves + I had better dope myself to participate and win these competitions”.

Ms Shibutse also points to the role of agents, coaches and managers who put pressure on athletes to recoup their lost earnings from the Covid period.

But she says she remains optimistic about the increase in the number of doping controls, scientific monitoring of athletes and awareness programs.

“We want to deal with doping through aggressive education, like we did in the anti-HIV campaign,” she adds. “We go to churches, talk to elected officials to enlighten Kenyans on the dangers of doping.”

– “Run clean” –

Last month, the Kenya FA unveiled a series of measures, including stricter registration rules at training camps for agents, coaching staff and medical officers.

Barnabas Korir is sorry to see that older athletes, already aware of the issue, “are those pinned for using these prohibited substances and showing a bad example to young people”, for whom the federation has organized workshops.

Kenya has only one WADA-certified blood lab and sends its urine tests to Qatar and South Africa.

According to Adak’s head of legal services, Bildad Rogoncho, the Kenyan anti-doping agency conducts 1,500 urine tests a year, but could double this number and have a new certified laboratory if the government gives more money.

The new sports minister, Ababu Namwamba, has promised to clean up.

There is urgency, warns Eliud Kipchoge: “Doping is a threat that kills the credibility of Kenyan athletes and the country. I encourage every Kenyan athlete to run clean and leave (that) as a legacy”, says the double Olympic champion and marathon world record holder.

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