Kenyan athletics mired in new doping scandal

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Kenya’s athletics reputation is once again taking a pummelling after the suspension this year of an unusually large number of long distance runners for suspected doping.

A top Athletics Kenya official even warned that the nation was at risk of an international ban, with 25 athletes hit with sanctions and 19 active cases pend-ing in 2022 alone despite renewed efforts to stamp out the scourge.

Top Kenyan sportsmen have spoken out against the use of performance-enhancing drugs, with mara-thon star Eliud Kipchoge branding it a national “embarrassment”.

The problem is not new — the athletics power-house has been in the top category of the World Anti-Doping Association’s (WADA) compliance watch list since February 2016.

“Right now we’re in the intensive care unit,” said Athletics Kenya official Barnabas Korir, warning the country was moving precariously close to joining Russia as a sporting pariah. “At this rate Kenya may not survive this year. The writing is on the wall: Kenya is facing a ban and its athletes will not be able to compete interna-tionally,” Korir told AFP.

Most of those suspended or banned for violating Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) anti-doping rules this year are involved in road and marathon running, where the huge prize money up for grabs has helped fuel the corrupt practice.

Among the top names are 2021 Boston marathon champion Diana Kipyokei and marathon and moun-tain racer Mark Kangogo. Two popular drugs of choice are Norandroster-one and triamcinolone acetonide — the latter is used for weight loss, muscle building and endurance and has long been part of doping in cycling.

The AIU said last month that 10 Kenyan athletes had tested positive in 2021-22 for triamcinolone acetonide, which was still allowed in some forms last year before being banned in January.

Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) head Sarah Shibutse attributed the surge in cases in part to the long Covid-enforced lull in competitions that left runners idle.

Shibutse noted that many Kenyan athletes come from poor backgrounds, and rely on their sport to earn livelihoods for themselves and their extended families.

And when races finally resumed after the lifting of pandemic restrictions, competition was stiff, Shi-butse said in an interview with AFP. “This gave quite a number of them the impetus that ‘I would rather dope so that I can participate in these competitions and win, than just say that I have trained enough and my talent will get me there’.” She also blamed agents, coaches and managers for pushing the athletes too hard to succeed and make up for their own lost earnings.—APP

 

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