Move fast to restore integrity of our Sh14.5tn athletics industry

Saturday March 5 2016

Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot and Kenya's Elijah Motonei Manangoi congratulate Kenya's Asbel Kiprop after he won the final of the men's 1500 metres athletics event at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing on August 30, 2015. Kenya should never have had to face the threat of suspension from international competitions, but it will happen in May unless the authorities move fast to take measures acceptable to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). PHOTO | OLIVIER MORIN |

Kenya's Timothy Cheruiyot and Kenya's Elijah Motonei Manangoi congratulate Kenya's Asbel Kiprop after he won the final of the men's 1500 metres athletics event at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing on August 30, 2015. Kenya should never have had to face the threat of suspension from international competitions, but it will happen in May unless the authorities move fast to take measures acceptable to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). PHOTO | OLIVIER MORIN | AFP

By MAGESHA NGWIRI
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The other day, one of the country’s sporting heroes, David Rudisha, lifted my spirit when he blamed “foolish” young athletes for ruining Kenya’s enviable reputation by seeking to make too much money too fast through the use of energy-boosting drugs. He could not have uttered a truer word.

Decades ago, Kenyans were winning major races in the middle and long distances, including the marathon and the country’s specialty, the 3000-metre steeplechase.

There was never any doubt that they were doing so on their own steam and even with the stiff challenge from our neighbour to the north, we ruled the world in those races.

But in 1993, five-time cross-country world champion John Ngugi refused to take an out-of-competition drug test.

He never went back to his winning ways. In fact, he was broken and his career terminated.

Although it was never established whether Ngugi actually had been doping, the suspicion alone was enough to taint the performance of the rest of our athletes, and the situation has never been the same.

BANNED KENYAN ATHLETES

To date, at least 40 Kenyan athletes have been banned from international competitions for failing the dope test, and the country is in great danger of being suspended from the Rio Olympics this August.

It could very well happen; Russia has been suspended, and it is a lot bigger than Kenya in every way.

The use of performance enhancing drugs, Rudisha believes, has become rampant, but so far the government does not seem to have the capacity to check on the thousands of athletes who train practically daily in the hope of emulating their fellow athletes who have already made it in the medals haul, as well as the millions on offer in prize money.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with making a fortune using your God-given talent, but trying to do so through skulduggery is not only unfair to other athletes, but definitely unpatriotic.

Indeed, there does seem to be reluctance by the authorities to admit that the use of such drugs has become rampant and a big menace for this country.

Kenya should never have had to face the threat of suspension from international competitions, but it will happen in May unless the authorities move fast to take measures acceptable to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

However, even the process of enacting legislation that would help mollify the world athletics body seems to be bogged down in the morass of ineptitude and buck-passing.

TRADE ACCUSATIONS

It sounds strange when the Cabinet Secretary in charge of sport trades accusations with the body mandated to run athletics over who is to blame for this state of affairs.

To the layman, the buck stops squarely with Minister Hassan Wario and not Athletics Kenya, but then trying to evade accountability seems to have become a national pastime.

David Rudisha is not the first person to sound an alarm over the doping issue.

On February 18, marathoner Wilson Kipsang’ and other top athletes staged a protest in Eldoret demanding that the authorities take immediate action to avert the threat to the Rio Olympics.

Even bodies like Transparency International (Kenya) which is not remotely connected with athletics have blown the whistle saying that although sport generates Sh14.5 trillion every year, those who run it are so deeply mired in graft that its demise as a source of national glory is almost guaranteed.

Long gone are the days when Kenyans were inordinately proud of their athletes, who by the way, did not earn even a fraction of the money earned by modern runners.

DISAPPOINTMENT

The younger generation may only read about our athletics greats in history books – people like Kipchoge Keino, Amos Biwott, Ben Jipcho, Henry Rono, Paul Ereng, Paul Tergat, Tegla Loroupe, Douglas Wakiihuri, Robert Ouko, Julius Sang, as well as the latter-day crop of athletes who have made Kenya proud through their exploits.

They include Rudisha himself, Ezekiel Kemboi, Vivian Cheruiyot and Catherine Ndereba.

It would be greatly disappointing if the rest of the world believed that all these heroes made it because they used stimulants, anaerobic steroids and suchlike drugs to win races.

That would be a gross insult, but unless we clean up our act pretty fast, that is what they will think.

Then we can loudly lament that never before have so few tainted the glorious achievements of so many.

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