Kenya’s elite athletes and officials on Sunday reacted angrily to two European media organisations’ allegations of widespread use of banned substances at a famous training centre in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet County.
German television channel ARD and The Sunday Times of London claimed on Saturday night that Kenyan doctors administer banned drugs — including blood-booster EPO (Erythropoietin) — to Kenya and foreign athletes in Eldoret and Iten to enhance their performance.
A team of undercover journalists in the joint ARD-Times exposé reported finding used syringes and empty EPO packs in rooms and dustbins at the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) in Iten, which is frequented by top foreign athletes, including World and Olympic champions.
Dutchman Pieter Langerhorst, who co-owns the HATC with his Kenyan-born Dutch wife and multiple world distance running champion and record holder Lornah Kiplagat, refuted claims that his camp had accommodated drug cheats. The report, shot largely using hidden cameras, also implicates three unnamed British athletes.
“If they have proof, why don’t they publish names?” Mr Langerhorst told the Nation on Sunday from Amsterdam, where he is attending the European Athletics Championships. “Kenyan athletes don’t stay at the HATC; so what has Kenyan athletics to do with it?”
The latest exposé comes hot on the heels of the arrest in Kenya of two Italian athletics managers and a coach on suspicion of abetting doping of Kenyan runners.
Mr Federico Rosa, a senior manager at Italy’s Rosa Associati, which manages many of Kenya’s top, Olympics-bound athletes, and Mr Claudio Berardelli, a coach at a German athlete management company, were charged in a Nairobi court last week and released on bond. They are expected to reappear in court this week.
Rosa Associati founder Gabrielle Rosa, who is Mr Federico Rosa’s father, was questioned by detectives and released. The Italian pair was detained for five days as the Anti-Narcotics Unit at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) sought more time to conclude investigations.
The ARD-Times report stunned many Kenyan elite athletes and officials, with World 1,500 metres champion Asbel Kiprop calling for the arrest of the doctors and pharmacists said to be administering the illegal substances.
Artificially produced EPO controls the production of red blood cells in the body to enhance endurance and is popular among long-distance runners and cyclists. It is among performance-enhancing substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).
“It’s like in 2012, when they tried to bring down Kenya right before the Olympics,” said Mr Langerhorst. “ARD never asked me for a reaction, which says enough. It looks like they want to destroy Kenyan and British athletes.”
He added that he had told The Sunday Times that “we do everything possible to keep the HATC clean and we promote clean sports more than anyone else”.
He said: “There are too many athletes staying at the camp at the same time, and if anyone notices that someone will cheat, they bring it out; so no one would take the risk,” said Mr Langerhost.
Wondering if should an athlete dope at the camp they would be “stupid enough to throw their needles in a bin at the place where they stay”, he added that the HATC has 16 cameras and a professional security team “and they even check the bins on a daily basis”.
Mr Kiprop, who travels to Europe this week for an attempt at the World 1,500m record in the Monaco Diamond League meeting, said the doctors and pharmacists exposed in the report should be apprehended.
“From this documentary, I guess what we have always been saying — that local physicians are, indeed, behind the doping problems we are facing — is true,” Mr Kiprop, a former Olympic champion, posted on his official Facebook page.
Mr Stephen Soi, the head of Kenya’s delegation to the August 4-21 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said the government should prosecute offenders.
He noted that there has been goodwill from the government in the war against doping and that Sh12 million had been released to the National Olympics Committee to test all Kenyan sportsmen and women who have qualified for the Rio Games, where the country will feature in athletics, rugby, boxing, judo, archery and weightlifting.
“Based on what was aired, it is only fair that the government takes responsibility in the areas it is responsible for and investigates if crimes have been committed,” said Mr Soi.
“We will test all the athletes — not because they are culpable, but to show the world that Kenyans are not condoning doping and that Kenyan athletes are clean.”