POSTED: April 12th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Kenya must act swiftly on drugs for its own good

Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, is supporting a new anti-doping bill © Getty Images
Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, is supporting a new anti-doping bill © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) When Kipchoge Keino broke into international athletics in the 1960s, there was a freshness and excitement about the presence of the Kenyan. As the Latin author Pliny wrote:"Out of Africa, always something new." And Keino did not disappoint, winning two Olympic gold medals, memorably defeating his great American rival Jim Ryun in the 1500 metres at the Mexico Games, as well as three Commonwealth titles and setting several world records.

Keino was the pioneer of Kenyan middle and long-distance running and admirers revelled in the fact that he was a product of a natural environment, with his first name meaning in Nandi language: "born near the grain storage shed". They loved the stories of how he trained in the bush and on dirt roads, rather than on artificial tracks and in gyms as so many of his European and American opponents did..

Some of his many Kenyan successors in top class athletics have besmirched his memory, which must be particularly galling to Keino, himself a member of the International Olympic Committee and chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee.

Since 2012, about 40 Kenyan athletes have been found positive for drugs, so tarnishing the reputation of a country, whose reputation for running is well-known. In sport, if Brazil is celebrated for its footballers, Japan for its judo fighters, then Kenya is renowned for the ability to produce Olympic medallists in middle and long-distance running.

Yet, the Kenyan authorities seem to have been dilatory in meeting the basic requirements demanded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). On two occasions the country has failed to comply with the Wada code, missing deadlines to impose a legal framework.  And three runners have actually competed in races abroad, while under suspension. These were Bernard Mwenda Muthoni,  Benjamin Kirpopp erem and Flomena Chepchirchiro, who at least has the excuse that she might not have known that she banned at the time.

Unless, Kenya does become code compliant, it could technically be barred from competing in the Rio Olympics. At the very least, it is delaying enacting the necessary legislation, thereby ensuring that the country is receiving considerable opprobrium.

The Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak) has insisted that the situation will be resolved, with Reuters quoting an unidentified source as saying:"We are proceeding to Mombasa to consult with the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Sports so that when the bill comes for a second reading...we will be on the same page. We have no doubt things will be fine." The new Wada deadline is May 2.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan President, said he would prioritise the new anti-doping bill, pointing out: "We know that there are people who are looking for excuses to ensure that Kenya does not participate in the Olympics. We will not give them that excuse." Under the proposed legislation, an athlete found guilty of taking a performing enhancing substance, faces a $1000 fine and/or a year jail sentence, while those either providing or smuggling the drugs could receive a $30,000 fine or a three year jail term.

Kenya will be providing prize money to successful athletes, including $10,000 to any gold medallist. But Kenyatta told a group of leading competitors: "We must win clean. As athletes you are not only putting Kenya on the map and giving us pride but you are also representing what is best about our country. This is something that we are very proud of."

Indeed. Therefore, one wonders why the Kenyan authorities have not acted with much greater urgency than they have done. Every day, every week and every month that passes have led to renewed questions about Kenya's determination to eradicate drug-taking. The country has only itself to blame for the criticism it is receiving.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  


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