Kenyan athletes falls under the WADA microscope

Increase in suspensions for Kenyan athletes using banned drugs.

By Rachael Bell

17 Kenyan athletes have been suspended for using performance enhancers since January 2012. This is a significant increase from only 2  between 2010 and 2012.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has said that it is ‘very frustrated’ with the Kenyan authorities. They are accused of failing to carry out a full inquiry of the alarming surge in athletes taking banned drugs. The issue will be brought up at the WADA world conference next month, which will be held in Johannesburg. The conference will focus on doping in sports. WADA have authority to rule if they are non-compliant with its code, but the organisation has no power to directly sanction the athletes. The International Olympic Committee are responsible for deciding if athletes are allowed to compete in future Olympic events.

Kenya’s government and national track Olympic organisations assured WADA’s president in October 2012 that they would appoint a task force to look into allegations of an emerging doping culture. WADA are still waiting for this action to be taken. The director of WADA’s African office, Rodney Swigelaar, has not been happy with the response, “We are very frustrated. It’s more than a year now since we went there and even longer since the rumours started.”  He also commented, “We have been extremely patient. Wherever these things happen, it’s our role to go in there and ask what is wrong and why people are not complying with the code.”

This week, the Head of Kenyan Athletics, Isaiah Kiplagat, stated “I can assure everyone that the government commission will start its work soon. We are hoping to start work before the WADA conference.” He added,  “Compared to other countries we do not have a serious problem.” Despite these remarks, WADA could decide to set up an independant audit of Kenya.

Increase in suspensions has lead to rumours of a widespread doping culture in Kenya. Last October a German TV investigation claimed that doctors in Kenya were suppling athletes with  banned drugs in return for a percentage of their winnings. Similar allegations were also made prior to the London 2012 Olympics. Moses Kiptanui, one of Kenyan’s greatest distance runners, spoke out in February to say he believed that the country had a major problem. Kiplagat gave a one week ultimatum for all foreign athletic coaches working in Kenya without permits to leave. He accuses them of being responsible for the latest drug use rumours.

The nearest WADA accredited blood testing laboratory is in South Africa. This has been a problem for Kenya. It makes collecting, transporting and analysing samples very difficult. The International Association of Athletics Federation carried out 725 tests on Kenyan athletes – 307 in competition and 418 out of competition. These numbers represent the increase in the scrutiny of  the countries top runners.