DANGER AHEAD: RAMPANT DOPING AND KENYANS COMPETING FOR OTHER COUNTRIES
KENYA SHINES FOR AFRICA AT THE OLYMPICS
Kenya is on top of the Track and Field World, again. With a total of 12 medals, 5 gold, 6 silvers and 1 bronze, Kenya leads Africa among elite sporting nations in the 2016 Olympics in Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil. And is only second to USA and Jamaica in Track and Field competition.
Let’s face it, for Kenyans the Olympics is about track and field contests. No offense to all Kenyan athletes in other sports such as Rugby and swimming or soccer, Kenya doesn’t win in those sports in the Olympics. I know Kenyans would like to win everywhere, especially with sports like soccer but Nigeria, Cameroon and other African soccer powerhouses are in the way. And Americans have a lock-down in swimming, so no hope there. That is why Kenya seems to have wisely decided to focus on what they do best — middle and long distance running. And it works.
In Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil 2016 Olympics, Kenya is represented in 7 sports– archery, boxing, judo, Rugby sevens for both men and women, swimming, weightlifting and track and field. Out of the total 80 athletes representing Kenya, 48 are competing in track and field events, with most in the middle and long distance events. Rugby sevens for men and women is the only team sports where Kenya is represented sending a total of 24 athletes. Kenya is also represented by 1 archer, 1 weightlifter, 1 judoka and 2 swimmers.
While Kenya is placed 16th overall in all sports medal standings, looking at track and field competition, the only sports Kenya participates in fully, the country is currently third, just behind the US, who has 31 medals, 13, 10, 8, in gold silver and bronze respectively and Jamaica, who has 11 medals, 6,3,2 in gold, silver and bronze respectively. Kenya, however, has a great chance to become the second best nation in the world in track and field if one of the three Kenyans in the marathon race wins tonight. Currently Kenya has 12 medals, one more than Jamaica, but Jamaica is ranked higher because the beloved Caribbean nation has 6 gold medals one more than Kenya who has 5,6,1 gold, silver and bronze medals respectively. South Africa with 4 medals, 2 gold and 2 silvers and Ethiopia with 7 medals, 1 gold, 1 silver and 7 bronze medals are the only other African countries in the top 10 track and field ranking, placing 5th and 8th respectively.
Despite Kenya’s success in track and field, the country is facing a massive exodus of athletes competing for other countries and has fallen to friendly fire in several events. The pain of watching Kenyan-born Bahrainis Ruth Jebet and Eunice Kirwa winning gold and silver medals for Bahrain, the first ever Olympic medals for the oil-rich gulf nation, is either a warning that all is not well in the Kenyan athletics circles or the competition is so tough forcing Kenyans who don’t find a spot in the home team squad to find a home elsewhere to earn a living. There is a troubling fact, however, Jebet, the newly-crowned Olympic gold medalist in the 3000-meters steeplechase race is only 19 and has at least 10 more years in her competitive life to frustrate Kenyans out of a win or medal in the an event once dominated by Kenyans. There is an obvious effort by countries such as Bahrain to poach Kenya athletes at their prime and the Kenyan athletics must take urgent steps to protect its talents. According to Reuters, Jebet said she left Kenya for Bahrain because there was no support for athletes like herself. She said Bahrain promised to pay everything for her.
GIVING KENYA A BAD NAME
Clearly all is not well within Kenyan athletics, the doping scandal involving more than 40 Kenyan athletes since 2011 calls for decisive action to end the practice of cheating from taking root in Kenya. While the cheating, unlike in Russia , as documented here by The Guardian, is not systemic, the slow reaction to comply with World Anti-Doping Agency request to put an end to the doping crisis is troubling. The rampant corruption in Kenya is not helping either, in Rio, two Kenyan officials were sent home after conducting themselves in unprofessional manner. In the first incident, Kenyan track team manager and retired Kenya Army Major, Michael Rotich was caught in a sting video claiming he could warn athletes 12-hours in advance before they are tested for doping in exchange of a $13,000 bribe. According to UK’s Independent newspaper, the video also recorded Rotich boasting to reporters posing as coaches that Kenya, a favorite training destination for world athletes, is a safe place for athletes to use banned performance-enhancing substances without fear or being caught. This is an alarming assertion coming from a Kenyan official and there is an urgent need to investigate and stamp out any such illegal practices that could undermine Kenya’s elite position as a track and field powerhouse. Sprint coach John Anzrah, was also sent home for a very weird reason. Anzrah was caught posing as 800-meter athlete Ferguson Rotich and some reports allege that he even gave a urine sample under the athletes name. This assertion is, however, disputed by International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams. According to Associated Press, Anzrah used Rotich’s credentials to gain access to the athlete dinning area so he can eat free breakfast at the Olympic village when anti-doping officials came looking for Rotich and since he was wearing his credentials they asked him to accompany them to doping control area. But upon checking his passport they found it was different from the accreditation and did not proceed with the testing. Reports that Anzrah, who clearly looks elderly according to a photo published by Kenya’s Citizen TV, could pass himself off as an Olympics athlete do not sound accurate as it undermines the credibility of the anti-doping officials by presenting them as too gullible to perform a job that requires them to detect cheats. IOC spokesman made it clear they were not fooled.
“It was clear he didn’t take a doping test by the athlete or for the athlete,” Adams said. Adams also said Ferguson Rotich was “properly tested.”
THERE IS HOPE
While all went well in the end and Rotich was not negatively impacted by the incident, Anzrah’s case points to particularly troubling trend that shows Kenya Athletics Federation as a team with loose ethics where rules are not taken seriously. There is an urgent need to professionalize the team to stem problems such as rampant doping and poor management.
The sad state of affairs within Kenyan Athletics Federation could explain why some athletes are seeking opportunities in other countries. According to Kenya’s Standard Newspaper, more than 30 Kenyans are competing for other countries in Rio Olympics. While Jebet has provided us a clue as to why Kenyan athletes are choosing to compete under foreign flags, there are two questions here worth exploring in depth, why are they leaving? And what can Kenya do to keep happy in order to discourage them from leaving?
There is nothing wrong in competing for another country and Jebet and the other in Rio 2016 are not the first Kenyans to do so. But what was viewed as a rare event such as when Wilson Kipketer defected and competed for Denmark in 800 meters and defeating fellow Kenyan in multiple contests, now looks like a stampede of Kenyans looking for greener pastures.
Athletes are inherently patriotic to their countries, and while financial and promises of good life abroad can be tempting, nothing brings more pride to athletes than winning for their country. Let’s stamp out corruption from Kenyan athletics, rebuild and grow our track and field team to dominate distance running and give our athletes every reason to embrace and show pride in representing Kenya.
KENYAN GOLD MEDALISTS
Vivian Cheruiyot (Gold 5000-meters and Silver 10,000-meters)
David Rudisha (Gold 800-meters)
Jemima Jelagat Sumgong (Gold Women’s Marathon)
Faith Kipyegon (Gold 1500-meters)
Conselus Kipruto (Gold 3000-meters steeplechase)