SWILA: Continued doping test failures a stain on Kenya’s athletic prowess

Isaac Swilain Nairobi

A dark cloud hangs over the future of Kenyan athletics if the fragrant and continued violation of anti-doping rules by the athletes is not tamed.

For a country famed and revered globally for her athletic prowess, the stock is steadily declining thanks to continuous doping test failures by our athletes.

So endemic is the problem that barely a month lapses before either the World Anti-Doping Agency or the Athletics Integrity Unit releases a startling statement that a Kenyan athlete has either tested positive for a banned substance or has been slapped with a provisional sentence for whereabouts failure.

In fact, since the turn of the year, at least five Kenyan athletes have been caught in the quagmire and the stats are likely to be on the rise.

On Thursday this week, the soft-spoken Commonwealth Games 1,500m champion Elijah Manangoi joined the Hall of Shame shocking everyone – his fans and stakeholders alike when he landed a provisional suspension from the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for whereabouts failures.

Kenya's Elijah Motonei Manangoi celebrates winning the final of the men's 1500m athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the London Stadium in London on August 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD

For his transgressions, Manangoi, who won the 2017 world champion and is also the reigning Commonwealth 1,500m champion has been barred from participating in the sport for an unspecified period as he waits for his hearing to take place and a ruling to be issued.

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whereabouts are information provided by a limited number of top elite athletes about their location to the International Sport Federation (IF) or National Anti-Doping Organization (NADO) that included them in their respective registered testing pool as part of these top elite athletes’ anti-doping responsibilities.

WADA code on Anti-Doping Violations, article 2.4 on Whereabouts Failures states, “Any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures, as defined in the International Standard for Testing and Investigations, within a twelve-month period by an Athlete in a Registered Testing Pool.”

Under the regulations, athletes have to inform testing authorities of their whereabouts for a one-hour window of every day.

The provisional suspension is a blow and dents the stature of Manangoi who won silver at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China before clinching gold two years later in London.

By earning a provisional suspension he now becomes the latest high-profile Kenyan athlete to be suspended on the grounds of whereabouts failures.

Early this month, former world marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang was handed a four- year ban for whereabouts failures and tampering by providing false evidence.

Kipsang is considered one of Kenya’s greatest marathoners, having bagged gold at major marathons including London and Berlin.


Sadly, barely a week after he was slapped with the ban, Alex Korio Oloititip, another veteran, was also slapped with a two-year ban, also for whereabouts failure while another long-distance athlete Kenneth Kipkemoi has been handed a two-year ban for presence of a prohibited substance.

The list of shame does not end there as it includes a lady runner in the frame of Mercy Kibarus who has been handed a mind-puzzling eight years for a similar offence.

But, perhaps, the infamous of them all is the ban slapped on former Olympic and three-time world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop.

FILE PHOTO: Asbel Kiprop of Kenya reacts after winning the men's 1500 metres final during the 15th IAAF World Championships at the National Stadium in Beijing, China, August 30, 2015. (PHOTO/REUTERS/Phil Noble)

According to the Athletics Integrity Unit, Kiprop failed an out-of-competition test in Kenya in November 2017. His backup ‘B’ sample also tested positive for EPO, a banned substance.

Kiprop’s case was made more complex when it was revealed he was given advance notice of the visit by Kenyan anti-doping officers — a breach of testing protocol. Out-of-competition tests are meant to be sprung on athletes by surprise to ensure they have no time to flush any banned substances out of their systems.

With this background it is clear to all and sundry that cases of doping litter our athletics landscape like a foul smell.

It is deep and stinks to the high heavens. Like corruption, it is a cancer that eats and permeates the heart of a society; it is cancerous but can be treated, if detected early and proper treatment measures put in place to beat it.

From the many doping cases we have had it is evident that some of these athletes have systems in place assisting them to dope – ranging from rogue and manipulative agents to unregulated camps, controlled by foreigners, which have proliferated in Kenya’s athletics hub – the Rift Valley.

Agents clearly have their masters, which in this case should be the athlete but for rogue ones, it seems, the master is the monies they dearly crave hence devising unsporting ways through which their clients – athletes – can win races to earn them huge financial returns.

The loser in this end game is usually the athlete, their families, and of course the pride of our nation which gets pricked.

Following the prevalence of the vice, the Anti- Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), together with Athletics Kenya have been engaged in rigorous sensitization campaigns.

While this is laudable, it seems it has just been a song to the ears of our athletes.

For the fight to be won there must be discipline and will. Discipline on the part of the athletes, discipline on the part of the agents and managers, and discipline on the part of the State.

We won’t win the war unless the rigorous sensitization campaigns are backed up by harsh punitive measures on the part of the offenders.

Of course the law has to be fair and has to be applied above board.

As much as WADA and the Athletics Integrity Unit reins hard on the offenders, ADAK too must mete out punitive measures including but not limited to fines.

Time is also ripe to introduce Ethics Studies in the school curriculum! This must begin from an early stage. Young ones must be taught that honesty in life and in competition and in every facet coupled with integrity are virtues they must hold dear to their hearts.

Just like war against Corruption, doping on the part of an athlete points to lack of ethics yet they are virtues that must be instilled in them early enough.

And most importantly, the continued cases of doping should be an alarm call to Athletics Kenya, NOC-K and federations at large to ensure that in future, all athletes representing Kenya in local and international events are continuously screened before participating in the events.

Swila is RMS’ Radio & Citizen Digital sports editor.