Act firmly, decisively on doping to save local sport

Kenya is in suspense over the fate of its athletes after a multi-agency meeting to discuss increasing cases of violation of anti-doping rules, initially scheduled for today, was pushed to Tuesday.

High on the agenda of the meeting in Monaco between the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) and World Athletics is a review of Kenya’s status in the anti-doping war.

The country is in Category ‘A’ under Rule 15 of the World Athletics Anti-Doping Rules, implying a huge risk to the sport posed by increased doping.

Statistics show since the AIU—an independent integrity watchdog wing of World Athletics—was set up in 2017, subsequently establishing a WADA-approved laboratory in Nairobi in September 2018, the number of Kenya’s doping cases rose to 40 per cent of the global total. Last year alone, Kenyan athletes violating anti-doping rules accounted for 18.56 of the global total. 

Many factors account for the high Kenyan numbers, principal among them desperation by athletes to earn revenues from the lucrative global road running circuit that they dominate.

The government deserves credit for moving fast to tackle doping in sports, particularly by instituting the Anti-Doping Act, 2016 which led to the establishment of the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK). The government on Wednesday committed $5 million annually to the fight against doping. Athletics Kenya has also done its fair share in the continuous education of athletes about anti-doping rules and regulations. 

However, more needs be done to tame the vice, given the unscrupulous individuals who knowingly dispense outlawed performance-enhancing substances to athletes, alongside aiding and abetting in the circumvention of strict anti-doping rules, live in our midst, and may be known.

Witness protection programme

It behoves the government and AK to get to the bottom of the mess by, inter alia, operationalising a multi-agency witness protection programme that will allow athletes caught in the web of deceit to own up and name those behind the iniquity.

Yesterday, Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba issued a statement giving an assurance of the government’s commitment to the fight against doping “to protect and uphold the integrity of athletics and sports in general”. He undertook to “target and deal decisively with the criminals and their syndicates” to eradicate doping from Kenyan sport.

However, such government “zero tolerance” guarantees must be backed by decisive action. It is clear that ADAK needs an overhaul and must shore up both its testing and educational capacity to reach out to more athletes, even those not on the International Testing Pool—who form the majority—besides recruiting competent Doping Control Officers (DCOs).

Bigger budget

In the 2021-2022 financial year, for instance, ADAK tested just 1,472 samples. That must increase multiple times, given the huge number of elite athletes in the country and increased budgetary allocation to the agency.

The police and investigative agencies also need a bigger budget to more aggressively fish out the unscrupulous elements who may be culpable so as to create a clean sports environment. Further amendments to the Anti-Doping Act, 2016 are urgently needed to give the law more bite. Lifetime bans and seizure of ill-gotten assets for culprits would be a step in the right direction.

Credit must go to former Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed for the diplomatic role she played in preventing Kenya from being barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games owing to the doping menace, her shuttle diplomacy leading to the birth of the Anti-Doping Act, which helped to get Kenya off the hook.

The buck stops at the desk of her successor, Mr Namwamba, who should travel to Monaco and fight Kenya’s case after his assignment at the World Cup in Qatar where he’s trying to resolve the Kenyan football crisis.

It takes more than mere press statements to convince WADA, AIU and World Athletics that the country is, indeed, serious about the fight against doping. In fact, the matter at hand is so grave that it deserves the immediate and direct attention of the highest office on the land, that of President William Ruto.

Let’s not take the concerns of these global agencies for granted as we could end up like Russia, whose various sports federations have been serving a ban from global competition—including last year’s Tokyo Olympics and the ongoing Fifa World Cup—since 2017 for systematic, state-sponsored doping.

We certainly don’t want to go down that road!