"Kenya and Ethiopia have killed cross country"

It is now emerging that the domination of cross country running by Kenya and Ethiopia is ultimately killing the sport.

At their council meeting held on the fringes of the World Championships in Athletics here, the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled that the World Cross Country Championships will now be held once every two years rather than annually.

The IAAF council members argued that this would allow the continents to organise continental championships on the alternate years.

But the Daily Nation established on Sunday that Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated the discipline so much that European television interest in the sport has taken a nosedive.

“The World Cross Country championships have become not only an African affair but an East African affair, and these days you don’t even get athletes from West Africa competing,” IAAF president Lamine Diack said when confronted by the Daily Nation at the Berlin Intercontinental Hotel. “Even the Kenyan delegates at our meeting agreed that East Africa’s dominance was killing the sport.”

Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat sits on the IAAF Council while AK secretary, David Okeyo, is in the IAAF’s cross country commission.

Gianni Merlo, the Italian president of the International Sports Press Association, agreed with the IAAF supreme, saying European countries were no longer interested in competing for the minor positions at the World Cross Country Championships.

Teams too large

“The problem is also that the teams are too large. It would have been better to, perhaps, have three runners in each team, but with as much as six runners per country per race, Ethiopia and Kenya will automatically take the first 12 places and the rest will compete from the 13th place,” Merlo, an editor with leading Italian daily sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, said.

“European broadcasters are no longer interested in covering these championships and some European federations are no longer interested in sending athletes to these competitions. Why should they invest to fight for 13th place?”

But the decision to have biannual global cross country championships have not gone down well with some Kenyan officials who see cross country running as the best way for athletes to launch preparations for their track season.

Kenyan and Ethiopian runners made their world cross country debut in Madrid in 1981 when Kenya finished third overall. Bekele Debele of Ethiopia, 20, became the youngest World Cross champion, with Kenyan Some Muge taking the bronze.

Spain’s Pierre Casacuberta was the last man from outside East Africa to win the junior men’s race in 1984 while John Ngugi became the first Kenyan to win the senior men’s title in 1986 in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the first of his five global titles.

Kenya’s Paul Tergat has also won the World Cross title five times while Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won his seventh 5,000m world title at the Berlin Olympic Stadium on Sunday.