World Athletics Under-20
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Age-cheating, the latest set-back for Kenyan athletics

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Athletes march during the opening ceremony of the 2020 World Athletics Under-20 Championship at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Revelations by Athletics Kenya (AK) that it is investigating 26 cases of age-cheating has revealed another deep-seated problem that could have far-reaching ramifications for local athletes at a time the country is fighting the doping menace.

Athletics Kenya has said it has sought the government’s intervention to unearth 26 cases of age-cheating that involve former world under-20 and under-18 medallists dating back to 2016. It is feared that some of the culprits have since graduated to the senior ranks, and could be preparing to represent Kenya at the Olympic Games later this month.

AK’s president, Jack Tuwei has sounded the alarm that age-cheating is becoming a serious problem, and coaches, athletes, parents, schools and teachers and some key officials could be involved.

“Cases of birth certificates and passports, among other documents, being falsified especially in under-20 competitions are on the increase and the trend is worrying,” Tuwei said on Wednesday.

“We have been focusing on fighting doping that has got out of hand, but age-cheating is becoming a new challenge.”

Tuwei was speaking just four days after AK named a squad of 19 athletes who will compete at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships which will be held from August 27 to 31 at the National Stadium in Lima, Peru.

To avert cases of age-cheating, AK brought on board officers from the office of the Registrar of Persons to verify the authenticity of documents before the junior trials that took place on June 25 and 26 at Nyayo National Stadium. World Athletics had demanded that each country submits athlete entries by June 30 using valid passports.

A circular by World Athletics directing all its affiliates to enter competition teams using athlete travel passport by June 30 also appears aimed at nabbing the cheats. The athletes selected in various events have until July 7 to obtain travel visas.

Government documents

“Birth certificates and passports are government documents and we shall seek their help to unravel this. Our investigations on this are going on well,” Tuwei said on Wednesday.

AK’s director of youth and development, Barnaba Korir, disclosed that the federation’s investigations have revealed interesting information, and soon arrests will be made.

“We are serious about curbing age-cheating, and these and culprits will face the music,” Korir said without indicating when the federation will finish investigations.

Koror however said no athlete in the team that Kenyan selectors picked for the world junior event in Lima is affected by ongoing investigations. Korir also declined to disclose the identity of the 26 athletes under AK’s radar.

Korir said that those found culpable will be subjected to Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) rules, as well as to Kenyan laws regarding forgery of documents.

“Considering how interconnected the world of athletics is in terms of communication, they (the culprits) shall all be smoked out and will be punished,” Korir said.

Stripped of all medals

If found culpable, the athletes will be stripped of all medals and titles won in the period under investigation. Verification of age has always been a problematic are for race organisers, especially in junior and youth competition.

With AK confirmation that results from the just-concluded national trials for the World Athletics Under-20 Championships are not affected, focus now shifts to participants in four previous editions of the World Under-20 Athletics Championships. Kenya led in the medal standings in two of the competitions.

Already, five gold medallists from these events have since been banned for up to six years for various doping offences, and more will face serious consequences should they feature in the current age-cheating scandal.

Kenya is not out of the woods yet as far as doping menace is concerned. Kenya was on the verge of suspension from all World Athletics events in 2022 due to increased cases of doping. Government’s pledge of a budget of Sh650 million annually to fight doping, and a multi-agency approach to fighting the menace save the day. A total of 38 Kenyan athletes who are in AIU’s testing pool were banned in 2022, but the figures dropped to 29 last year.

Locally, Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak) banned 34 athletes for violation of anti-doping rules in 2022. The cases shot to 60 last year.

Doping cases have been on the rise this year. Adak suspended 26 athletes at ago three weeks ago, the highest number so far in one occasion.

Age cheating

No athlete has been reprimanded locally due to age cheating.

Kenya hauled a total of 46 medals from four previous world under-20 events; 22 gold, 10 silver and 14 bronze. This is part of what the current investigations will centre on.

Kenya finished second in the medal standings at the 2016 World Athletics Under-20 in Bydgoszcz, Poland with nine medals; five gold, two silver and two bronze.

Kipyegon Bett and Rogers Kwemoi, who won the 800m and 10,000m respectively have been banned for doping.

Bett’s four-year ban came immediately after claiming bronze at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London while Kwemoi was handed six years ban in August last year.

Kumari Taki, who won the 1,500m in Poland, was also provisionally suspended in 2022 but lodged a successful appeal and has considered suing the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya for damages.

Solomon Lekuta (800m) and Rhonex Kipruto (10,000m) won their respective races at the 2018 World Under-20 Athletics Championships in Finland where the country topped with 11 medals; six gold, four silver and one bronze.

The country claimed 16 medals to top when it hosted the 2021 world under-20 event; eight gold, one silver and seven bronze before settling fourth with 10 medals; three gold, three silver and four bronze at the 2022 event in Cali, Colombia.