Kenya’s athletics has a problem. Richard Pound, a World anti Doping Agency (WADA) investigator renowned for his work uncovering doping in track and field, was due to release an investigative report that local media reported would shed light on the matter of doping in Kenya. This was to be on Thursday 14th January 2016.
Doping in track running is casting an increasingly large shadow over the achievement of Kenya’s track runners, in a period when their results in Olympics, Commonwealth Games and IAAF world championships are hitting heights not seen in the nation’s history.
The big announcement regarding Kenya’s track running turned out to be that he did not have a mandate to examine Kenya’s doping problem in detail, but that it was a serious matter that should worry distance runners the world over.
Nevertheless his announcement raises some questions. Is Kenya’s doping problem so big that Kenyan athletes will have to be suspended from all competition like the Russians? How complicit are government and Athletics Kenya officials in this problem? What will Athletics Kenya and the government (both with serious integrity issues outside of doping) do about Richard Pound’s findings?
As many as 40 track and field athletes have tested positive for using banned substances of various kinds, and the blood tests of several other, as yet unnamed runners have drawn suspicion over the past three years. Throw in, the general ignorance, lack of structure and resources, and commitment on domesticating a credible anti-doping program up till now and one sees why WADA is paying special attention to the doping situation in Kenya.
Kenya has very little sporting pedigree, at the global level, outside of track and field. In the past there was the national cricket team’s surprise run to the semifinal of the 2003 50 over World Cup. That was soon sullied by a match fixing scandal involving Maurice Odumbe, one of the key players in that success, less than one year later among other things.
There was the late Robert Nagila, who won boxing gold in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, only to die in the ring on his professional boxing debut. There was also success of football clubs: Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards, and the men’s national (field) hockey team, who had their moments in the limelight only to then fade into obscurity.
More recently, there has been is an upswing in the men’s national sevens rugby team, and their women’s volleyball national team counterparts, in their respective disciplines. Yet both are still minnows in the sense that they do not yet have the resources, or tradition of success, that the opponents they now aspire to beat on a more regular basis have.
In short, Kenya’s success in track and field has made the athletes who win in these events the nation’s most credible brand ambassadors. The outcome of Richard Pound’s investigation will therefore mot just be a matter of integrity of track and field, and the IAAF, but a matter of national pride for Kenyans.