Kenya Ban At Rio Olympics Over Drug Use Is A Real Possibility

19/02/2016 3:53 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
In this photo taken Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016, junior athletes run past a sign for Athletics Kenya at the Discovery cross country races in Eldoret, western Kenya. Two Kenyan athletes, Joy Sakari and Francisca Koki Manunga, who are serving a four-year ban for doping at the 2015 world championships say the chief executive of Athletics Kenya Isaac Mwangi, the country’s governing body for track and field, asked them each for a US dlrs 24,000 bribe to reduce their suspensions. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Kenya, the world's greatest distance-running nation, may run out of puff before the Rio Olympics in August as a ban looms over the east African powerhouse for missing a deadline to prove it is doing something about cheating in athletics.

In the last five years, over 40 of the country's athletes have tested positive to drug tests, and there are widespread allegations of corruption among officialdom, in a situation which resembles the state-sponsored drug regime in Russia which recently resulted in an indefinite ban for Russian athletes.

Eighteen Kenyan athletes are under suspension as of January 2016.

Kenya has appeared at just 13 Olympic Games but won 25 gold medals, 24 of them in athletics. Most recently, it topped the 2015 World Championships table in Beijing with seven gold medals.

Not all current Kenyan athletes are under a cloud. Asbel Kiprop, who won the 1500m at the Beijing World Championships last year, is regarded as a clean athlete. "It's a disgrace, especially to the sport and to our selves as champions," he told the BBC recently.

Another unnamed athlete, when asked by the BBC if he'd used performance-enhancing drugs, replied: "Yes of course, many times. In Kenya most people are using. So if you don't use, you just be training, training, training, only."

The athlete's inference appeared to be that if you don't take performance-enhancing drugs, you may not be selected for international competition by the sport's national governing body, Athletics Kenya.

Another athlete alleged that he'd been blackmailed into paying an official after failing a drug test. He couldn't afford to pay, so was told he'd receive a two-year suspension.

The problem in Kenya appears to be that there is no systematic testing regime of athletes. Kenya has an anti-doping agency, called ADAK, but the agency has never been formalised or given serious powers to deal with doping.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) asked ADAK for certain assurances by February 14, but the deadline slipped by.

Sebastian Coe, head of the governing body, of international athletics, the IAAF, has said Kenya could now be banned from the Rio Olympics in August if Athletics Kenya is declared non-compliant with the WADA code.

Meanwhile, Russia may yet force its way back into the Rio Games if the Russian athletics body can prove it has changed its ways. Kenya may still make it to Rio too.

But the scandal which has now spread to Africa suggests that the sport of athletics has serious problems, something Sebastian Coe recently conceded.

"When you look at the horror show that has unfolded in the last six months, year or so, the question we all have to ask ourselves is how on earth did we get to this position?"

The bigger question is: how on earth does athletics recover from it?

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