Doping Taints Kenyans Reputation In The World Of Athletics

By Samuel Ouma

Betty Wilson Lempus has been slammed with a five year ban

The rampant use of performance-enhancing substances by a section of Kenyan athletes is endangering the country’s advances in athletics.

The northeast African nation’s historical performance in international competitions has not only won them awards but also earned them global recognition. Kenyans’ scintillating performance in athletics had prompted some researchers to research to discover why they perform well in the sport. The researchers found that living at altitude, working hard, and eating properly is key.

Ethiopia is the only African country competing with Kenya in athletics in the continent, yet Ethiopia cannot match Kenya’s incredible feats. In 2022, Kenya bagged ten majors, including Eliud Kipchoge’s Berlin Marathon win in the 2:01:09 world record. Ruth Chepngetich also won the World Athletics Elite Platinum Label road race at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, successfully defending her title in 2:14:18. Additionally, Kenya brought home ten medals from the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021, including four golds, four silvers, and two bronzes. It was only the US that beat Kenya in medals.

Although the athletics powerhouse continues to shine in global competitions, its image is being tainted negatively by the continuous banning or suspension of its athletes by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) or the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK). Numerous sanctions have been imposed due to the negative doping tests, blood anomalies, tampering allegations, and location failures with the latest victim being Betty Wilson Lempus.

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) slapped Lempus with a five-year ban in January 2023 for using a prohibited substance known as Triamcinolone Acetonide. She was also sanctioned for tampering or Attempted Tampering with any part of Doping Control, including obstructing or delaying the AIU’s investigation through the provision of false information or documentation.

“We are pleased to conclude this case, especially because this athlete almost got away with her attempt to dupe the authorities and to cheat other runners out of their rightful rewards,” said AIU Head Brett Clothier.

“This is the right and fair outcome, and it’s a signal to all that the AIU takes its mission extremely seriously and will pursue every angle in seeking to reach the truth.”

Lawrence Cherono, the winner of the 2019 Boston and Chicago Marathons; Diana Kipyokei, the 2021 Boston Marathon champion; the 2008 Olympic and three-time world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop and Marius Kipserem, the winner of the Abu Dhabi and Rotterdam marathons are just a few of the notable victims on the list of prohibited athletes.

Doping is attributed to a number of factors, including the rise of athletics cartels that have supposedly established themselves in training facilities and supply innocent athletes with illegal substances.

“We have cartels that have set up camp in training facilities, and they are the ones damaging the sport by taking advantage of athletes who know little about drugs. The good news is that they are being caught because the test method is precise, and all of them will be caught,” said Barnaba Korir, an official at Athletics Kenya (AK).

Another factor is greed for money. With unemployment of more than 10 per cent, most people are turning to athletics to earn a living. And with an excellent reward whenever one wins a race, most try to use every means to be declared a winner, including using prohibited drugs.

Greed for money is another cause. With more than 10% unemployment, most individuals are resorting to athletics to make a living. Since winning a big marathon and/or breaking a course record pays much, most people will attempt anything to win, including utilizing illegal drugs.

The Director of the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), Sarah Shibutse, attributed the increase in doping cases to the long competitive pause that was imposed by Covid-19 and left athletes inactive.

Many Kenyan athletes, according to Shibutse, originate from impoverished households and depend on their sports to support themselves and their extended families. The competition was fierce when races could finally be held once pandemic restrictions were lifted, forcing some to get involved in drug cheat.

“Many of them were motivated by this and decided that using drugs would be preferable to simply claiming that they had sufficient training and would succeed through talent,” said Shibutse.

Agents, coaches, and managers are also at fault for forcing players too hard to thrive and constitute for missed incomes. Most prohibited substances are freely accessible to athletes in shops and pharmacies. Due to the inadequate resources allotted to ADAK to carry out its goal, there are very few awareness efforts. The agency is in charge of collecting samples for testing.

Men’s winner Lawrence Cherono of Kenya crosses the finish line ahead of Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia during the 123rd running of the Boston Marathon on the sixth anniversary of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. April 15th, 2019. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl

In December 2022, Kenya survived after the World Athletics announced it was spared from a ban amid growing fears that it would be blacklisted. World Athletics President Sebastian Coe stated that there will be no national ban following the Kenyan government’s vow to contribute $5 million per year to anti-doping operations over the next five years. The funding will be utilized to conduct additional testing, investigations, and anti-doping education upgrades.

“Kenya has been on the radar for several years. In one year, Kenya has had 40% of all positive tests in world athletics, and this is not a situation that World Athletics was willing to sit back and watch develop. I am delighted that all stakeholders, both domestic and foreign, are now working together to remedy this crisis. But something tells me it’ll be a long journey,” said Coe.

While celebrating the reprieve, Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba declared war on doping in the country to preserve its reputation.

“We have made a pledge that the fight against doping will be our top priority, and our new mantra as the government and Athletics Kenya is absolute zero tolerance for doping,” said Namwamba.

Due to major doping offences, Kenya is one of seven countries on the Category A doping watch list.




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