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Go Forth to Dope No More




In December 2014, the German broadcaster, ARD, aired the programme, Top-secret doping: How Russia makes its winners. This feature sent shock waves because it pointed at state sanctioned doping facilitated by cover-ups by senior official at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s world governing body.

These accusations could not have come at a worse time because athletics, as we know it today, has gained global status and recognition. IAAF events have become somewhat akin to the gala events of sports as athletes flashily display the best and latest in sports fashion; where rivalries are settled by nano-seconds and where gods of sponsorships and endorsements turn mere mortals into millionaire superstars.

Following this report, the IAAF, keen to manage its reputation, tasked an independent commission to investigate these claims and embark on a much needed damage control campaign. Since then, things have been on a free-fall, taking down sports personalities and in some ways threatening the very existence of athletics. Former IAAF President, Senegal’s Lamine Diack’s 16-year legacy is now tainted with accusations of having taken one million euros in bribes to cover up positive drug tests. To date, the IAAF has been working tirelessly to regain its credibility as keys sponsors such as Adidas and Nestle threaten to walk away from their lucrative sponsorships.

Many of us watching from this side of the world had hoped that Africa would be spared from this murky doping mess. Doping usually conjures images of crafty scientists creating strange chemicals in sophisticated labs- and since we in Africa do not have these, we surely lack the capacity to dope. We refuse to entertain the thought of doping because athletics means a  whole lot especially for folks in East Africa.

The spectacle of Ethiopians and Kenyans fighting tooth and nail for the finishing line has done more for country public relations than any glossy and expensive media campaigns. The stories of many East African athletes,  such as Haile Gebreselassie,  Paul Tergat, David Rudisha, Tirunesh Dibaba and Gezebe Dibaba have done wonders in fuelling dreams of the youth and in creating relatable icons and role models. Successful athletes have demonstrated that running pays and that the running pay cheques can transform families, societies and open doors that previously seemed impossible to open.

It is for this reason that accusations levelled against Kenyan athletes are cause for alarm. Already the IAAF has taken tough measures with four top ranking athletics officials, Isaac Mwangi, David Okeyo, Isaiah Kiplagat and Joseph Kinyua currently under provisional suspensions. Since 2011, over 40 Kenyan athletes have been named in doping cases with some receiving penalties and suspensions.

What makes this whole farce tragic is that IAAF officials have chosen to make profit from this state of affairs instead of using the opportunity to clean up.  Some of them are reported to have asked for bribes so that they could push for more lenient sentences – thus making the problem mutate into something more dangerous.

Ethiopia has been relatively unscathed by the doping circus with only one athlete reported to have been banned to date compared to Kenya’s 11 athletes. There must be something that Ethiopia is doing right and it might be useful for its neighbour to borrow a leaf.

There is common agreement that the rise in doping has been fuelled by greed in athletes and their managers, buoyed by complicity by officials who benefit in one way or the other from the gravy train. For Ethiopia to retain its athletics superpower status, it is important to ensure that the playing field is level and not skewed in the favour of athletes who dope.  For African athletes to continue to reap the benefits of their hard work and training, then, it is imperative that doubts and questions around doping enhanced performance are addressed.

It will be a sad day for Africa when Ethiopian and Kenyan athletes cannot grace the podiums after well-won battles that are not tinged with chemical imbalances.  I hope that lovers of Ethiopian athletes  and lovers of African athletics can help devise a united front to tackle the menace of doping. Our athletics must not be sacrificed at the altar of doping and those wishing to profiteer from the hard work and discipline of athletes.



By Njoki Kaigai
has a Degree in Marketing from the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and a Post-graduate Diploma from the University of Westminister, United Kingdom. She has extensive experience in communication, media managment and crisis management. She can be reached at njokikaigai1@gmail.com.

Published on Feb 29,2016 [ Vol 16 ,No 826]


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