Former world javelin champion Julius Yego says Kenyan athletes are on a road to “nowhere” if the current spate of doping cases continues in the famed running nation.
So far this year 17 athletes from the East African country have been suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for a range of violations.
A further eight Kenyans have been provisionally suspended, with the outcomes of their cases pending.
Yego, who won the javelin world title in 2015, is irritated by the news of each sanction by the AIU, and has called for more athletes to speak out about the dangers of doping.
“Whoever is indulging in these drugs should be ashamed of himself or herself,” Yego told BBC Sport Africa.
“We should raise our voices and create awareness. If we do not speak up, then we are going [down] a very dangerous path. Then Kenya will be nowhere in athletics.”
The 33-year-old continued: “Ignorance is the worst thing, that has killed many athletes.
“Maybe someone wants a shortcut to success. The only way to success is serious training. Responsibility lies with athletes here.”
In response to the glut of positive doping results involving its athletes, a government minister says Kenya will launch “a serious war against doping”.
“We are going to criminalise doping to levels you cannot imagine. We are going to be very, very harsh,” said Ababu Namwamba, the cabinet secretary for Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts.
“Kenya is a very proud sporting nation. We pride ourselves for being world-beaters, but we beat the world playing clean. I want all of us to say ‘no’ to doping.”
The AIU has handed out bans for a range of violations by Kenyans but has observed a recent trend in the country, with 10 athletes testing positive for triamcinolone acetonide since last year.
In comparison, only two other athletes have returned positive tests for the banned substance during the same period.
“There is no getting around it – there is a lot of doping in Kenya,” the head of the AIU, Brett Clothier, recently told Kenya’s NTV.
“This is a very serious issue and this is a very serious moment for Kenyan athletics. We are getting much better at catching athletes and there is really nowhere to hide.”
‘We shall punish you severely’
Kenya is among seven countries deemed a ‘Category A’ federation – the highest doping risk – by the AIU, meaning athletes from the countries have to undergo at least three tests in the 10 months prior to a major event to be able to compete there.
Athletics Kenya says it is “doing everything possible” to “unearth the perpetrators” of the doping scandals which have rocked the country.
A statement from the governing body added it intends to “maintain its no-holds-barred fight” against the use of prohibited performance-enhancing substances.
The organisation said it had undertaken a countrywide initiative to equip athletes and coaches with skills and knowledge to fight doping and has put in place “stringent measures” to prevent athletes from “falling prey to unscrupulous coaches and managers”.
Namwamba says he aims to bring proposals to amend Kenya’s laws to criminalise doping.
“As a government, we are going to make doping very expensive – to elevate doping substances to the same level as hard drugs,” he added.
“If we catch you engaged in doping, we shall punish you severely.”
Echoes of Russia
Milcah Chemos Cheywa, Athletics Kenya’s athletes’ representative, has warned that more doping cases could see the country banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).
Russia was given a four-year ban from all major sporting events by Wada in autumn 2019 after the country’s anti-doping agency was declared non-compliant for manipulating laboratory data handed over to investigators in January 2019.
Untainted athletes were still able to compete under a neutral flag, while the sanction was later reduced to two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“We are almost going the Russian way,” Chemos Cheywa, the 2013 women’s world steeplechase champion, told BBC Sport Africa.
“We need to take this thing seriously. I only request our government to work on any bill that can criminalize these athletes, so that at least we can reduce the number [who are doping].”
The majority of athletes banned have been road runners or marathon runners, with 2021 Boston Marathon winner Diana Kipyokei among those provisionally suspended after a positive test for triamcinolone acetonide.
Two-time Olympic champion and marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge says the increasing number of doping cases is “worrying” and “clean sport is the way to go”.
“It is not healthy and we are not seeing light on the finishing point,” the 38-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.
“People want to reap from where they have never sown. They’re looking for all the shortcuts to get finances. It’s immoral.”