The doping menace is deeply entrenched in Kenyan sports, far much more than what is in the public domain.
Professor Moni Wekesa, who has been involved in anti-doping activities in Kenya, said there are various forms of doping rampant in Kenyan sports.
Wekesa, who was the chairman of the Kenya Anti-Doping Task Force which released a damning report in 2014, attributed this to the large amounts of money that has been invested in the sports industry lately.
“Sports is slowly becoming a big money industry in Kenya as opposed to the early years of the country’s participation in international competitions in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Wekesa.
“It is the human desire to always do better than the competition, a major drive that makes people want to dope, excel and bask in the glory of winning. In respect to sports, it goes beyond that. In sports, winning is big money.”
For example, he added, in major sports disciplines, winners get prize money and above that, they get endorsements from major companies.
Some countries, like Russia who are currently under suspension by the International Olympic Committee, engage in systematic doping just to prove to the world they are the best, Wekesa said.
“This is a phenomena that started after World War II, where the communist countries wanted to show the capitalists that their system is much better and more organised,” he said.
Wekesa said doping crept into Kenya in the 1990s, the same period when big sports monies started trickling into the country.
The vice, he added, is now entrenched in the Kenyan sports fabric and not only in athletics, as it has been largely thought. However, this varies from sport to sport.
In Kenya, he said, darts is referred to as ‘game ya walevi’ (the drunkards’ game) since players usually take a bottle or two of alcohol before competition which amounts to an anti-doping violation.
“Alcohol helps cool down the nerves and thus the participants will not suffer the shakes on their hands as they aim for their target thus resulting in better performance,” he observed.
In boxing and football, bhang (marijuana) and other stimulants are commonly used since it helps alleviate pain and therefore participants can continue long into their matches. It also helps minimise the onset of fatigue.”
“The intake of such drugs is a culture usually considered ‘normal’ within Kenyan sports,” said Wekesa. “It is a culture, that cropped into sport, especially football a long time ago. Some of the team managers and officials went through the system and therefore think it is normal and thus encourage their players to do it. It is not shocking that it (marijuana) is smoked in the changing rooms,” he alleged.
“Some officials encourage their use for they want their teams/clubs to stay at the top while the players want to ‘shine’ before a capacity crowd and eventually be the ‘best players’. In their minds, they might not be aware that they are doping.”
He observed that in explosive events like weight-lifting, bodybuilding, sprints, jumps and throws, participants use anabolic steroids disregarding their after effects.
He observed that in track and field, the scenario is totally different.
Kenya has the reputation of being one of the best in country running way back to the time they first featured in the Olympic Games in the 1960s.
“During that time, there was no money and athletes were using their raw talent to compete but the rest of the world had already started doping,” he said.
However, things have drastically changed in Kenya following the flow of huge amounts of money in athletics especially in the last two decades.
“This onset has seen athletes rake in a lot of money, built big houses, bought tracts of land, big cars, keeping huge herds of cattle and now others want to run and become rich today (immediately),” he said.
“The role model has gone beyond winning to living opulent lifestyles. This prompts the young/upcoming athletes or those who are yet to make it, use prohibited substances to improve on their performances.”
In addition, he observed the phenomenon of foreign agents and managers has not helped the situation.
“These foreign agents are not missionaries. They are in it for the pay. As a result, some induce their athletes into using prohibited substances to enable them win and thus receive their cut (percentage fee),” he said.
He observed that some of the agents work with other individuals to achieve this.
“There is a racket involving a number of people deliberately helping these athletes dope,” he said adding: “If you ask me if we have clean athletes in Kenya today, my answer is ‘I don’t know. Only time will tell. Reason? The whole system is marred up now, totally mixed up.”
Over 40 Kenyan athletes have been banned/suspended for using performance enhancing drugs since the 1990s.
And contrary to what Kenyans have been made to believe, it is not the young/upcoming sportsmen and women, moreso in athletics, who are engaging in the vice.
“Rita Jeptoo and Matthew Kisorio cannot be referred to as athletes of low cadre,” he said. “This was just a line of defense that was being used by Athletics Kenya to cover up doping. Subsequent research has shown it cuts across both upcoming and established runners.”
However, Wekesa remains optimistic that the anti-doping war is heading in the right direction.
“For over 50 years, we thought we were ok! We thought we had the best natural talent. We thought doping is for the ‘whites’. Little did we know that the menace is deeply rooted within us,” said Wekesa.
“We now have an anti-doping law in place (The Anti-Doping Act 2016 ) and recent prosecution of various individuals clear indicates the government doesn’t want doping in our sports,” he observed.
Italian manager Federico Rosa, coach Claudio Berradelli, medical practitioner Stephen Tanui, Daniel Cheribo, Samson Kiprotich, Ken Kipchumba, Joseph Karuri and Team Kenya manager to the 2016 Rio Olympics Richard Rotich have all been charged in a court of law with doping related charges.
“All these activities have happened within the first three months of the law’s existence and can I comfortably say we are on track,” said Wekesa.
Kenya was recently cleared by the World Anti-Doping Agency from a list of non-compliant nations and thus the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya is allowed to carry out its mandate without any restrictions under the auspices of the WADA.
“However, this does not mean that Kenya is clean,” said Wekesa.
Some nations and individuals have been advocating for life time bans on first-time doping offenders but Wekesa observed this was not necessary.
“I think some people are overreacting. The suspension of four years for first offence, eight years for a second and life time ban for third are punitive enough,” he said. “It would be difficult for athletes to make successful comebacks after four years of isolation. However, I would like officials, coaches and managers who induce athletes into the vice to be banned for life.”
“Banning this group for four years doesn’t make sense since they will not be working hard on their comeback.”
In addition to an individual falling into the wrong side of the law, Wekesa observed that the side effects of using some of the substances outweighs the gains by far.
He observed that large scale use of Erythropoietin (EPO) could be the answer to the sudden deaths of athletes either in competition or in training.
According to www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au, the use of EPO is believed to increase oxygen absorption, reduce fatigue and improve endurance by increasing the rate of red cell production (erythrocytes). It is also increases the metabolism and the healing process of muscles because the extra red cells carry more oxygen and nutrients.
In someone who already has normal levels of red blood cells, use of EPO can lead to increased thickening (or viscosity) of the blood leading to clotting, thrombosis, heart attack and stroke.
For anabolic steroids, the side effects include onset of cancers, development of male-like characteristics in women, sterility in men and eventually, early death.
Wekesa warned: “Anybody involved in doping had better stop. The Kenyan law is one of the best in the world since it combines both the sporting sanctions and the criminal justice system. WADA code tries to protect athletes from the criminal justice system but in Kenya, they are not spared. This makes doping a risky business in Kenya.”
Who has been suspended
The first documented positive dope test from a Kenyan runner involved marathon runner Cosmas Ndeti who was banned for three months after a positive Ephedrine test during the 1988 world cross country championships.
In 1993, John Ngugi was suspended for missing a doping test, which amounted to an anti-doping violation while William Tanui tested positive for Ephedrine but was lucky not to face a suspension.
Since then, almost 50 Kenyan runners, mostly in distance running, have had adverse returns on their tests with the last one decade witnessing the bulk of the cases.
Top on the list are the suspensions of former Boston and Chicago marathon champion Rita Jeptoo, currently serving a four-year suspension for a positive Erythropoietin (EPO) test.
Road runner Lilian Marita is the biggest casualty of the menace as she was, in December last year, slapped with an eight-year ban for a second anti-doping violation featuring a prohibited anabolic agent.
Two-time world cross champion Emily Chebet (Furosemide), Agatha Jeruto (Norandrosterone), Francisca Koki (Furosemide) and Joyce Zakari (Furosemide) are all out serving four-year suspensions.
Wilson Loyanae, Rita Jeptoo, Pamela Chepchumba, Julia Muraga and Ronald Rutto were recipients of two year bans for positive EPO tests
Mathew Kisorio, Rael Kiyara, Elizabeth Muthuka, Janet Ongera, Agnes Jepkosgei, Bernard Mwendia, Judy Kimunge, Joyce Jemutai, Mutai Julius, Mutinda Joseph, Isaac Kemboi, Benjamin Kiprop, Philip Kandie, Tanui Stephen, Nyankabaria James, Jepkoech Chepkorir, Kiplimo Jacqueline, Chepkorir Emily and Viola Kimetto have served or are serving two-year bans for positive Norandrosterone returns.
Other athletes who have been caught violating dope rules are Delilah Asiago, Flomena Chepchirchir (six months), Susan Chepkemei (Salbutamol one year), Pauline Kahenya (Prednisone one year), Simon Kemboi (Nandrolone), Sammy Mutahi (public reprimand, disqualification of results), Cyrus Gichobi (eight months), David Munyasia (Cathine), Stephen Kibet (two years), Elizabeth Chelagat (two years), Ndirangu Alice (Clenbuterol two years), Kipkurui Benjamin (Methylprednisolone 3 months), Lydia Cheromei (Clomiphene).