•Former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang was banned for four years in July for missing a doping test
•Whereabout rule requires specific elite athletes to provide information on their locations within a three-month period
•The rule has however attracted criticism for violating athletes' privacy
In July, former marathon world record holder and 2012 London Olympic Games bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang received a four-year ban for missing a doping test.
He had initially received a two-year ban but this was increased after he allegedly provided false evidence to justify his whereabout failure that had precipitated the original punishment.
A week later - on July 11, 2020 - the Athletics Integrity Unit slapped pacesetter Alex Korio with a two-year ban for three consecutive whereabout failures.
Korio, who was part of the pacesetters when Eliud Kipchoge successfully assaulted the 1:59:40 marathon record in October last year in Vienna, Austria, had been provisionally suspended in May this year.
The dust kicked up by this banning storm had not yet settled when former world 1,500m champion Elijah Manangoi received a two-year ban on July 23, for missed doping tests.
Two months later, long distance runner Patrick Siele suffered the wrath of AIU when he received a three and a half-year ban for a missed test.
These athletes are part of a growing and worrying trend among athletes who are incurring fines and doping bans for violating the World Anti-Doping Agency’s whereabout rule that seeks to enhance the efficiency of impromptu doping tests on athletes.
The policy requires specific elite athletes to provide information about their locations to drug testers after every three months.
These athletes are included in a registered testing pool - RTP - that is maintained by respective national anti-doping agencies, Athletics Integrity Unit or WADA.
An athlete may be included in the RTP when their performance suddenly spikes or drops exponentially, raising suspicion that he or she has been doping.
These athletes are required to provide this information in a database known as the anti-doping administration management system – ADAMS.
Agnes Mandu, director of education and research at the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya, says the whereabout failure is a major reason why many Kenyan athletes incur the wrath of the Athletics Integrity Unit.
“When we started conducting doping tests in 2017 as an agency, we realised that many athletes were receiving fines for whereabout failures. I think it is just lack of seriousness because most of these elite athletes know about the rule,” Mandu says.
Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei says that doping bans or fines resulting from whereabout failures are because of the affected athletes' carelessness.
"Most of them were providing the whereabouts of their coaches and family members. Yet, the law is very clear that you must specify your location personally and not of another person," Tuwei says.
Registered testing pool
A whereabout failure – resulting in a fine or ban – occurs when the athlete misses three consecutive tests within a 12-month period.
Additionally, athletes within the RTP may jeopardise their career should they incur three consecutive fines for missed tests or two fines and missed test within the same 12-month period.
“When you are placed in the RTP, you will be notified via a letter and enlightened on how to file information on your whereabout. The athletes will also be provided with a secret code to log in to ADAMS,” Mandu says.
Failure to file information on whereabouts after every three months will also attract fines or a doping ban.
The first quarter begins in January and information for this quarter should be provided by December 15 of the previous year.
A key element of the rule that has felled many athletics giants is the 60-minute time slot, which requires them to stipulate a specific place that they will definitely be found for an hour everyday between 5 pm. and 11 pm.
“The 60-minute slot you stated is specifically for testing. You must therefore be found there when the doping control officer comes for a sample. If you are not there, then that constitutes a missed test,” she explains.
Other information that should be filed in the ADAMS include the athlete’s residence for three months, overnight stay, training schedule and any competition in which the athlete will be participating.
In the Kenyan context, one of the challenges affecting athletes’ filing of whereabout information is provision of a specific physical address, including street number and house number.
“Those staying in the villages do not have a physical address and this may be a problem. What we encourage the athletes to do is to provide a precise landmark near their homes, including a well-known building, river or natural feature,” Mandu says.
Invasion of privacy
Despite its best intentions, the whereabout rule has attracted criticism from certain quarters for invading athletes’ privacy.
A survey of 129 Dutch elite athletes in 2014 revealed that most of them consider the rule a violation of their privacy, particularly the 60-minute slot. The athletes’ perceptions— published in the International Journal of Drug Policy — are that the rule blurs the line between athletes’ sporting and private lives.
Another study published in 2013 in the Fair Play Journal argues that the whereabout rule contravenes the athlete’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as UK Human Rights Act 1998.
However, Mandu disagrees with these criticisms stating that anyone, who chooses athletics as a career should be ready for invasion of their privacy.
“Even during normal doping tests, the athlete must provide the sample in the presence of the control officer to ensure that it is not tampered with. For those in RTP, it is even better because they are always aware that they could be visited,” she says.
The way forward
The only way out, Mandu advises, is to be conscious of the whereabout rule and file information accurately and precisely. A plus for athletes is that they can delegate this responsibility to their managers or agents.
“We understand that some athletes may not be in a position to file this information due to educational level or schedules. Their managers, agents or even family members can help them although ultimately the athlete will be held responsible for any whereabout failure,” she says.
ADAK has been conducting extensive workshops—virtual and physical—to enlighten athletes across various federations on how to avoid the wrath of the whereabout rule.
Tuwei is hopeful that cases of whereabout failure will decrease as more Kenyan athletes come to terms with the implications of contravening this rule.
"We have already taken them through virtual conferences conducted by officials from AIU, ADAK and AK. We took them through the rules and regulations and we hope that now they will follow the right procedure," he says.