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Kenya is making strides against doping amidst hurdles4 minutes read

With the Tokyo Olympics looming less than a year away, Kenya is confident it will avoid a repeat of the Rio Games controversy

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Kenya is making strides against doping amidst hurdles
Marathon runners carry out a 'speed-work' along the back roads Iten, known colloquially as the 'world's running capital', legendary for producing some of Kenya's most elite athletes and a training ground for other international top distance runners. - Of the thousands of professional runners registered with Kenya's athletic federation, only a small handful of the most elite competitors are regularly screened by the national doping watchdog Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK). (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

Kenya suffered international embarrassment in 2016 when a string of doping scandals brought the country famed for its distance runners within a whisker of disqualification from the Rio Olympics.

“It was a time when Kenya faced an enormous challenge in terms of the very integrity of our sports,” said Japhter Rugut, who heads the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK), established in the wake of the scandal.

Kenya scraped through to Rio. But while its sporting authorities promised to clean up their act, Kenyan athletes have proved harder to convince.

A year after the scare, Jemima Sumgong — who in Rio won Kenya’s first-ever Olympic gold in the women’s marathon — tested positive for the banned substance erythropoietin (EPO) and was suspended.

Kenya is making strides against doping amidst hurdles
(Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

In 2018, three-time world champion and Olympic 1,500 metre winner, Asbel Kiprop, tested positive for EPO and was also banned.

Between 2004 and August 2018, 138 Kenyan athletes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, according to a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report published in September 2018.

The report concluded that nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, corticosteroids and EPO were the substances most used by local athletes.

However, it found there was “no evidence of an institutionalised system” of doping in Kenya.

Thirty-six Kenyan runners are currently suspended, according to the Athletics Integrity Unit.

Building awareness –

Nevertheless, efforts to clean up the sport are beginning to bear fruit.

Since its inception, the number of anti-doping tests conducted by ADAK has mushroomed more than 10-fold, from about 100 in 2016 to 1,150 in 2018.

It has created biological passports for about 40 elite athletes to track their data over time, a development made possible by the opening of a WADA-approved blood testing laboratory in Nairobi in 2018.

ADAK, under its slogan “Stay Clean, Win Right”, has also launched a nation-wide awareness-raising program aimed at athletes, coaches and medical staff.

In line with International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) guidelines, Kenyan athletes selected for the 2019 World Championships starting in Doha in September will be subject to a minimum of four blood and urine tests.

Kenya is making strides against doping amidst hurdles
Lab-technicians takes reagents from cold-storage at Lancet laboratories, the only World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) accredited facility for eastern Africa, in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on June 7, 2019. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

“Qualification will be done on time and testing,” says Jackson Tuwei, President of the Kenyan Athletics Federation.

“We have made this very clear to all our athletes that those who want to go to worlds, must also qualify by being tested.”

But beyond the elite level, tackling doping remains a monumental challenge.

There are 4,000 top-level athletes registered with the athletics federation — four times more than in France for example — stretching oversight resources.

These athletes see running — and winning — as the only way out of a life of poverty, and go undetected by the checks and controls as Kenya focuses on its elite athletes.

“There are easily more than 500 top marathon runners… so it is difficult for the federation, given its limited resources, to monitor and control each athlete,” says specialist journalist Elias Makori.

“Every weekend, there are dozens of Kenyans winning marathons all over the world.”

‘A culture of honesty’ –

“In East Africa, unlike anywhere else in the world, hundreds and hundreds of professional athletes make a very good living from road running,” says Brett Clothier, director of the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), a watchdog set up to police anti-doping in athletics. 

“Many of these athletes are never tested out of competition.”

“Such athletes have the motivation, opportunity and financial means to boost themselves, and, therefore, there is a high demand for doping products.”

For Brother Colm O’Connell, legendary coach of two-time Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha, the education of athletes is at the heart of combating the scourge.

Kenya is making strides against doping amidst hurdles
A pharmacist is interviewed in Nairobi, where he admits doping has become a common practice in Kenya, where it is very easy to get EPO. – This pharmacist, who requested anonymity, said he began in the early 2010s to help athletes to boost. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

“I also think we must instil in our young people, as they grow up through the ranks, becoming athletes, we must instil a culture of honesty, fair-play, that you can win clean,” he said.

Other significant hurdles remain.

No one is tracing doping substances stocked by pharmacies and hospitals. The regulation of athletics agents is lax. Allegations of corruption, too, have marred efforts to clean up the sport.

Even identifying athletes can sometimes prove problematic, with runners registered under different names from one document to the next.

Political support is also not assured. Kenya’s parliament this year cut funding for ADAK by nearly 15 per cent, trimming its budget to around $2.5 million.

With the Tokyo Olympics looming less than a year away, Kenya is confident it will avoid a repeat of the Rio Games controversy, even if more work needs to be done.

“For now, there are signs that our joint efforts are working and that we are on the right track,” says Clothier. 

“The main thing is that the struggle, and close collaboration, with AIU continues.”

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North Africa Sports

Algeria international Youcef Atal faces lengthy spell out with knee injury

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Algeria international Youcef Atal faces lengthy spell out with knee injury
Nice's Algerian defender Youcef Atal react during the French L1 football match Nice (OGCN) vs Dijon (FCO) on September 21, 2019 at "Allianz Riviera" stadium in Nice, southern France. YANN COATSALIOU / AFP

The 23-year-old Nice defender was substituted in the 29th minute during his club’s 4-1 home win over Metz on Saturday in the French Ligue 1 and is expected to undergo surgery to repair a meniscal injury in his knee.

“Bad news for Youcef Atal and the Eagles. The diagnosis revealed a meniscal lesion in the right knee,” Nice said in a statement. “He will be operated on soon and will, unfortunately, be out of action for a long time.”

Atal who joined Nice from Belgian club Kortrijk in the summer of 2018 has scored one goal while providing two assists in 13 games this season for the French Club.

He began his youth career with Algerian outfits JS Kabylie, USM Alger and Paradou AC before moving to Europe. And has been reported earlier this season to be on the radar for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea and the Jose Mourinho led Tottenham as a potential transfer target for the January window.

The injury to Atal also leaves a major blow at the back for the team lead by Patrick Viera who is currently 13th on the Ligue 1 table. Atal made his international debut for the Desert Foxes of Alegria in June 2017 in a match against Guinea and was part of the 2019 African Cup of Nations winning squad in Egypt.

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News

Pascal Siakam nets 24 points for NBA champions Toronto Raptors

Siakam’s Raptors teammate Fred VanVleet added 20 points in what was their 21st game of the regular season

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Pascal Siakam nets 24 points for NBA champions Toronto Raptors

Cameroonian NBA star, Pascal Siakam netted 24 points for NBA Champions Toronto Raptors in their 119-109 home defeat to the Houston Rockets.

The 25-year-old who has, so far, started every game this season for the Raptors finished as lead scorer for his team on the night despite the defeat, and he also made 9 rebounds and 2 assists for the Canada based basketball outfit who lie fourth on the Eastern conference table.

Siakam’s Raptors teammate Fred VanVleet added 20 points and point guard Kyle Lowry made 19 in what was their 21st game of the regular season.

The defeat for the Raptors meant they have now recorded their sixth loss this season, their second in a row, and at their home court for the first time at the Scotiabank Arena since losing to Oklahoma City and Charlotte in March this year.

Rockets point guard Russel Westbrook recorded yet another triple-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

And the win for the Houston Rockets ended a three-game losing streak away from home, with star player James Harden netting 23 points, as they led from the first quarter which they took 34-28.

But it was the Rockets shooting guard Ben McLemore who scored 28 points to finish as the game’s top scorer.

Other games on Thursday night saw another Cameroonian, Joel Embiid grabbing 26 points and 21 rebounds for his team the Philadelphia 76ers, but they lost 113-119 on the road to the Washington Wizards who have now ended a three-game losing streak.

The Phoenix Suns recorded a 139-132 away victory in overtime against the New Orleans Pelicans. And the Denver Nuggets also grabbed a win on the road in New York against the Nicks which finished 129-92.

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East Africa Sports News

Liz Young establishes lead at Kenya Ladies Open tournament

tropical weather posed a slight challenge for Liz, who admitted being unaccustomed to playing in such hot weather.

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England's Liz Young plays at the Kenya Ladies Open tournament
England's Liz Young plays at the Kenya Ladies Open tournament. (Photo by GEOFF CADDICK / AFP)

The first round of the Magical Kenya Ladies Open is underway at Vipingo Ridge in Vipingo, Kenya, 30km north of Mombasa on the Mombasa-Malindi Highway. The Pro-Am commenced on December 4th, with the official tournament taking place between December 5th and 8th. 

England’s Liz Young, who started in the first pairing from the 10th hole at 7.30 am on Friday, made a brilliant start and took the clubhouse lead on four-under-par 68.

Esther Henseleit needs a win to have a chance of winning the order of merit this week, then came in with a three-under 69, while Cheyenne Woods is the next best-placed player in the clubhouse on two-under-par.

The tropical weather posed a slight challenge for Liz, who admitted being unaccustomed to playing in such hot weather.

“I was on the range warming up this morning and my hands were getting very sweaty, which is unusual for me and I had to change my glove, which is something I never have to do. I knew the ball was going to fly a bit and the last hour on the golf course the cloud cover came in and cooled it down a bit. First thing, it was quite hot out there.”  

The tournament features a total of 108 women players from 28 countries, who are set to compete for the top prize of Kes 5million.

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