Michael Pavitt

It is sad that I am no longer surprised when the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) announces that several Kenyan runners have fallen foul of anti-doping rules.

Thursday saw the AIU announce four sanctions against runners, ranging from provisional suspensions through to an eight-year ban.

Elijah Manangoi was the most notable of those to feature, with the 2017 world champion over 1,500 meters handed a provisional suspension over whereabouts failures.

The same applies to Patrick Siele, who was provisionally suspended for evading, refusing or failing to submit a sample for testing.

Kenneth Kiprop Kipkemoi was given a two-year ban after testing positive for the banned substance terbutaline, while Mercy Jerotich Kibarus received an eight-year ban after testing positive for 19-norandrosterone to commit her second anti-doping violation in five years.

Manangoi was quick to respond to the announcement of his provisional suspension, writing on Facebook that the news was "devastating for me" and that he was "trying to get my head round it".

"What I can say is each of the missed tests happened during 2019, my case has nothing to do with prohibited substances and I’ve always competed as a clean athlete", Manangoi claimed.

"Last year was the worst period of my career when I was upset through injury which impacted everything on and off the track. I know I’ve let people down in particular my coach and fellow athletes and I also know that no matter what I say here I’ll be criticised.

"The facts of the cases are clear in my mind and I’m sure there will be a time when it is appropriate to go into more detail. But right now I’m focused on compiling a formal response to the AIU so won’t be commenting further."

Elijah Manangoi was provisionally suspended for whereabouts failures earlier this week ©Getty Images
Elijah Manangoi was provisionally suspended for whereabouts failures earlier this week ©Getty Images

Manangoi will get the chance to state his case and will hope to avoid a ban from the sport.

Nonetheless, the latest four sanctions continued to damage the reputation to Kenyan athletics, which has endured a steady stream of cases over recent years.

A total of 55 Kenyan athletes are currently listed as being banned outright by the AIU database.

The list of sanctioned athletes includes winners of numerous top-level events, including women's 2016 Olympic marathon champion Jemima Sumgong, three-time world 1,500 metres winner Asbel Kiprop and more recently former world marathon record holder Wilson Kipsang.

I questioned two years ago in a blog when the benefit of the doubt would run out for Kenyan athletics, given the repeated rule violations. It is a question that continues to linger.

There has been increased efforts to strengthen the anti-doping regeime in the country over recent years. The AIU helped to fund the first World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-approved laboratory in East Africa, which opened in Nairobi in 2018. The move was hailed as a major development for the region's drug crisis.

The AIU also held a joint conference in Kenya last year to specifically deal with doping matters and educate athletes. This seemed a sensible step after a WADA taskforce determined in 2018 that athletes in the country were "insufficiently educated on doping and/or willfully blind as to the consequences of doping".

Officials from the country have made the right noises about improving the situation, with Athletics Kenya President Jackson Tuwei claiming earlier this year that the growing list of sanctioned athletes was a sign that the problem was being taken seriously.

Wilson Kipsang is among a long list of Kenyan athletes to have received bans in recent months ©Getty Images
Wilson Kipsang is among a long list of Kenyan athletes to have received bans in recent months ©Getty Images

If we take Tuwei’s optimistic view, it could be suggested that the recent sanctions are a sign that anti-doping efforts have been strengthened and are inevitably catching athletes who remain uneducated over the consequences of doping.

While the situation appears to be getting worse, perhaps the growing list of sanctions is progress.

Could the cases lead to a greater awareness among athletes of the consequences of doping and eventually lead to a necessary cultural shift?

Kenya's Tokyo 2020 Chef de Mission Waithaka Kioni put it well in May when he suggested the postponement of the Olympic Games had given the country a reprieve as it attempts to adhere to anti-doping guidelines set by the AIU on testing, education and results management.

Kenya, unsurprisingly, is listed by the AIU in category 'A' for nations with the highest doping risk.

We can only hope that the situation improves over the coming year in Kenya, as the credibility of its athletes is continuing to be damaged with every sanction. Given Kenya’s pedigree in distance running, it currently is a sorry situation and makes it difficult to look forward to watching their athletes at Tokyo 2020.


Keeping on the topic of credibility and anti-doping, I noted that two books are heading to the shops detailing different parts of the Russian doping scandal, which I suspect were initially planned to launch at the time of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The first, written by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh and titled The Russian Affair is set to examine the relationship between Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, as well as the central role the former athlete and anti-doping official had in exposing the scandal.

The second will be the autobiography of former Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory head Grigory Rodchenkov, who ultimately fled to the United States in 2015 and provided much of the evidence against Russian athletes accused of engaging in doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The autobiography, entitled The Rodchenkov Affair - How I Brought Down Putin's Secret Doping Empire, has already generated headlines and is expected to do so further in the coming days.

I suspect many - including myself - will sit down to read both over the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see how the two books will shape perceptions of both the Stepanovs and Rodchenkov.

Personally, I feel that the latter is likely to produce the greater headline-making material, but the former is the one I am most interested in reading.