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Kenya under anti-doping microscope

Following the news that Kenya faces censure from the World Anti-Doping Agency, anti-doping researcher Dr Lisa Whitaker looks at the issues behind why Kenya has failed to carry out a full inquiry into the increase in the numbers of their athletes failing drugs tests.

In the last 12 months, a number of high profile revelations indicate that doping is still a major issue in sport. Several reports have identified that large numbers of athletes from the same country are collectively testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Prior to the London 2012 Olympics, rumors circulated that doping was widespread in Kenya. Kenyan sports authorities denied the allegations, but since January 2012, 17 Kenyan athletes have failed drugs tests compared to only two between 2010 and 2012.

It is plausible that the lack of a WADA accredited blood testing laboratory in the country may have been influential in the decision to dope. Without a readily available laboratory to carry out blood testing analysis, samples have to be sent elsewhere. This costly approach limits the number of blood tests that can be carried out and could lessen athletes’ perceived risk of getting caught doping through drugs tests. As a result, more athletes may be willing to try to enhance their performance illegally because the perceived benefits may outweigh the perceived threat of getting caught.

It is difficult to say why there has suddenly been a dramatic increase in the number of Kenyan athletes failing drugs tests. However, Kenya was top of the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s list of most-tested nations last year, which offers one explanation. The more tests conducted, the more likely that athletes will be caught if they choose to use performance-enhancing drugs. Alternatively, the number of athletes who are willing to dope may be increasing because of the gains to be made from sporting success. In a country like Kenya, sporting success can not only lead to fame and fortune but under certain circumstances it will allow individuals to provide for their family for life.

London 2012 Athletics

As the reasons for the sudden increase in the number of Kenyan athletes testing positive are unknown, Kenyan sports authorities were given the task of carrying out an investigation. However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has expressed its frustration with the lack of action taken by Kenyan sports authorities to investigate the increasing number of positive drugs tests. The actions of Kenyan sports authorities could lead to the WADA declaring Kenya as non-compliant with the WADA Code. At present this is probably unlikely but if the WADA chose to conduct an audit and found that the Kenyan authorities were not doing enough to conform with anti-doping policy, Kenya could be declared non-compliant.

Yet Kenya is not the only country under the WADA’s scrutiny. Jamaica is currently being audited following a number of high profile athletes failing drugs tests and information indicating that existing drugs testing protocol in Jamaica is inadequate. Despite countries having to comply with the WADA Code, it appears that some national anti-doping organisations (NADOs) may not be meeting standards set out in the Code. If countries fail to accept, implement and enforce the Code, the WADA could declare them as non-compliant. The International Olympic Committee could then take action by banning countries such as Kenya and Jamaica from the Olympic Games. Currently, this measure is unlikely but in the future, key stakeholders may choose to exert such powers in order to uphold and emphasise the importance of anti-doping policy.

The WADA is continuing to implement changes to addr.ess cultural doping issues, which could prevent the need for actions such as banning countries from the Olympic Games. In the draft 2015 WADA Code that has recently been published, values-based education has become a compulsory component. Although drug testing is important and access to blood-testing facilities in every country may enhance the efficiency of drug testing, education is key to preventing doping. Particular emphasis is now on targeting preventive education at young people to equip them with the necessary skills to help them stay clean and comply with their anti-doping responsibilities. This type of approach may be more cost-effective for less developed countries who struggle to implement detection-based deterrence to the same standards as countries such as the UK.

Photo used under creative commons license and courtesy of Rachel Clarke.

About the Author

Leeds Beckett University

Dr Lisa Whitaker

Dr Whittaker is a former researcher at Leeds Beckett.

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