THE BIG PICTURE: Kenyan doping still an issue as Kiprop case proceeds with suspension

Three-time World 1,500 m champ Asbel Kiprop (KEN)

While the doping problems in Russia – and the cover-up – are still very much in the news, so is the less-well-publicized, but continuing problem of Kenya.

The IAAF’s Athletics Integrity Unit posted a four-year suspension of 2008 Olympic 1,500 m champion Asbel Kiprop, further plunging the 2011-13-15 World Champion into disgrace. At age 29, he should still have multiple good years ahead of him, but he is now suspended through 2 February of 2022.

So far in 2019, a total of seven Kenyan athletes – all of high quality – have been suspended by the AIU or Athletics Kenya (listed with their best mark):

Provisional Suspensions:
06 Feb: Sarah Chepchirchir (Marathon: 2:19:47 ‘17)
04 Apr: Cyrus Rutto (5,000 m: 13:03.44 ‘17)

Pending First Instance Cases:
19 Feb: Sarah Chepchirchir (see above)

First Instance Decisions:
10 Apr: Asbel Kiprop: 4-year ban from 3 February 2018 (1,500 m: 3:26.69 ‘15)
27 Feb: Hilary Kipkosgei Yego: 4-year ban from 27 April 2017 (Mar: 2:11:54 ‘14)
27 Feb: Samson Mungai Kagia: 2-year ban from 14 October 2018 (Mar: 2:10:38 ‘13)
17 Jan: Jemimah Sumgong: 8-year ban from 17 January 2019 (Mar: 2:20:41 ‘14)
04 Jan: Lucy Kabuu Wangui: 2 year ban from 1 August 2018 (Mar: 2:19:34 ‘12)

Both Kiprop (2008) and Sumgong (2016) were Olympic gold medalists and Chepchirchir was a winner of a World Marathon Majors race in Tokyo in 2017. With five of the seven athletes active primarily in the marathon, it’s no wonder that the AIU and the World Marathon Majors – sponsored by the pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories – have agreed on a much stricter program of intelligence to go along with testing.

Kenya’s numbers pale in comparison with the number of Russian cases still working through the doping control and appeals system. But the seven so far in 2019 compare with one from the U.S. (long jumper Jarrion Lawson, on appeal) and none from most of the other top athletics nations.

On the AIU’s “Global List of Ineligible Persons,” Russia leads the way with 88 athletes, with Kenya at 36. The U.S. has 16 on the list, and – important for comparison to Kenya – Ethiopia has 11. Why?

If this were weightlifting, Kenya would be suspended as a nation from all major international competition. But it’s athletics and Kenyans continue to compete en masse.

But there are multiple issues at Athletics Kenya, with charges of bad governance and funding that never quite reaches the athletes it is supposed to, along with doping questions. If these positives continue, the IAAF may have no choice but to open its own investigation of Kenyan athletics, as it has done for Russia. That would be a tragedy, but without better leadership in Kenya, there may not be a choice.