Comment: Doping has destroyed the god-like status of Kenyan athletes

"We all owe it to the next generation to bring back some of the innocence of sport," Ade Adepitan writes after reporting on doping in Kenya.

Former Paralympian Ade Adepitan grew up in awe of Kenya’s athletes, but was saddened to find a story of doping, cheating and corruption when he travelled there for Dateline's story.

The air was warm but not overpowering like the oppressive heat we had felt earlier on the dusty track we'd driven along to get to our destination. Every now and again wisps of red dust would swirl and dance in the air, as a light gust of wind blew across the open expanse.

This was my first opportunity to really take in my surroundings. About five minutes earlier I'd interviewed Wilson Kipsang, one of Kenya's many long distance running legends and a former marathon world record holder.

I'd come to the spiritual home of long distance running to make a documentary, The Betrayal of Kenya's Athletes. 

I was there to investigate allegations of corruption, and the doping scandals that have been slowly destroying the god-like status that Kenyan athletes, especially the middle and long distance runners, had gained all over the world after decades of dominance.

My director Karolina Mottram had asked Kipsang to find us somewhere beautiful to do the interview and he duly obliged by taking us to his half-finished stadium up in the hills of Iten. We were actually nearly 2,500 metres above sea level.

The 400m track was made of red dirt, with a rickety wooden stand on one side. The rest of the track was surrounded by trees. Through the trees you could see the sun setting over the hills creating a picture perfect view of the villages dotted below us, the Rift Valley was somewhere in the distance.

Wilson's driver told us he'd once seen elephants majestically making their way to one of the nearby rivers whilst he was up there. This unusual stadium was in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful settings I'd ever seen.

I couldn't resist it, even though I was in my heavier everyday wheelchair I had to do a lap. Champions were made on this track, and I wanted to roll in their footprints, feel the effects of the altitude that was in part responsible for the famous Kenyan long distance stamina. I was breathing out my backside after 200 metres!

In our interview Kipsang told me about how Kenyan athletics had fallen into a black hole, through mismanagement, greed and corruption. It was hard to listen to - I grew up in awe of Kenyan runners.

Their style, speed and most of all their successes in the greatest show on earth, The Olympic Games. I was gutted and angry when I heard about the desperate situation that their track and field had fallen into.

It wasn't until I spent two weeks with 25-year-old Kenyan 5k runner Julius Taurus, that I began to get an idea of how bad things were. Julius was at the bottom of the athletics pile, trying to make his way up the snakes and ladders board that is sport in Kenya.

Julius was rake thin, if he turned sideways you'd probably lose sight of him behind a lamppost. He trained twice a day with his running club at a town called Kapsabet in western Kenya.

At around 5am every morning they'd go for a 16k competitive run through the hills and around the streets of Nandi, getting back before sunrise.

For his main meal Julius would heat up some black eyed beans, and mix in an avocado he'd pulled down from a tree in the compound where he and the other athletes stayed.

Then from early morning to mid afternoon Julius would search for work, usually backbreaking manual labour on a local farm in nearing 40 degree heat. After a short rest he'd go for another run with the team in the evening.

They are probably many athletes trying to make their way out of poverty from countries all over Africa and Asia who may have similar stories. But I couldn't help thinking - this is Kenya!  A nation that for decades has produced some of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen.

Over the years tens of millions must have flowed through the country. Be it through development money given to the country by big corporations, sponsorship deals, prize money, or running camps.

All off the back of global titles and world records broken by Kip Keino, Paul Tergat, Henry Rono, Daniel Komen, Ezekiel Kemboi, and David Rudisha just to name a few!

Yet all the stadiums I saw were either rundown or unfinished because the money had run out. Where had it all gone? If it had been invested into the sport I couldn't see it.

A major Olympic qualifying event that I went to with Julius in Nakuru was an absolute shambles. Often athletes didn't know when they were supposed to be competing or if their events were even going to happen, until the very last minute.

This was one of the competitions that Athletics Kenya expected to use to select their team for the Rio games.

So by this point I wasn't surprised when I discovered, with the help of an athlete who had agreed to do some undercover filming for me, that a network of people had developed in Kenya, ready to supply performance enhancing drugs to athletes. They lack educational support from their governing body and are desperate to run their way out of poverty.

Don't get me wrong, there are athletes in Kenya who cheat the system and know what they're doing and should be punished. There are also many who grow up in poverty, have never been to school and who have never heard of the drug EPO.



Right now the global brand of athletics is in crisis and the debacle in Kenya today symbolises how low the sport has fallen. I say this with a heavy heart, I'm not sure we will ever see drug free sport again. But that doesn't mean we should stop fighting to keep sport clean.

We all need to demand more from the organisations that run athletics. The IOC, IAAF, WADA, and the individual national governing bodies have to take responsibility, and lead the sport that billions of people love back into the light.

Athletics also needs to decide, are you going to only be about this relentless nation medal chase at major championships? That has in part led to the win-at-all-costs attitude and because of this many individuals and some nations have been prepared to cross the line. As an athlete, winning and being the best I could be drove me on, but I knew there was a limit.



We all owe it to the next generation to bring back some of the innocence of sport.

Dare I say, take away the Olympic and Paralympic medal table, and put real finance into grassroots Paralympic and Olympic sport especially in the developing nations.

Finally, don't just teach kids how to be the best in the sporting arena. Teach them how to be well rounded human beings, because if Olympic sport is going to survive in a credible form it should be about more than money and medals.

Athletics Kenya did not respond to requests for an interview or statement about Ade’s story.

See The Betrayal of Kenya’s Athletes in full: