Wilfred Bungei: Athletics cheats belong to prison

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Last year when top athletes were involved in doping scandals that rocked the athletic community I proposed that any athlete and official found to have violated the doping code of conduct should be imprisoned and banned for life. At the time most people especially elite athletes found the proposal preposterous and too punitive of a measure. Some even went further to claim that I lacked empathy and consideration for the Kenyan athletes. But the truth is quite the opposite, far from their claim, I pride myself in our athletes and my intention is noble-to save the pride of our country by cleaning up the sport that we all cherish so much. As a veteran athlete I understand that it is my obligation to speak about the issue. However we face major challenges; top being the lack of consensus among the Kenyan athletes and officials on what measures to take on culprits.

Last year exposed major scandals in the sporting world from major corruption in FIFA that saw the arrest of high level FIFA officials and the suspension of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and Michel Plattini. Towards the end of the year investigation unearthed major cover up of doping by Russian athletes by former IAAF President Lamine Diack and other officials. There came a domino effect that saw the ultimate suspension of AK President Isaiah Kiplagat and his Co-Deputy David Okeyo and former Treasurer Joseph Kinyua for alleged involvement in the cover of doping by Kenyan athletes. I welcomed the move by the IAAF Ethics Commission to suspend the Kenyan officials and the much anticipated release of the dossier on the 15th of this month.

This resulted in a paradigm shift and a moment of epiphany when major athletes started to echo my earlier sentiments. When the pride of a nation is at stake just because someone engaged in crime, selfish act of instant gratification, the most befitting punishment is a prison term and life ban from the sport and stripping them of any recognition achieved during their participation in active athletics. Any positive results should also be made public. Background checks should be done for coaches and management agencies before they are allowed to manage Kenyan athletes. Any coach or management agency found to be liable should be investigated and prosecuted. The same way that civil servants are vetted and those with criminal history or any graft allegations are barred from holding office, the same should be done for Kenyan athletes and officials. Athletic officials and athletes should be aware that their actions are not immune from prosecution.

We live in a world where information is within our fingertips. And information about the unethical use of performance enhancing drugs should be available to us. Athletes should maintain the professionalism . For our athletes feigning ignorance about drug awareness is a ludicrous excuse that should not even be accepted. Even my son who is 5th grader knows that the use of drugs in sports is unethical and immoral. He knows that progress and success in life is gradual and there is no quick fix. We are the athletic powerhouse and we should lead by example.

In expressing my opinion, I understand that it might elicit an uproar. I might even be ostracized by some people but let us accept it, doping is totally unacceptable. Transparency and integrity should be upheld by all the AK and NOCK officials. The athletes should not be sidelined in the policy and decision making process. I am open to dialogue and I welcome any constructive and intellectual criticism on this subject.

Our athletes have done so well in major cross country and marathon competitions. We are headed towards the Olympics and we should do that with our heads held high without any skeletons in the closet. We understand that the cleaning up of the sport will take time and that calls for collective responsibility among all the agents. The clinicians, pharmacists and local citizens should be able to report any suspicious acts by individuals trying to acquire performance enhancing drugs. Patriotism is the very foundation of citizenry and that’s a good place to start. We must be our brother’s keeper. The procurement and supply of performance enhancing drugs should be criminalized. And I am happy that for the first time in a long time, Kenyan athletes led by PAAK are actively involved in discussing and resolving the issue. I also would like to extend my gratitude to Barnabas Korir, AK Chair Nairobi County for his ardent effort in addressing the problem. His weekly columns have been handy in the effort to raise awareness and offer alternative solutions to curb the problem. This year should be our year of redemption. Let us remind the world that in times of crisis we stick together. We fall and we rise together. That is the spirit that Kenyan Nationhood is built upon.

Wilfred Kipkemboi Bungei is a Kenyan retired Middle-distance runner, who won the 800 meters gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

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