A University of Stirling expert on doping in sport has been selected to investigate the prevalence or otherwise of performance enhancing drugs amongst Kenya’s elite-level runners.
Dr Paul Dimeo, author of the critically acclaimed A History of Drug Use in Sport, has been selected by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) to carry out a two-year project entitled Doping Behaviour, Causes and Prevention in Elite Level Kenyan Athletes: an empirical investigation.
Kenya has a strong record of success in international athletics, particularly in middle and long distance running, with all 14 of its 2008 Beijing Olympic medals coming from running events.
Reigning Olympic gold medallists Asbel Kiprop and Brimin Kipruto, who claimed the 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres steeplechase titles respectively in China, will be in Scotland this weekend to compete in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Run.
But while Kenyan athletes are household names on the international stage, little is known about their own knowledge of drugs - some of which may inadvertently fall foul of the WADA code.
“Kenyan athletes are not widely suspected of doping, with only eight high profile cases in the last 20 years and several of these included taking substances such as clomiphene and salbutamol, which might have been for medical purposes,” said Dr Dimeo, Director of taught postgraduate programmes in Sports Management and Sports Coaching at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence.
“Yet there is a feeling some global policy makers are anxious about the Kenyan context and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has targeted Kenyan athletes for out-of competition tests due to its lack of an established national anti-doping agency.”
International sport has been plagued by the use of performance enhancing chemically produced substances such as amphetamines, steroids, HgH, EPO and other advanced chemical innovations since the 1960s.
However, naturally occurring plants in Kenya, such as mirra and khat, may contain traces of substances noted on the WADA list, increasing athletes’ chances of testing positive in a doping control whether deliberately or inadvertently.
And a further issue surrounds the insufficient access in Kenya to the internet, where much of the anti-doping information is held.
Dr Dimeo added: “There have been a number of studies to try and understand why Africans and Kenyans in particular have been so successful in athletics, but no research examining the risks posed by lack of information or how anti-doping policies and educational initiatives function in African countries.
“There is an important sociological dimension in that most Kenyan athletes will cross national boundaries for education, coaching, training and of course competition so Kenya cannot be looked at in isolation.
“So any global flow of knowledge must be related to indigenous traditions, body cultures, diets and such like which go a long way to inform the moral values and socialisation of elite athletes.”
Dr Dimeo will gather the project information in partnership with academics at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, including former international runner Professor Mike Boit and Dr Vincent Onywera, from the Department of Recreation Management and Exercise Science.
It is hoped the project will be completed by January 2012, with its findings due to be presented to WADA, the Kenyan sports authorities as well as to the International Olympic Committee, IAAF and the Commonwealth Games Federation.
Michele Verroken, the former Director of Ethics and Anti-Doping at UK Sport, now advises many sports bodies on anti-doping in her role as Director of sports business consultancy, Sporting Integrity, and she believes Dr Dimeo’s project can offer new insights into anti-doping.
She said: “This research project will be incredibly important to help explain better how athletes find out about doping and anti-doping, the risks and the dangers in order to develop more relevant education and information programmes. Athletes’ exposure to doping information abroad and at home must be investigated to assess the implications of the information they received and how to improve the quality of this information.”