In Kenya, sport doping out of poverty

They know the risks of doping and say they accept them, because they see no other solution to be successful and get their family out of misery: four athletes Kenyan second, doped with EPO, testify anonymously for the AFP.
Like hundreds of others, these athletes train in Iten, the cradle of Kenyan athletics, in the highlands overlooking the western Rift Valley.

They are anonymous in their country, but their times on marathon, half-marathon or 10,000m would make them first class runners in Europe or elsewhere.

On marathon, Kenya has an incomparable profusion of talents. Of the top 100 performers in 2019, 38 are Kenyans. And according to the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), nearly a thousand Kenyans earn their living in marathons around the world.

Far from the crazy sums distributed on the most prestigious races – up to $ 200,000 for the winner of the Dubai 2018 marathon – these athletes glean a few hundred or thousands of dollars here and there. A fortune in a country where a farmer can live on $ 1.4 a day, according to a 2015 United Nations Agriculture and Food Agency (FAO) study.

These four athletes tell the same story. They dreamed of winning by staying clean, but the bad example of stars falling for doping, the belief that everyone is doped and the need to feed their families made them take the plunge.

“Because my family is poor, I had to take drugs to make a living,” says Alex (the names have been changed, Ed). “Because you can not compete with people who are already doping and hope to make a reasonable living.”

He started taking erythropoietin (EPO) in 2017. Alex says he has never been tested. He takes the EPO two months before the competition and does not try to finish in the top three, but only in the paid places, thus avoiding the controls.

He does not fear being caught. “In life, you have to take risks to gain something reasonable,” he argues. He is not worried about out-of-competition testing anymore. Like his three colleagues, he is not one of the best athletes in the country, the only ones regularly monitored by the National Anti-Doping Agency (Adak).

Alex, who bought land with his earnings, has a clear conscience. “Sport today is not clean,” he says. “Yes, it’s a crime to dope. But because of the problems you have, you think you do not even have to apologize for that. ”

Tony started doping at EPO when he was 22 years old. He chooses races without anti-doping tests – which are expensive for the organizers – or does not run to the maximum when there are any. Despite everything, he says he has already been tested and has always been negative, because he takes care to take EPO well before the race.

He considers that the vast majority of athletes are doped. “I cheat because others have cheated,” he says. As for others, it is a friend who introduced him to the methods of doping.

He denounces the bad example given by the doped stars. “We met some coming out of the doctor’s office,” he says. “And two days later, you see this person on TV. This is a big star and you know that person cheated. So, as a young athlete, why can not I do it? ”

“Yes, I’m sorry, because I wanted to run clean,” he says. “But these people have influenced us and we have no choice.”

Tony knows the side effects of EPO. “It worries me, because I know there are risks to my health and that I can die at any time,” he says. “But I take the risk because I have to take care of myself and my brothers and sisters.”

In his training group of fifteen riders, at least four are doping. “If people stop cheating, I’ll stop,” he says.

All recognize that it has become more difficult to obtain EPO. “For me it’s (easy) now, because the doctor has become my friend,” says Lucas, doped since 2013, while acknowledging that the doctor is more cautious than before.

Donald said he spiked once in 2014, on a race that brought him $ 40,000. For fear of being caught, he then stopped. But he is now determined to start again, influenced by the results obtained by doped friends.

“Since I stopped, my life has been difficult,” he says. “That’s why I decided to take a shortcut.”

All are equally convinced that the fight against doping in Kenya suffers from the corruption of the authorities. It is, they say, easy to bribe an official.

“In Kenya, most people are corrupt,” says Tony. “To get rid of doping or cheats in athletics, you have to fight corruption first.”

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