NAIROBI (Reuters) - Dozens of Kenyan athletes stormed the athletics federation headquarters in Nairobi on Monday, locking out officials and demanding that top Athletics Kenya (AK) bosses step down following allegations of graft and doping cover-ups.
Kenya, boasting some of the world’s finest middle and long-distance runners, has in recent years been rocked by a spate of failed drug tests and the country’s athletics federation has drawn criticism for not doing enough to tackle doping.
Allegations of corruption among AK chiefs tied to a Nike sponsorship deal, combined with Russia’s recent ban from global athletics, have stirred fears that the East African nation could be banned from international track and field.
The mostly low-level athletes swooped on the AK headquarters at about 7.30am local time, ordering staff to leave and barricading themselves inside the building, next to Nyayo National Stadium.
“We are taking united action to bring sanity to Athletics Kenya management and leadership,” the Professional Athletes’ Association of Kenya (PAAK) said in a statement handed out to reporters outside the AK headquarters.
PAAK said the doping scandal and media claims that top AK officials had embezzled some sponsorship money deposited by U.S. sports giant Nike were “putting genuine Kenyan athletes at risk of being banned”. AK officials have previously denied corruption and said the Nike deal was above board.
By noon, the athletes were still in control of the building, where placards aimed at AK officials read “corrupt go home” and “your time is over”.
AK officials could not be reached for comment.
Wilson Kipsang, the two-time London marathon winner and president of PAAK, confirmed it was athletes from PAAK’s Nairobi branch who had stormed the AK building.
“It’s too early to make a comprehensive statement on their action. I am in touch with them and at this stage, I am still collecting facts from the ground,” Kipsang, an Olympic marathon bronze medallist, told Reuters.
In Kenya’s running heartlands in the Rift Valley region, most athletes blame AK for the growing doping problem. They say the federation has for years tried to sweep the problem under the carpet and hasn’t tackled the problem seriously.
Isaac Mwangi, chief executive of AK, earlier this month told Reuters the federation was hamstrung by shortages of resources in the battle against doping but was doing its best.
“As Athletics Kenya our policy is very clear: we do not condone doping, we will not hide anyone who is caught doping,” he said.
After meeting officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) this month, Kenya’s Olympics committee chairman Kipchoge Keino said the country faced a suspension unless it tackled doping more seriously.
“WADA is seriously considering recommending Kenya be banned from all international competitions for failing to take action on doping matters,” said Keino, who is also a two-time Olympic champion.
Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Edith Honan and Gareth Jones