By Jonathan Gault
April 15, 2016
BOSTON– Wesley Korir has never been busier. In addition to holding the title of 2012 Boston Marathon champion, he’s a Kenyan Member of Parliament who has been spearheading the effort to pass anti-doping legislation in his native land. Recently, Korir came up with a bill to empower the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK) while the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture proposed a separate bill designed to do many of the same things. Korir said that the creation of two separate bills was due to “miscommunication” as government-proposed bills (such as the one proposed by the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture) can move through parliament faster than ones proposed by individuals. Now the two bills have been combined and Korir believes that it will be passed by the end of next week.
Korir was in Mombasa for four days last week working on the bill and ran through the major talking points with other MPs so that they can handle it while he’s in the U.S. competing in Monday’s Boston Marathon (he flew in on Tuesday). He feels that the bill is in good hands until he returns.
“A lot of people really don’t understand, politicians don’t understand,” Korir said. “So they always tell me, ‘Wesley, what you say is what we’ll do.’ So to me, I didn’t feel bad leaving because I know that what I had left them was going to be done.”
The bill underwent a second reading on Tuesday, where it was “supported 100% by all Members of Parliament” and the public consideration period ended yesterday. Korir said that the bill’s third reading was probably held today. From there, parliament will consider the public view and make amendments as necessary next week. After those amendments, they’ll have a final bill that the president can sign into law.
So far, Kenya has already missed two WADA deadlines to beef up its anti-doping organization. WADA extended the deadline for a third time to May 2 and Korir is confident that Kenya will be able to meet that one. Should Kenya miss this one, it risks being declared non-compliant by WADA which could open the door for the IAAF to ban Kenya from this summer’s Olympics.
However, Korir wants to do more than simply meet the minimum criteria imposed by WADA. He believes that to eradicate doping from Kenya, the penalties need to be more severe — the four-year ban from competition that is standard under the WADA Code is not enough. He wants to see doping criminalized.
“It is very important because you have a culture of what I call survival of the fittest,” Korir said. “You have a culture whereby people are fighting for a few positions. You have 10,000 athletes in Kenya who can come to Boston and win Boston given a chance. But they don’t have that chance. They only take a few people from Kenya. So if you leave it open, then people will cheat because they want to get here.”
Changing the risk / reward ratio
Essentially, the rewards of doping outweigh the risks. For an athlete from rural Kenya, doping could open a path to major marathon riches that would not otherwise be available. If that path is closed off — by say, a doping suspension — then the athlete simply returns to farming, just as they would have if they weren’t good enough to win money competing clean. Criminalizing doping changes the math.
But signatories to the WADA Code (such as Kenya) must by abide by its rules and those rules state that countries cannot impose additional penalties on top of those established by WADA. So Korir is petitioning WADA to allow Kenya to impose harsher penalties: criminalizing doping by athletes, banning convicted dopers from ever representing the Kenyan national team and barring convicted dopers from procuring visas to compete abroad.
“[Running] is a big brand for us,” Korir said. “Running has sold Kenya all over the world more than anything else. That brand we need to take care of it and taking care of it is making sure the people representing Kenya are clean and have a good reputation…To me, and to all the Members of Parliament, when we were discussing it, we decided it was good for us to criminalize doping.”
But unless WADA grants Kenya an exception, those measures will have to wait. Initially, there was a provision to criminalize doping in Korir’s bill, but that had to be removed to come in line with the WADA Code. Instead, the bill now says that doctors caught supplying performance-enhancing drugs to Kenyan athletes will go to jail instead. Should WADA grant the exception, Korir and the other MPs will amend the bill to include additional penalties.
As it stands, the bill also sets up the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya and imposes penalties for corruption within doping control. Korir said that he believes there is “rampant” corruption among doping control officers in Kenya right now.
Finally, the bill will attempt to tackle out-of-competition testing by establishing an athlete database.
This marathon buildup has been unlike any other for Korir — in addition to shepherding the bill through parliament, he’s been working with other stakeholders to review Athletics Kenya’s constitution. But he feels good going into the race, and said he’s praying for God to turn up the thermostat on Monday (current forecast calls for a high of 72 degrees Fahrenheit) to replicate the steamy conditions of his 2012 victory.
“It’s been a busy period of time, definitely, compared to any time because of this bill,” Korir said. “It’s been crazy. It’s taken a lot of mental preparation from me. But I think I’m physically there. To me, I feel like I have achieved something. As a runner, when I came in as an Member of Parliament, this bill was very important to me.”