The West should divorce global politics from sports

Friday, November 1st, 2019 09:00 | By
Brigid Kosgei

By Timothy Fonsah       

Even by Kenya’s high standards, the past few weeks have brought considerable glory which has left the East African athletics powerhouse basking in glory. 

In a string of cities across Europe and in the US, Kenyan athletes have flown our flag high. Memorably, Brigid Kosgei shattered Briton Paula Radcliffe’s long-standing women’s record in the Chicago Marathon.

The biggest news, of course, was the sterling performance by our star Eliud Kipchoge, who must surely rank among the best athletes of all time. Kipchoge is the world marathon record holder and so in attempting to run the race under two hours, he was essentially competing against himself. His first attempt at what is considered one of athletics most iconic barriers in Monza two years ago failed. This time round, Kipchoge, whose humble demeanour masks a will of steel comfortably hit the milestone. 

The Kenyan media were right to celebrate these milestones. However, coverage in many western media outlets—though not all—has been strikingly grudging. Of course, it is correct to highlight that this was not an official world record, a fact that is not in dispute. In their typical sadism, some Western media tore into the achievements of both Kipchoge and Kosgei, tying their success to the shoes they wore in respective races.

Also, the decision of some of these papers to highlight the fact some other Kenyan athletes have been caught up in doping is completely unfair and should not go unchallenged. Every athlete is individually responsible both for their own integrity. These are some of the most decorated athletes Kenya has produced. And while there are undoubtedly some bad apples, it is grossly unfair to tarnish clean athletes by judging them guilty by association. This is defies sportsmanship and reeks of double standards.

For instance, UK and US media often cast the problem of doping as if it exclusively exists outside their territory. This is despite the well-documented cases of systematic doping from the countries.

Just on October 11, the controversial American coach Alberto Salazar, who has coached a string of stars including Mo Farah and 800m world champion Donovan Brazier, had his Oren Project coaching facility closed by Nike after it became clear their past policy of denying his complicity in suspected doping was unsustainable. Other star American and British athletes have been similarly tainted. Yet western media will never question the achievements of their stars by pointing to these cases.

To stop the double standards, Kenya and other members of the International Olympics Committee should insist that politics should be left out of the world of athletics. It is very interesting that the US for example, has been pushing to remove the World Anti Doping Agency from the jurisdiction of IOC. It instead wants this to fall under US law.  This is an obvious attempt to give the US unfair advantage over other countries.

The world saw a clear example of the capacity of sports to be weaponised by the huge legal pressure applied on football’s world governing body FIFA after it awarded Qatar rights to host the  World Cup, ignoring a US bid. The whole strength of the US judicial and investigative system was brought down on its executives. The US is now trying to import its efforts to monopolise decision making to athletics. This is unacceptable and should be resisted.  

Sports should be an equaliser, with only action on the field determining winners. 

— The writer is a sports analyst

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