Athletics: Freeze on athlete trade too late: Rudisha's manager

Ruth Jebet after winning the Rio Games 3,000m steeplechase last August. She later set the world record at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris.
Ruth Jebet after winning the Rio Games 3,000m steeplechase last August. She later set the world record at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • In the cash-for-flags culture of international athletics, the price of success is £70,000 (S$124,400) a year for a teenage Kenyan and £400,000 for an Olympic champion.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has now moved to stop the talent trade, but the manager of David Rudisha, one of Africa's most celebrated runners, said that the damage is done.

James Templeton told The Times of London: "This has been going on for 14 years, so where was the IAAF then? We have just had a shameful era for athletics and this is a part of it.

"These Kenyan athletes who run for Qatar or Bahrain don't spend five minutes in their new countries. They go there for a couple of days to sign their papers and shake hands and that's it.

"Anyone who says it's not like that is a liar. The athletes don't want to be there either during their careers or afterwards. It's b***s***."

Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, an IAAF council member, said this week that there is a "wholesale market for African talent" and that young athletes were being duped into forfeiting their nationality.

  • £400k

    The payout (S$711,000) Ruth Jebet, who switched allegiance from Kenya in 2013, earned for winning Bahrain's first Olympic Games gold medal.

The council voted on Monday to freeze all new transfers of allegiance while a working party investigates.

Athletes changing nationality is not new but some countries are now recruiting in bulk. The day before the IAAF made its decision, investigators for the Nairobi-based Citizen TV exposed how the system worked.

They followed a group of nine Kenyans now representing Bahrain at a training camp near Eldoret, in western Kenya. The athletes spoke under condition of anonymity.

One said recruiters paid £6,000 a month, a huge sum in impoverished Kenya, with his parents getting a third of that on top. Another predicted a mass of defections.

Saad Shaddad, Bahrain's athletics coach, admitted that he was looking only for juniors.

The proof is on the podium. In Rio last year, Bahrain won its first Olympic gold medal via Ruth Jebet, a Kenyan who switched nationality in 2013, who won the 3,000m steeplechase and received a £400,000 bonus. Kenyan-born Eunice Kirwa added a silver in the marathon.

"The king (of Bahrain) is happy," Shaddad told Citizen TV. "The king wants a big team. He wants to win medals, world records. Ruth has opened the door."

Bahrain is far from alone. Turkey's nine gold and silver medals at last year's European Championships were won by athletes recruited from Kenya, Jamaica, Cuba and Azerbaijan.

Last year, the IAAF allowed 85 athletes to compete for new countries at the Olympics and there were 30 Kenyans representing other nations.

Templeton says that there is an easy solution. "The IAAF says it has been studying it for 10 years and it's complicated. It isn't.

"If you go to Qatar or Bahrain that's fine, but then you cannot compete at a major championships for five years.

"They won't put money into people who are barred for that long. That's the answer to all those who say stopping it is breaching your human rights. It's a blight on our sport."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2017, with the headline 'Freeze on athlete trade too late: Rudisha's manager'. Print Edition | Subscribe