The boss of the Kenyan athletics team at Rio 2016 has been banned for ten years by world athletics’ governing body the IAAF for agreeing to tip off athletes and coaches about drug tests in exchange for cash.
Major Michael Rotich has been suspended since August 2016, when he was sent home from the Rio Olympics in disgrace following the publication of a joint investigation by German broadcaster ARD and The Sunday Times newspaper.
As part of the undercover sting, reporters posed as the coach and manager of a fictional group of British athletes who wanted to train and dope in Kenya.
Rotich, who was also Athletics Kenya’s most senior member of staff in the North Rift Province that is home to most of the east African country’s best runners, was caught on camera promising the reporters he would warn them when drug-testers were in the area to give the athletes time to flush the drugs from their system.
Over the course of three meetings in January and February of 2016, Rotich told the reporters he knew the British couple who conducted tests in the region “very well” and it was “very reasonable” to think that he could give the athletes at least 12 hours’ notice.
When asked by the reporters if a three-month lump payment of £9,000 would “suit” him, Rotich said: “That would be fine. I’ve no problem. Even 10 [thousand]. It would be a round figure.”
After more than two years of stalling by Rotich, during which time he “retired” from Athletics Kenya, he was formally charged with corruption and bringing the sport into disrepute by the IAAF’s ethics board in February 2019.
Having previously told the IAAF he only went along with the reporters because he was conducting his own investigations into doping in Kenya, Rotich offered no new evidence to the ethics board panel and it unanimously dismissed his explanation.
In a 13-page ruling, the three-strong panel said it did not find his story “plausible” and the “purpose of the agreement was plain: it was to assist those athletes to flush their systems of banned substances before taking doping tests”.
Describing the charges as “serious”, the panel found that Rotich’s conduct was “dishonest and corrupt” but said there was no evidence he “did in fact provide advance notice of doping tests to specific athletes, nor that any payments actually changed hands”.
Despite this, the panel had no reservations about imposing a ten-year ban on Rotich and ordering him to pay the IAAF a fine of US dollars 5,000 (£3,950) and more than £11,000 in legal costs.
The decision comes the day after Bahrain’s Kenyan-born Eunice Kirwa – the silver medallist for the women’s marathon in Rio – was provisionally suspended for testing positive for the blood-boosting drug EPO.
The winner of that race, Kenya’s Jemima Sumgong, has already been given an eight-year ban for using EPO, but both are likely to keep their Olympic medals as their positive tests came after 2016.
Kenya won 13 athletics medals in Rio, including six golds, but more than 50 Kenyan runners have been sanctioned for doping in the last five years.