• Protesters want misuse of Nike sponsorhip funding investigated
  • Kenyan athletes `are suspect' amid doping allegations

Kenyan track and field athletes barred officials from the sport’s governing body from entering their offices for two days to protest alleged graft involving Nike Inc. sponsorship money and a failure to deal with claims of widespread doping that are tainting one of the world’s leading running nations.

The sportsmen demanded the resignation of Athletics Kenya President Isaiah Kiplagat and his deputy, David Okeyo, whom they accuse of siphoning off sponsorship money from Nike, the world’s largest maker of athletics apparel. Kiplagat declined to comment when contacted by phone Tuesday. Okeyo didn’t answer four calls to his mobile phone and didn’t respond to a text message requesting comment. The protest ended Tuesday night.

“A lot of things have to change,” Julius Ndegwa, organizing secretary at Professional Athletes Association of Kenya, which arranged the protest, said by phone from the capital, Nairobi. “We need new faces in office. We want them to step down and be investigated fully.”

Athletics has come under renewed scrutiny after a series of reports in August by the Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD sparked an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The International Association of Athletics Federations announced sanctions against the All-Russia Athletic Federation earlier this month, effectively barring the nation from competition, including the Olympics, for an unspecified period until an independent inspection team rules it has cleaned up its program.

Athletes ‘Suspect’

The athletes want the Kenyan federation to name compatriots listed by the IAAF for doping, so that Kenyan runners aren’t regarded in bad light internationally, according to Pak Kariuki, an Athletics Kenya official for the Nairobi region. 

“We are harassed internationally,” Kariuki said by phone Tuesday. “Anywhere you go, you are suspect.”

Nike has an exclusive sponsorship deal to provide Athletics Kenya with running kits, funds to run the federation and to search for talent, Kariuki said. Details of the contract have remained secret, he said, while some of the gear is not getting to runners.

“Nike’s expectation and understanding of our sponsorship agreement with Athletics Kenya has always been that funds are to be used to support and service the teams and athletes,” the company said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. “We are cooperating with the local authorities in their investigation. Nike conducts business with integrity and expects that our partners do the same.”

Athletics Kenya barred at least 10 athletes from competition in the past three years for using banned substances to enhance sporting performances, Kariuki said. Two Kenyans were suspended from the IAAF world athletics championships in August after testing positive. Kenya topped the medals table at that competition with 16 medals, including seven golds.

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