The practice of 'nationality doping' has reared its head again after 'Turkish' athletes born in Kenya take home one-twos in the men's and women's races at the European Cross Country.
You try to cut out doping with blood tests, urine tests, biological passports. You spring random tests, unexpectedly, when an athlete is least expecting it and when you are most likely to catch them out. But there's a type of doping that you can't eradicate through random testing or biological passports. And that's 'nationality doping'.
The Irish football team was recently called "England's reserves" by Derry City manager Kenny Shiels, who thus incurred the wrath of one James McClean. But while it is no secret that many of Ireland's greatest players - Ray Houghton, John Aldridge, Jon Walters - weren't born on the Emerald Isle, the 'granny rule' means that there has to be at least some familial connection to Ireland in order to play for them. So one couldn't accuse Ireland of 'nationality doping'.
Unlike Turkey's cross country team.
In July Fionnuala McCormack finished fourth behind Yasemin Can of Turkey in the European Track Championships (Can won the race). McCormack voiced her frustrations at the fact that Can was competing for Turkey despite being from Kenya and only being cleared to run for Turkey four months previously. McCormack called it "a complete joke" at the time, and it's unlikely her views will have changed since, especially given that today she finished fifth in the European Cross Country Championships, again behind Can.
Another Kenyan-born athlete wearing a Turkish singlet, Meryem Akda, finished second behind Can while in the men's race two Kenyan-born athletes, Aras Kaya and Polat Arikan, finished in the top two spots - also representing Turkey.
Sonia O'Sullivan and Jerry Kiernan were commenting on the race for RTE and both of them made fairly clear their distaste with the current system. O'Sullivan said that the IAAF were "not brave enough" to distinguish between "legitimate" changes of nationality (in cases involving refugees, for example) and switches purely to make a country look better on the medal table.
Kiernan echoed McCormack's previously expressed sentiment, calling it a "joke". He claimed:
Those two Kenyans don't live in Turkey and they've probably never been to Turkey. They live in Iten and the Turks have rented out three apartments in a compound rented out by Lornah Kiplagat, the great runner. The coach is a Bulgarian and they have no connection whatsoever with Turkey other than when they pitch up to these competitions wearing a Turkish singlet.
Sonia O'Sullivan & Jerry Kiernan on the issue of nationality in athletics as Kenyan-born Can wins gold for Turkey https://t.co/mYFIkoOi9y
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) December 11, 2016
Speaking to Will Downing of the Irish Sports Network after the race, McCormack sounded devastated and while she said, "I do love this event", she said she wanted things to change regarding the issue of 'nationality doping':
Something has to be done. I can’t do anything about it, someone else has to do it and it’s at the top that it needs to be sorted out. That’s all I can really say about it.
Are athletes like McCormack being robbed, or are Turkey just playing the rules in the ruthless world of professional sport?
The Irish women's team of Shona Heaslip, Kerry O’Flaherty, Ciara Mageean, Laura Crowe, Michelle Finn and McCormack finished sixth in the team standings.
In the men's race, Paul Pollock finished 36th while Mick Clohisey came in next in 43rd. Jack O'Leary came in sixth in the junior men's race.
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