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Dublin: -2°C Sunday 11 April 2021

'You don't go to European Championships to race a Kenyan team. It's fundamentally wrong'

Athletics Ireland have expressed its concern over the IAAF’s eligibility rules.

Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy.
Sport Ireland CEO John Treacy.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

SPORT IRELAND CHIEF executive John Treacy has called the eligibility rules which allow Kenyan athletes represent European countries ‘fundamentally wrong’ as the issue comes into sharp focus again.

Ireland’s Fionnuala McCormack missed out on a medal at the European Cross Country Championships over the weekend after finishing fifth behind Turkey’s Yasemin Can and Meryem Akda in Sardinia.

The pair, who have neither lived or trained in Turkey and changed their name from Vivian Jemutai and Mirriam Maiyo after switching allegiances from Kenya in 2015, won European gold and silver on Sunday.

“I’d echo what Sonia [O'Sullivan] said very well on the television,” Treacy told The42.

“The situation with Turkey came up at the European Track Championships this year as well. Some of these Kenyan athletes, all they do is apply for a passport and they get a passport hand-delivered to them in Kenya and off they go. That’s fundamentally wrong.

“If someone is genuinely a refugee or living in the country for at least three or four years, of course they should be entitled to run for that country. But passports of convenience for a country to win medals is not the way to go, it’s fundamentally wrong.”

Fionnuala McCormack McCormack dejected at the end of Sunday's race. Source: Sasa Pahic Szabo/INPHO

McCormack has articulated her disappointment and frustration at the IAAF’s rules and the governing bodies reluctance to address the issue previously.

In July, the Wicklow runner was denied a European 10,000 metres bronze after Can stormed to victory for her adapted nation in Amesterdam.

“If you’re going to watch a European Championship, you’d like to see the best Europeans, that are living in Europe, and not someone who flies from Kenya or wherever they come from and runs in the European Championships. That’s just wrong,” Treacy continued.

“If Kenyan athletes were living in Turkey and living in that society then that’s fine but it’s different if they’re just given a passport, that’s wrong, that’s fundamentally wrong.

“It’s one of the issues that the IAAF and European Athletics have to be looking at because let’s put it this way, it’s a bit of a PR disaster.”

As a former athlete himself and an Olympic silver medallist from Los Angeles in 1984, Treacy can empathise with McCormack who has now missed out on ‘three or four’ medals because of the lax rules.

“It’s very demoralising,” he added. “When you go to the World Championships you expect to run against Kenyans and Ethiopians and you do, but when you go to the European Championships you don’t go to run against a team from Kenya.

“It would be very demoralising. If you were Fionnuala McCormack you would have got three or four more medals in recent years.

“At the end of the day athletes are remembered for medals, not for who beat them out for medals whether it’s by the use of drugs or athletes with passports. In the final analysis nobody looks at that, they look at the amount of medals you have.

“Athletics Ireland have certainly voiced their concern around it and Fionnuala has spoken about it very well.”

Keep an eye out for an extended interview with John Treacy looking back on the 2016 Irish sporting year on The42 over Christmas.

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‘There are Kenyans so easily allowed to represent European countries… It takes away from the race’

About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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