© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated
Hans-Joachim “Hajo” Seppelt is a freelance journalist for ARD, a nationwide German TV and radio broadcasting network located in Berlin. He is, as his bio indicates, a film author who is involved in creating features and reporting for all of the German state broadcasting institutions. At this time, he is primarily reporting for the regional WDR network with the doping editorial team (WDR in Cologne).
Seppelt is also a reporter and expert for the ARD network on doping, politics in sport and coverage of the summer and winter Olympic Games, as well as other major sports events.
Seppelt recently spent time undercover in Kenya posing as a sports agent. His report, broadcast on German television as well as radio, has created a firestorm of controversy within Athletics Kenya. World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President John Fahey visited Kenya and asked the sports officials to investigate the matter.
One of the athletes implicated Mathew Kisorio, has received a two-year suspension. As a result of the broadcast Athletics Kenya’s Chairman Isaiah Kiplagat announced an ultimatum on October 17th that all foreign coaches working in Kenya without permits must leave the country in one week’s time. The announcement came one week after the report aired.
Christopher Kelsall: How long were you Kenya posing as a sports agent?
Hajo Seppelt: My colleagues and I have been in Kenya this spring and summer four times. When we stayed there the first time during the spring we posed as sports agents from Europe to approach a doctor in the high altitude region. He allegedly offered doping substances and prohibited methods to athletes.
We filmed with a hidden camera and taped the whole conversation. He was very open to us, showed us a normal blood screen with the name of Pamela Jelimo on it. He claimed that he is doctor of many top athletes and not just Kenyans. The tip about this person came from people who have been convicted already from committing doping offenses. Apparently they have cooperated with him in the past. First he did not talk about doping. When we asked him directly if he could work for us as a medical advisor for athletes in a camp in Kenya, he agreed. Then he started to talk frankly about doping substances he can offer our athletes and showed us a laboratory in the backyard. It was – in relation to African standards – a very well equipped room with some very expensive devices which are perfect for the support of such things as blood manipulation. The discussion took around 45 minutes and is video recorded.
In Nairobi we went to a place where allegedly people sell doping substances. We posed there also as sportspeople from Europe. It was a place where – according to the owner – a lot of world-class marathon runners are clients. The wall was full of photos showing athletes from Kenya winning the big city marathons in Europe and the US. It was very easy for us to buy EPO there.
When we were back in Germany I continued the communication with the doctor in the high altitude region via email to discuss all details. He confirmed in these emails what he could offer us – the same what he had done on camera. ARD TV aired the film in May. In summer we came back to Kenya to conduct interviews with Mathew Kisorio and to do further research about some positive cases. These cases have been denied by Athletics Kenya, but they are fact and confirmed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
CK: Have you aired the hidden video outside of Germany yet? Have any media companies outside of Germany shown any interest in the footage?
HS: No we didn’t get any request from other media companies. The most interesting scenes have been part of a report which has been aired twice in May, in Germany.
CK: Who are some of the athletes that you recognize as clients?
HS: Because this would touch juridical questions I cannot comment on the question who has bought doping substances. What I can say is that – according to the owner of the store in Nairobi – Patrick Makau is one of the clients of the store in downtown Nairobi. But the guy who sold us the EPO claimed that Makau and other world-class runners only buy nutrition supplements there. Believe it or not. Regarding the clinic in the high altitude region we have been told by the doctor that he is working with a lot of world-class athletes. He only mentioned Pamela Jelimo’s name. And he showed us her medical data. But again: He was talking about “clients”. Not more. In our point of view he was very cautious and didn’t want to drop names during our first visit. We have double-checked this person with our European sources. So we are sure that he was the contact person for people who wanted to do business with Kenyan runners. And that meant: good performances with “a little help from my friends”.
CK: Was the seller Kenyan or European?
HS: The seller was located close to the Hilton in Nairobi. I didn’t ask for his I.D., but he was African.
CK: Did you recognize any other athletes that were in photos at the seller’s business where you bought EPO?
HS: I don’t remember anymore, but there have been a lot of world-class runners on these newspaper clippings. Makau was one of them.
CK: In regards to Pamela Jelimo’s medical data, what did you see? Was there any information indicating her use of EPO?
HS: We could not study it in detail because the doctor showed it us only for a few moments. But I cannot imagine that in this document was anything suspicious, because it would have been too dangerous for him to present some hint or evidence of doping before we started to talk about this sensitive subject.
CK: Was Nandrolone mentioned at any time? It seems to be a popular drug.
HS: No, but Mathew Kisorio talked all the time about steroids. And he told us that he has not been aware of the specific names of the products which have allegedly been administered to him by his doctor.
CK: At any point in your four visits did you get to know some of the other athletes?
HS: We met Mathew Kisorio twice. He was apparently very afraid. But he talked very frankly about his doping experiences with doctors in the country. And about doctors who you can find widespread in the country – where the athletes have their camps. Our impression was that he hoped to get a reduced ban, for example one year or six months instead of two years – if he admits what he did.
CK: You wrote that you purchased EPO in Nairobi. Would your average distance runner in Kenya – considering how little money there is in the sport of running – be able to afford EPO?
HS: Kisorio described it very clear. The doctors invest in the athletes, telling them, that they don’t have to pay the whole amount, only a little part. But they expect to get a certain percentage of all the money the athletes earn in competitions. Easy business.
CK: So would you suggest that Athletics Kenya Chairman Isaiah Kiplagat, demanding that all foreign coaches working without permits to leave within one week will help eradicate the problem?
HS: I am really wondering if Kiplagat is the right person to lead Athletics Kenya. He denied positive cases from Kenyan athletes this summer even when they had been already confirmed by his own federation. He was blaming us – claiming that Europeans would be jealous because of the great success story of Kenyan athletes. Absolutely ridiculous. He threatened a colleague of mine only because he was filming the building of Athletics Kenya in Nairobi. To declare that the Kenyan doping problem is only caused by foreigners and not to take over responsibility for this problem is too easy. But the worst is: to eliminate democratic standards by kicking people out of Kenya because Mr. Kiplagat doesn’t want them there to me is really astonishing.
CK: What is your response to the following, from Kiplagat?
“These (foreign) coaches have been extracting blood from some athletes and mixing them with others things to qualify their doping claims. They are even responsible for calling in international journalist and feeding them with their doping lies.”
“They also house the same international journalists in their apartments when they come from abroad in a bid to sell their malicious doping campaigns better,” added Kiplagat.
HS: We did not talk to foreign coaches except Renato Canova. He never told us anything about that. And we have never published any suspicion about him. Never have we been approached by a foreign coach in Kenya. And we never stayed in any apartment of a coach or any other person linked to Kenyan athletics. I think, you should ask Mr. Kiplagat, who is lying here.
Podcast below, translated from German to English (aired in Germany only)
Interviewer: Because of its geographical location, Kenya is a training mecca for endurance athletes and apparently also the ideal place to produce successful distance runners. Among the first 20 of the men’s marathon world best list 14 are Kenyans. For years they have been winning everything possible in long distance running. Many are asking what’s the secret of success of the Kenyans. Is it only the good geographical conditions or physiological – or maybe illegal aid? In order to lift this secret, my colleagues Hajo Seppelt and Robert Kempe recently flew to Kenya. Hajo Seppelt is now on the phone with us. Mr. Seppelt, could you shed some light on this?
HS: I think it’s a fairy tale to say that this is just because of the altitude or because there’s a bottomless reservoir of talent in Kenya, but one has to state soberly that, what many have suspected, what many believe, that that was confirmed by our local research. Apparently one of the reasons is also that blood doping is likely done there. Whether it’s the classical blood doping or a type with smaller doses of Erythropoietin, it seems to help the because of the altitude already provides advantages to Kenyans, to help them to great successes.
I: You made a report about this in the Sportschau, which was broadcast today. Let’s listen to this, to your findings, to a scene that you filmed with a hidden camera. You pretended to a Kenyan physician that you were a European sports manager and asked him for help in your search for illegal aid (substances). For legal reasons, the dialogue has been re-enacted.
— beginning external clip —
Doctor: I’m happy to talk about it if your athletes need something. You understand, maybe steroids. I have lots of experience with those. Also with human growth hormone and with EPO. EPO is very, very common in Kenya.
HS: How are the doping controls here?
Dr: Not very strict, but we are careful. I can check the urine of the athletes and the entire blood “picture”. That way they don’t attract attention during tests.
HS: Can one also do blood doping here?
“…one has to assume than there’s widespread doping prevalent in Kenya.”
Dr: Sure. I have the instruments for that. And we can keep the blood bags in the fridge.
HS: What athletes do you work with?
Dr: I won’t name names, but there are many successful track and field athletes from Kenya. But athletes from the USA, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Qatar or Jamaica also come to Kapsalet (sp?), you understand.
— end external clip ––
I: That’s rather clear, Mr. Seppelt. What does the Kenyan Federation say about that, that it’s so easy to get to doping materials so easily in its country?
HS: The Kenyan Athletics federations holds the position that there is no doping problem in Kenya. The President Isaiah Kiplagat told us that. He said that there are one or two positive tests per year on average, and therefore one can say that there is no doping problem in Kenya. In principle he said that this exists, I found this particularly remarkable, only in Germany, where there is constant conflict about the topic doping, but that doesn’t apply to Kenya.
I: And which numbers have you… how many cases have you uncovered, in what framework could all of this be happening? What do you think?
HS: I believe honestly that according to the visit to this physician where we heard how the treatment is happening, and that this physician stated to be working with a large part of world-class athletes, and he came to our attention in fact for exactly that reason, because somebody from the Kenyan athletics scene gave us a tip. I assume that there are indeed a number of athletes. We heard, for example, that he also has to do with Pamela Jelimo (without there being mentioned any connection between her and doping). Pamela Jelimo is the 800m Olympic champion from Beijing, whose particular jumps in performance have been the source of doubts and scepticism for many people. There was no concrete connection to the topic of doping, but that this man told us that she’s his patient and showed us all the blood “values”, we found that rather surprising and, of course, it brings up all kinds of questions.
I: Have you given your results to the IAAF, or other functionaries. Have there already been official reactions?
HS: We didn’t show them the results, because we had to keep that a secret before the report aired on TV today. We wanted to wait for that first, of course. But we asked the IAAF what they are thinking about the fact that these problems seem to exist in Kenya as a whole. And we also asked what they say about studies of Copenhagen University according to which it appears that unusual blood values can only be caused by blood manipulations.
The IAAF didn’t know
There they measured those values. The IAAF said that they didn’t know about those studies. We found that very surprising and hard to believe. And further (they said) that it weren’t possible to do blood tests, which are particularly effective compared to urine tests, in Kenya, because the logistics for it simply aren’t there. And one could not guarantee that the bureaucratic guidelines for doping tests are followed in Africa. And this means basically in conclusion that one has to assume than there’s widespread doping prevalent in Kenya, but that there are no tests and that therefore those who start at the 2012 Olympics in London are probably able to win their medals untested and therefore in some way suspiciously. And that can’t really be the point of this.