Mary Hannigan: RTÉ panel show little delight in Turkish success
If at first you don’t succeed through doping, try buying in athletes from other countries
Team Turkey: It’s only been a couple of years since 46 of Turkey’s international athletes were added to the IAAF’s banned list, for assorted transgressions, including doping. Photograph: Tullio M Puglia/Getty Images for European Athletics
As the morning wore on, Jerry Kiernan sounded like a man who’d wished he’d stayed in bed. “Between the Turks with their three Kenyans and Spain with their three Moroccans, it’s a toss up as to which one of them wins,” he said to Peter Collins, his irritation with the IAAF’s rather relaxed transfer rules propelling him towards extreme levels of disgruntlement.
In recent years, European Cross Country Championship day has usually made for happy telly viewing, often delivering a smile to Jerry’s face and a shiny medal to the nation, helping invigorate us all as we took on the task of unravelling the Christmas tree lights.
Jerry had been confident, too, that it’d be another rewarding day, that Fionnuala McCormack would medal again. Although he suggested that if you discounted the top two – Kenyan Turks Yasemin Can and Meryem Akda – then she would have won a bronze. His point being if you have ever spent a weekend in Istanbul/Constantinople, you’re more Turkish than Can and Akda.
“The whole thing is a joke, Peter . . . those two Kenyans have probably never been to Turkey, ” he said. “They have no connection whatsoever other than when they pitch up to these competitions wearing the Turkish singlet.”
“They are basically being paid to run for Turkey,” said Sonia O’Sullivan. “You shouldn’t really be buying people from other countries.”
Jerry conceded that Turkey isn’t alone in importing such speedsters, but said they were “the most blatant of the whole lot”.
“They are shameless. They have a population of 80 to 90 million, they’re not short of people to run – and they are bringing in Kenyans!”
In fairness, though, it’s only been a couple of years since 46 of Turkey’s international athletes were added to the IAAF’s banned list, for assorted transgressions, including doping. Lest we thought Russia was the only baddy. When you’re that short of people to wear your singlet, you either limp away drowning in shame, or you go talent spotting and extend the cash-laden welcoming hand of citizenship. The decision is yours.
Happily, all of the competitors in Chia wore bibs carrying the message ‘I Run Clean’, which European Athletics president Svein Arne Hansen said would reassure us that “they are competing without resorting to doping”. Because if you were a doper, you’d hardly have the nerve to wear that bib.
Jerry wasn’t reassured at all by the bib biz. When he browsed through the list of the top 10 finishers in the men’s race . . . the top two, he noted with a sigh, Kenyan Turks . . . he zoomed in on the Spanish Moroccans: “Fifa, a cloud of suspicion [it comes with the name]; Mechaal who finished eighth, he was supposed not to be running because he has missed drugs tests and he got reinstated at the 11th hour; and Lamdassem, well, there’s all kinds of talk about these fellas.”
Not remotely reassuring, then, leaving you with the notion that a sizeable number of the entrants for the European Cross Country Championships weren’t actually European and/or should have been serving doping bans. The bibs, though, were nice.
Mind you, it’d be better if the ire was turned on the administrators who permit this transfer silliness rather than the athletes who avail of it to earn a few bob. “The IAAF,” said Sonia, “are not brave enough to distinguish between cases where people have legitimate reasons for moving countries, [like] refugees” and those who’ll hum any anthem if it pays their bills. Would you blame them?”
Anyway, the two abiding memories from the day were Ciara Mageean on all fours dragging her exhausted body over the line, her refusal to quit, regardless of the pain, just a little bit stirring. And that moment George Hamilton told us one of the Irish junior team, Bantry’s Darragh McElhinney, was born in . . . 2000. Yesterday, like.