Olympics: Kiwi athlete Zane Robertson faced death threats over doping

By Guy Heveldt

Rio-bound runner Robertson says speaking out over doping led to warning he would be set alight in Kenya.
Zane Robertson leads out a 1500m race in Kenya.
Zane Robertson leads out a 1500m race in Kenya.

Kiwi athlete Zane Robertson received death threats for talking about the problem of doping in Kenya.

The 26-year-old middle distance runner, who will compete in the 10,000m in Rio, moved to the east African country with his brother Jake a decade ago to further his athletics career. He now lives in Ethiopia.

Robertson was one of many athletes who took to social media this week criticising the International Olympic Committee over their decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia for the Rio Olympics after their state-sponsored doping programme was exposed. He expanded on this in a wide-ranging interview to be aired on Newstalk ZB this afternoon, but also claims someone threatened to necklace him - a gruesome way to die involving a tyre filled with petrol that surfaced in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

"I have been close to [doping]," he says. "I can't name people or countries because I had some death threats a few months ago just for even mentioning the topic around the area.

I don't want to get killed for doing what is right or speaking up but I feel Twitter and social media are a place I can do that.

"The more athletes who speak out on the topic, I feel they will put pressure on these big governing bodies or federations to crack down on it and actually do something about it.

"One of [the threats] was from a Kenyan. He said he was going to put a tractor tyre on me and set me on fire. That was just one of them.

"I reported it [on Facebook], just a general report, but I can't really do anything about it. These guys are obviously very proud of their athletic achievements and what they have done as a country. It's that whole pride that sets them back. They are willing to win at any cost and willing to defend themselves at any cost. It's a dangerous environment to be in."

Kenya's Olympic participation was in doubt in May when the World Anti-Doping Agency recommended the country be declared non-compliant over their anti-doping efforts but athletes from the country will not only be competing in Rio but are expected to collect a number of medals. Kenya won 11 medals in London in 2012, all in athletics.

"I know what I have seen and I know there are other countries doing just the same [as Russia] and they are sliding positive [drugs] tests under the table and hiding it away with bribe money," Robertson says.

"It's got to go to a level further than this. Russia is just a scapegoat when there are a lot of other countries out there doing the same thing.

"The IAAF and Wada were threatening to ban Kenya from the Olympics but now they are competing and they are still as non-compliant as ever. I don't care what testing they have now. I still don't think it's good enough.

"There are a few things we can do to really clean the thing up in a year or two. The first thing is to make testing 24/7. In the non-compliant countries, we need to send testers from compliant countries so there's no chance of bribery and you are sure to get the correct results."

Zane Robertson. Photo / Greg Bowker
Zane Robertson. Photo / Greg Bowker

Robertson has represented New Zealand from 1500m to 10,000m with his best result the bronze he won in the 5000m at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The brothers famously left Hamilton aged 17 to move to the Kenyan village of Iten, population 42,000. They slept rough in a small room together and went seven years without seeing their parents.

Zane has never really made a dent on the international scene but was not tempted to use drugs.

"No, definitely not," he says. "I was approached once in 2007 by someone in Kenya but, as you can see in my results over the years, I was nowhere. As a youth growing up in New Zealand with sportsmanship and general morals, you can't consider that. It's not something normal for us.

"[The approach happened] really early on. It was kind of weird. I had never experienced anything like that before. He just came to us and gave us his card and said he was a doctor who specialised in sports performance. We said, 'What type of performance?' And he said, 'Everything that will make you run faster.' He gave us his card and left quickly.

"It wouldn't be this open any more because of the topic and especially the crackdown. People can get arrested now.

"I'm sure it's all done behind closed doors now. I don't see a lot of it any more, just the tell-tale or giveaway signs [in other athletes].

"Drugs will be in Rio. It's unfortunate. I keep hearing about these positive tests from the London and Beijing Olympics. I hear numbers and that some of them are medallists but I don't hear names. They just keep coming out with these figures and then let it go but we need names so these people can't compete in Rio."

- Herald on Sunday

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