Friday 24 May 2019

Comment: Turks' shameless talent-grab playing a sick joke on European athletics

Gold Medalist Yasemin Can. Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
Gold Medalist Yasemin Can. Photo: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

Cathal Dennehy

Another proud day for Kenya at the European Cross-Country Championships. Another 'up yours' from Turkey to the sport of athletics. Another unscrupulous grab at glory by a nation that would rather buy athletes than develop them.

And that's before we even get to doping - an area where Turkey has stood out.

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but this nation has turned the European Cross-Country Championships into an unfunny joke.

Yesterday afternoon in Slovakia, Yasemin Can and Kaan Kigen Ozbilen took gold medals in the blue riband events - two athletes born, raised and still very much living in Kenya.

Of course, that's not what they'll tell you. Yesterday afternoon I asked Can (pictured) where she spends most of the year, and she claimed she lives in Istanbul and only gets back home for an occasional holiday.

Which must come as a serious newsflash to those in Iten in Kenya, who say she is a daily sight out on the roads.

Back there, of course, her name is not Yasemin, but Vivian - as it was before she switched allegiance to Turkey in 2015 in return for a steady income and fat financial bonuses for any medals won under her flag of convenience.

And as for the men's winner, Ozbilen, his real name is Mike Kigen and he's about as Turkish as St Patrick's Day, despite the singlet he's been wearing for the past two years.

Yesterday afternoon there was no mistaking the apathy in Samorin as a mediocre attendance watched the senior races play out.

For an event that had once meant so much to so many, that once shined so bright, it didn't take a wizard to work out why they've stopped caring.

There were some superb contests all right, but they were in the U-20 and U-23 races, where athletes who are legitimately European got the just reward for their talent.

The senior women's race should have been a thriller, should have climaxed with a head-to-head battle for gold between Norway's Karoline Grovdal and Sweden's Meraf Bahta; instead those two fought each other to the line for silver a long, long way behind Can - and no one cared.

Bahta moved to Sweden in 2008 to flee conflict in Eritrea and it was six years before she was eligible to compete for them - an example of someone for whom the transfers of allegiance rules were made.

But then along came Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey and others, handing wads of cash to African athletes and pay-offs to administrators to fast-track the old switcheroo and ask no questions.

Earlier this year the IAAF froze all transfers of allegiance and right now it is figuring out a way to create rules that will allow athletes like Bahta to switch, but put a stop to the sick joke Turkey is playing on European athletics.

Because although they left Samorin with a whole heap of gold, deep down they know each medal is every bit as hollow as their sporting ethics - that is, if they have any.

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