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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Kenya plea over athlete defection
By Harry Peart
BBC sports correspondent

Saif Saeed Shaheen
Shaheen caused controversy when he quit Kenya for Qatar
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has appealed to his country's athletes to stop defecting to richer nations for financial rewards.

It comes amid growing concern at the number of athletes who have changed nationality ahead of the World Championships in Finland on Saturday.

Kenyans, especially those from the rift valley region, have a formidable reputation as world class runners.

As many as 15 could be appearing in foreign vests at the event in Helsinki.

President Kibaki called on the athletes to put patriotism above all considerations, and resist the temptation to change citizenship for financial gain.

Over the last two years about 40 runners have changed nationality to appear for rich Gulf State nations.

Possible rule changes

The most prominent defector is Saif Saeed Shaheen, formerly Stephen Cherono, who now runs for Qatar.

The world steeplechase champion and world record holder receives a lifetime monthly wage of $5,000, and $250,000 if he wins a world or Olympic gold medal.

Economic hardship in Kenya is given as the main reason for the defections.

But some athletes have complained about the lack of recognition in their own country and the difficulty of being selected for Kenya's powerful team.

The Kenyan authorities have threatened to ban defectors training in Kenya.

The sport's ruling body, the IAAF, has confirmed a rule change which means athletes would have to wait three years after gaining citizenship before they can compete for their new country.

They rejected pleas from African countries to double the period of ineligibility for athletes changing nationality to six years.

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