Dubai: Betlhem Desalegn, top UAE middle distance runner, is expected to be back in action at the Asian Games in Jakarta next year after serving a ban for a failed dope test last year.
The President of the UAE Athletics Federation (UAE FA), Ahmad Al Kamali, strongly backed the athlete in a chat with Gulf News: “The athlete has a two-year ban from the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and she is going to finish this by August next year.”
“We did our part and we are happy with it [what we have done]. She [Desalegn] will be back in about eight months’ time. She made a mistake and whatsoever has happened, I think she is going to keep it behind her shoulder. Her comeback event with a medal will be the Asian Games in Jakarta next year,” he added.
Desalegn, who celebrated her 26th birthday last week [November 13], was banned by the IAAF for a doping offence on the basis of an abnormal longitudinal profile in the context of the IAAF’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) Programme just before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Born in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Desalegn was an established junior champion for her country. But she switched allegiance as an athlete representing the UAE along with countrywoman Alia Saeed Mohammad, in 2008. During the last decade, the athlete has landed a few honours for the UAE, prominent among these being a new championship record in the women’s 5,000 metres en route to a golden double [1,500 metres and 5,000 metres gold medals] at the 20th Asian Athletics Championships in Pune, India in 2013.
After displaying steady progress in her timings, much was expected of the athlete as she prepared for the 2016 Rio Games. However, she did not make the trip to South America and avoided all competitions on the pretext of an aggravated hamstring injury.
Following a decision of the UAE National Anti-Doping Agency, Desalegn was initially cleared off of the doping offence on the eve of the 2016 Olympic Games. The IAAF went on to immediately exercise its right of appeal to CAS and re-imposed a provisional suspension upon the athlete to preserve the integrity of athletics competition in Rio.
In a subsequent decision, the UAE AF imposed a reduced sanction of 15 months which was again appealed before the CAS by the IAAF. Further, the CAS found that the athlete had committed an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) as a result of likely use of a prohibited substance or method and imposed a full two-year period of ineligibility along with a disqualification of her results from March 6, 2014 through to July 22, 2016.
Al Kamali, also a member on the IAAF Executive Council, has stood firmly behind his athlete. “This is a normal case and nearly all federations have had to handle these sorts of cases with regards to their athletes. We too had it in the UAE in the past, so there is no need to make it more than what it should be,” he said.
The UAE chief further reiterated that Desalegn has been going about her routine like any other professional. “She is allowed to train and she is training in Addis Ababa. And that’s normal. We cannot kill our athlete. We cannot kill anyone. [Justin] Gatlin came back and he won. [Maria] Sharapova and all the other big ones also came back and competed. This is normal,” Al Kamali said.