Africa-born stars sweep Bahrain to top of athletics

Agence France-Presse . Jakarta | Published at 12:05am on September 01, 2018


Bahrain's Kalkidan Befkadu celebrates after winning the final of the women's 1500m athletics event of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta on Thursday. — Reuters photo

The tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain finished joint-top of the Asian Games athletics table with 12 golds -- but not everyone is rushing to congratulate them.
That is because not a single track win at Asia’s regional Olympics would have been achieved without ‘naturalised’ athletes who were born in Africa.
Bahrain’s policy of scouting and offering nationality to talented foreign athletes -- which is entirely legal -- has stoked controversy for years, but the results have been particularly stark at this Games in Indonesia.
All 10 individual athletics gold won by Bahrain were earned by runners born on the African continent -- Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco.
Of the two gold-winning relays teams, all but two athletes were also of African origin.
For the athletes themselves, the appeal of switching allegiance is obvious -- financial security is key, but tales of poor treatment or lack of opportunities in their countries of birth are commonplace.
‘Bahrain was good pay, a good treatment,’ explained 1,500m and 5,000m gold winner Kalkidan Befkadu, 27, who says she moved to the Gulf nation six years ago.
‘There’s so many strong athletes in Ethiopia so it’s a challenge to compete, so that’s also why I changed.’
‘Yes I’m pleased with my decision,’ she told AFP with a beaming smile, minutes after winning her second gold of the meet.
But for athletes from other nations who ended up with silver, bronze or empty-handed after falling behind African-born competitors, there is a sense the competition has been distorted.
India’s Dutee Chand -- who had to fight a legal battle to even compete in Jakarta due to her high testosterone levels -- twice missed out on gold, in the 100m and 200m, to Nigerian-born Edidiong Odiong.