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Kenya Continues to Headline The Sport, For Good or Ill: The Week That Was

Kenya was in the news again this week and track's associating with doping continues to not go away.

2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We often say of leaders or situations that aren't, strictly speaking, great that they are not precisely the things we want, but, in a perfect cosmic coincidence, are exactly those that we deserve. This can be, charitably, seen as the invisible hand theory applied broadly to all aspects of our world. We may not consciously want what is best for us, but the wisdom of the crowds or the gods or the what-have-you know better and tend to ordain what is right and just. Less charitably, this statement is employed as a reflection on karma: We may want this president who seems well-qualified to improve the country, but we get an ineffective president who can't force a divided and gridlocked government to budge on even the smallest of matters. We get what we deserve. We must pay for our sins, whatever they may be.

As humans, who often want far more than we truly deserve, the aforementioned phrase usually takes on karmic implications. We all want institutions, athletes, and public figures that are bastions of morality, justice, and good sense, but, given that we ourselves are none of those things--at least not perfectly so--we find ourselves with something lesser than our lofty wants. Our institutions are mired in corruptions; our athletes commit crimes and abuse their spouses; our public figures involve themselves in sex scandals and embezzlement. This, they say, is what we all deserve.

Although this provides a damning indictment on our moral stature as individuals and societies, there is something comforting in it. "This isn't the thing we want, but it is the thing we deserve," allows us to hide behind an illusion that we--individually and collectively--know what is right and just. Left to our own devices, without the pesky interference run by those bastards fate and the gods, we would do ok. Get out of the way everyone and every force that doesn't know what is right; let us pick for once.

In the sport of professional distance running, we might say that the Kenya is not the current center of talent we want--what with their doping, inept Olympic selection, and personalities--and names--that are hard to market to Westerners. But, given our flaws, such as an unbridled desire to get ahead, myriad paralyzing cognitive biases, and unspoken, yet lurking--always lurking--racism, perhaps Kenya is the center of our world that we deserve.

In response to endless rumors and, more recently, proven instances of institutionalized doping among Kenyan elite runners, Kenya instituted unmistakably harsh penalties for doping violations, including the potential for criminal charges. The newly-adopted policy accords well with what the hot-take mongers have called for since time immemorial: To completely ostracize the offenders. No second chances. No compromise.

Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough for WADA--the World Anti-Doping Agency--who declared Kenya non-compliant with their code. The code, it turns out, had been revised since Kenya began drafting their draconian measures and a national policy that was designed to accord with WADA suddenly did not comply. We can lay the blame at Kenya for having soft measures for too long or for missing deadline after deadline to submit their official policy or for simply not being located in Europe. We could also speculate that WADA was out to get Kenya, who they saw as a serial offender and safe harbor for dopers, and creatively changed their code to create one that would hold the Kenyan draft non-compliant.

Are some of these speculations crazier than others? Of course they are. Kenya certainly allowed the rumors to persist and the positive tests to pile up for too long without doing something to alter their course. But, wouldn't it be great--you can imagine WADA and the IOC and the IAAF thinking--if Galen Rupp won the Olympic marathon and not some skinny guy from Kenya no one has heard of? That would be swell indeed.

But, after brief speculation that Kenya would be excluded from Rio over their non-compliance, source emerged indicating that the IOC was not likely to ban the entirety of Kenya from the Olympic games. This seems just for a number of reasons not least among which that it would be capital-W wrong to put the dreams of individual athletes at the mercy of a procrastinating and very likely corrupt governing body. It's not David Rudisha's fault that some suit couldn't make a deadline. From a competitive standpoint this is good too. After all, we have to give Ethiopia someone to compete against and hate with an unquenchable passion. Rivalry drives sports.

Whether Kenya competes in Rio or doesn't compete in Rio is ultimately immaterial to the standing of the sport. That this became an issue at all--and a highly publicized one at that--is where the damage lies. If Kenya is allowed to compete, every event with a Kenyan participant will receive a couple sentences of commentary about their close call with doping allegations. If Kenya is not allowed to compete, every event that would have had a Kenyan participant would receive a couple of sentences of commentary explaining the absence of a real contender for their national ban for doping non-compliance.

Either way, doping, once again, will not only be a story to tell when the Olympics come to the track, it will be the story. That's surely not what we, as fans of track and field, want. In a perfect world, our sport and every other sport would be clean, records would be free from any suspicion or discussion of asterisk-affixation, and everyone would just get along in a pure and virtuous spirit of competition.

We're humans, though, and our basic condition is to be flawed in some way. Kenya's recent place in the news cycle and the prevalence of doping rumors, allegations, and busts provide a stark reminder that not only are we each individually with flaws, but the institutions we create and the icons we adore are cut from the same cloth. So, yes, Kenya and the circumstances that brought them to the spotlight of the 24-hour media are not at all what we want. But, either because of karma or as a statement of our very nature, this all might just be what we ultimately deserve.