He’s serving a four-year suspension from ‘all sport’, yet Rotorua policeman Brendon Keenan was still able to compete, and win his age-group title, in Saturday’s Tauranga International Marathon.
Keenan was handed the ban in July by the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand, after admitting to importing the drug Erythropoietin – more commonly known as EPO – which can be used to increase red blood cell production and is illegal under sport anti-doping rules.
The suspension was backdated to 7 September 2017 – the date he made the online purchase of the drug, which was eventually intercepted by Customs and later destroyed.
However, Keenan was still allowed to run in Saturday’s race, because it was not considered an Athletics New Zealand ‘authorised’ event, and was operated by an outside promoter – Total Sport.
Because the weekend’s race wasn’t an authorised Athletics New Zealand event, Brendon Keenan was allowed to compete.
Not that Drug Free Sport New Zealand and Athletics New Zealand were impressed with his presence.
Keenan, who was once a high-profile advocate of barefooted running, finished third in his age group of the New Zealand marathon champs in Rotorua in May, and on Saturday recorded a time of 02:58:19 in finishing ninth overall and first in the male 40-44 years section.
Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Nick Paterson confirmed the technicalities around Keenan’s ban.
“It’s all organised sport carried out under the guise of the national sporting organisation. What it doesn’t include is social events.”
Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Nick Paterson wants to see event promoters doing more to
keep races fully clean. Photo: STUFF
This was the first year the Tauranga event had been staged, and having the word ‘International’ in its title doesn’t exactly lend itself to the feeling of a mere fun run. The event’s website also states ‘it’s the first ever international marathon event to be held in New Zealand’s sunshine capital’.
When Stuff contacted Total Sport about their reasons for allowing Keenan to compete, event organiser Jules Harvey said:
“I need to get a bit more information about that. We’re just looking into it at the moment. We need to do a bit more investigation on those things, so I can’t really make any comments at this stage.”
Harvey then referred Stuff to Total Sport’s owner/director Aaron Carter, who didn’t respond to a message.
Athletics New Zealand chief executive Hamish Grey was able to confirm the event wasn’t sanctioned by his organisation, which he said left him in an unfortunate spot.
“If they’re not under the auspices of the bodies that he was banned from, then there’s nothing we can do, as much as we might like to,” he said.
“It’s disappointing, from Athletics New Zealand’s point of view, that he’s able to participate.
“It’s the principle here, isn’t it. Whether he actually ever got the product or used it is either here nor there, he’s admitted an offence, he’s serving a ban. My personal view is that that principle should apply across any athletic event.”
A former barefoot running advocate, Brendon Keenan won his age-group in the Tauranga race, in a time of 02:58:19.
Paterson also called into question the ethics of Keenan competing.
“My question is, if you’re the runner who came second in the age-group to Mr Keenan, how do you feel about it?”
Grey felt the issue highlighted that there was a wider discussion to be had in the athletics community about how they collectively work with these outside events, which he said were great for the sport. However, he noted his organisation’s resources would be stretched too thin to try and approach every single race organiser themselves.
“In the end, it’s over to each of the promoters, but we would welcome that dialogue.”
From Paterson’s perspective, he wants to see increased leadership on the part of promoters.
“What I’m really keen on is continuing the culture we’ve got in New Zealand, of really strong integrity in sport.
“I would like all races, at all levels, to be carried out by clean athletes. That’s my bottom line.
“We see other events which have an anti-doping policy as part of their rules and regulations. One good example would be the Tarawera Ultramarathon… Paul Charteris, the owner, he’s decided to put his stake in the sand.
“That’s a really solid stance. I’d like to see more races doing that.”