E. African domination killing World XC C'ships, fear experts

Indo Asian News Service

Nairobi, April 5 (IANS) Debate on the future of the World Cross Country Championship is still emerging after over 400 athletes from 59 countries and regions converged in Uganda on March 26, for the event.

Year after year, East African runners have proven their domination of cross-country that they decide the outcome in all races, reports Xinhua news agency.

The top ten finishers in each of the four races in the recent past have all been notably runners from Kenya and Ethiopia.

Kenya selected a team of 28 athletes at this year's event and won the senior men's and women's titles. They won all the top six places in the women's event including the newly-introduced mixed relays team event.

At their council meeting in Berlin in 2009, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that the World Cross Country Championships will now be held once every two years rather than annually.

The council members argued that this would allow continents to organise continental championships on the alternate years.

This is after Kenya and Ethiopia dominated the discipline so much that European television interest in the sport took a nosedive.

"That was the excuse rather than the reason. This measure was undertaken after the Kenya and Ethiopia dominated the event so much that they made it an East African affair," Kenya's national sprint coach, Stephen Mwaniki told Xinhua.

So dominant have the two nations been that these days you don't even get athletes from West Africa competing.

The event returned to Africa for the fifth time this year with Kampala playing host. Earlier, Rabat in Morocco (1975), Stellenbosch in South Africa (1996), Marrakech in Morocco (1998) and Mombasa in Kenya in (2007) have hosted the event.

Many European countries are also no longer interested in competing for the minor positions at the World Cross Country Championships and European broadcasters are no longer interested in covering the event.

Some European federations are no longer interested in sending athletes to the competitions, reasoning why they should invest to fight for 13th place.

"The decision to have biannual global cross country championships did not go down well with Kenyan runners who see cross country running as the best way for athletes to launch preparations for their track season," Athletics Kenya Senior Vice-President, Paul Mutwii remarked.

Kenyan and Ethiopian runners made their world cross country debut in Madrid in 1981 when Kenya finished third overall.

Spain's Pierre Casacuberta was the last man from outside East Africa to win the junior men's race in 1984, while John Ngugi became the first Kenyan to win the senior men's title in 1986 in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the first of his five global titles.

Kenya's Paul Tergat also won the World Cross title five times. After Punta Umbria 2011, the world waited until 2013 for next global cross country event.

In 1997, a committee within IAAF that runs road running and cross country introduced the shorter races, the 4km for men and women.

This added the program to six races of cross country running on top of the junior men and women and senior men and women.

The reason given then was to expand cross-country running. However, insiders knew this was an idea promoted by European federations to try and balance cross country to give their athletes a chance to finish in respectable positions.

But as it turned out, Kenya dominated the inaugural 4km races in Marrakech, Morocco, in 1998 swept all the medals on offer.

Kenyans have continued their domination of the 4km races in all subsequent years and it also became a Kenyan affair.

Athletics chiefs again chose to make World Cross Country Championships a biennial event, claiming the global economic situation could not sustain some of their events.

During the 2010 edition in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Kenya made World Cross Country history by winning all eight gold medals and all four team titles, an awesome display even by their all-conquering standards.

Kenya and Ethiopia have unquestionably conquered and divided the event between themselves, with the big casualty of all being they have killed off the interest of practically everybody else and in the process making the World Cross Country to be largely ignored by the European nations.