Home > The Scene

More than half of Bahrain’s athletics medals are tainted by doping scandals

As another Bahraini athlete's career is tainted by anti-doping violations, it's time to ask whether the country has a problem with drug cheats

On June 5, the Athletics Integrity Unit gave 400m world champion Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain a provisional suspension for repeated whereabouts failures (missed drug tests). Naser is one of several Bahraini athletes who have been busted for anti-doping violations in the last 15 years. Since the mid-2000s, the Middle Eastern country has won 17 medals in athletics at the world championships and Olympic Games, over half of which have been tainted by doping scandals, suspensions and bans. They may not be sweeping the medal standings at major events, but many runners representing Bahrain are taking medal opportunities away from clean athletes, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Bahrain’s Olympic medals

Bahrain has won four Olympic medals, although only three are still listed in the history books. The country’s first Olympic medal came in Beijing in 2008, when Rashid Ramzi won gold in the 1,500m. He was later stripped of the gold in 2009 after it was made public that he’d tested positive for EPO at the Beijing Games, and Bahrain had to wait another four years until the country got another shot at its first official Olympic medal. At the London Olympics in 2012, Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal won bronze in the 1,500m, but was later upgraded to the gold after the two women in front of her failed doping tests.

RELATED: Olympic champion steeplechaser gets four-year ban for doping

Four years ago in Rio, Ruth Jebet won gold in the steeplechase and Eunice Kirwa ran to silver in the marathon. Since then, both women have tested positive for EPO, although the tests came after the Olympics, so they will keep their medals. Regardless of when they tested positive, Jebet and Kirwa will both have anti-doping violations on their resumes for the rest of their careers, and even if they ran clean in Rio, their results will always be marred by the asterisks of doping scandals. Of the four medals in Bahrain’s history at the Olympic Games, only one has been won by an athlete with no history of doping or foul play.

ADVERTISEMENT

Bahraini results at the world championships

Bahrain has 13 world championship medals in its athletics history. Only six of these were won by athletes who have never been involved in any doping scandals. Jamal won two 1,500m world championship gold medals in 2007 and 2009 to go with her Olympic gold, and she was joined on the podium in Berlin in 2009 by Yusuf Saad Kamel after he won gold in the 1,500m and bronze in the 800m. The country’s most recent medal at worlds (other than Naser’s) came from Rose Chelimo, who won gold at the 2017 worlds and silver in 2019, both in the marathon. 

RELATED: World 400m champion provisionally suspended for whereabouts failure

The other seven medals won by Bahraini athletes at the world championships were won by athletes who later tested positive for performance enhancing drugs or, in Naser’s case, missed too many tests, resulting in a whereabouts failure. Before he was busted for doping in 2008, Ramzi won two gold medals at the 2005 worlds in Helsinki in the 800m and 1,500m and he added a silver to his resume in the 1,500m at the worlds in 2007. In addition to her Olympic marathon medal. Kirwa won bronze at the 2015 world championship marathon in Beijing. Naser has won two individual world championship medals: 400m silver in 2017 and gold in 2019. She also won a bronze medal in the 4x400m mixed relay in 2019. 

The final tally of Bahraini world championship medals is 13, but only six were won by clean athletes. In total, Bahrain has won 17 medals at the worlds and Olympics, and 10 of them are sullied by doping scandals.