THE failure to look after the interests of some of its most vulnerable charges reflects very poorly on scottishathletics.

Seven world-class Eritreans granted political asylum more than five years ago could apparently have been wearing Scottish colours for the past two if the correct procedures had been followed.

The International Association of Athletics Federations confirmed to Herald Sport yesterday that three years' residence was sufficient qualification. The athletes, all working on minimum or near-minimum wages, were denied winnings from races because they were deemed ineligible to compete for Scotland.

The group, all members of Shettleston Harriers, and their supporters – the club's backing for these and other foreign athletes has been generous in the extreme – must have been bemused and angry to witness the fast-tracking of other nationals. UK Athletics were embroiled in the "Plastic Brits" criticism over the Olympics, and scottishathletics have been trumpeting the achievements of 2014-qualified athletes who have spent less time in Scotland than the Eritreans.

It must be infuriating to the club that they completed documentation for Tewoldeberhan Mengisteab and Tsegai Tewelde, the two best young Eritreans, two years ago, according to their spokesman.

There are suggestions that the root of the problem is that Scotland has to affiliate to the IAAF through the UK body. However, the IAAF told Herald Sport that there has been no communication with either UKA or Eritrean athletics in the past two years.

To represent Scotland in Glasgow 2014, the supposed five-year residency qualification is fulfilled, but the athletes also need a UK passport. That now needs to be a addressed as a priority. Scottishathletics may have believed UK citizenship to be a prerequisite of competing for Scotland, but the IAAF did not indicate that this week.

The Eritreans' stay here has been fraught. Amanuel Hagos and his partner Amselet Tewelde have had two children. One died, the other is disabled. Hagos then contracted TB.

Tsegai Tewelde is by any standards a most remarkable talent. Scotland should have been nurturing him in particular, attempting to fast-track for 2014. Scotland's greatest miler, Graham Williamson, ran a UK age-group record for 1500m at the same age as that of Tewelde at the 2007 World Junior Championships: an identical time of 3:42.1.

Given his background, Tewelde's achievements are remarkable. A landmine killed his grandfather. After Tewelde arrived in Scotland his brother also died. He was unable to return for the funeral.

Tewelde himself was maimed by a mine when he was eight. The explosion killed his friend. Tewelde has undergone surgery to remove shrapnel. This is surely a warrior spirit to be nurtured, not ignored.

Mengisteab clocked 62.36 for the half marathon at the World Road race championships in Udine in 2007. It was his last race before the World cross country in Edinburgh in which he beat every British senior athlete, though he had just turned 21.

Yet the supposedly definitive UK Athletics statistical website Power of 10 makes no mention of any of the Eritrean performances.

Scottishathletics chief executive Nigel Holl once told me they were treading delicately because the runners had refused to go home after the Holyrood event, hardly surprising given its human rights record and we should not be forelock-tugging to such a regime.

The group were once team-mates of the former world cross country champion and world half marathon champion Zersenay Tadese. When he returned to Scotland for a race at Holyrood, he was feted by the Eritrean community in Glasgow.

He arrived with two suitcases of traditional food for those who had sought asylum and returned home wearing a Shettleston fleece.

Tadese's warmth, and that of the East End club, is in contrast to the governing body's cold shoulder. It may already be too late to put the Eritreans back on course for 2014. They have lost a lot of drive and fitness. But the sport owes it to them to give them encouragement.