Kenya holds breath as doping record under increased scrutiny
13 November 2015, 21:37
Nairobi — As the world focuses on Russia and its doping scandal, running great Kip Keino is preparing for the spotlight to turn to Kenya.
Keino, a two-time Olympic champion, is now the head of the Kenyan Olympic committee. He is worried that his country could be facing a blanket ban from competition if it doesn't clean up its act.
"Things are still very bad," Keino said of the country's anti-doping efforts. "We must take action now or we shall not be welcome in international games."
Kenya topped the medals table at this year's world championships ahead of Jamaica and the United States. But the East African nation, still also dominant in marathons, does not have an effective anti-doping program three years after German broadcaster ARD revealed banned substances were easily available and few doping tests were carried out.
Two Kenyans also failed targeted doping tests at the world championships in Beijing in August, the latest of nearly 40 Kenyans to have tested positive for banned substances since 2012.
Keino recently returned from a meeting with the World Anti-Doping Agency and warned that his country — like the threat against Russia — could be thrown out of competitions because of doping among its world-class runners.
WADA spokesman Ben Nichols said in an email statement to The Associated Press that reports of a ban were "not accurate," but that "there is still a lot of work required to bring their anti-doping program up to par."
WADA specifically has concerns with delays from the Kenyan government in providing funding for a new national anti-doping body, which is still not functioning. WADA has been calling for an effective anti-doping agency in Kenya since late 2012. A doping laboratory supposed to be operational by now in Nairobi has not opened.
Officials from the Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya, which doesn't yet have offices, didn't respond to requests for comment. Its head is a former government official.
There are also allegations that track officials have ignored the doping problem, or worse are complicit in concealing it, aware that track and field is the country's leading source of national pride and a big generator of money.
"In my opinion, doping is still rampant in Kenya because officials who are running the sport are too old and too much involved in the practice," three-time world steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui told the AP on Thursday. "Nowadays, you come to the sport clean but within one year you are converted into cheating."
Dick Pound, who headed up the WADA-commissioned report on doping in Russia, said Kenya also "has a real problem." Russia is not the only country "facing the problem of orchestrated doping," WADA's investigators said in their report.
On Thursday, Athletics Kenya chief executive Isaac Mwangi denied allegations of systematic doping and said he had no fears of a ban for Kenya. The allegations are "not the same" as Russia, he said.
"We understand why there is great focus on Kenya. We are top of the world and anyone would like to bring scrutiny," Mwangi said. "If anyone is to allege systematic doping in the country, we are ready to cooperate and collaborate with them to give them all the information they want.
"From where we sit, there is no systematic doping in Kenya. I'm not even sure our athletes and coaches have capacity to cover up such things."
Yet it took Kenyan authorities two years from the first allegations to publicly recognize they had a problem at all.
That came when Rita Jeptoo, a leading marathon runner, tested positive for the blood-booster EPO last year and was subsequently banned for two years. Before her ban, Jeptoo was about to be crowned world marathon majors champion. A year later, Athletics Kenya says it is still investigating who provided Jeptoo with the EPO.
Two days before the explosive report on Russia was released, Kenya "acknowledged the seriousness" of its doping problem in a joint statement from the athletics federation, the anti-doping agency and the national Olympic committee.
Despite the claims from authorities, WADA and others say not enough has been done in Kenya.
An independent report into Kenyan doping last year said Athletics Kenya and specifically its president, Isaiah Kiplagat, had been uncooperative. But the report also revealed a jaw-dropping statistic: Kenya, with its multitude of world and Olympic champions, had an anti-doping budget in 2014 of $2,000 a year, enough for maybe five drug tests.
"We are being told action is being taken but on the ground, there is nothing," said Kiptanui, the former steeplechase world champion. "It's just a PR exercise since all eyes are on us."
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