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Moves in Kenya to criminalise doping

18 January 2015, 18:09

Nairobi - Politicians in distance running powerhouse Kenya are coming under mounting pressure to push through laws criminalising doping and put an end to months of suspicion, recriminations and shame.

The current crisis over drugs cheats has been years in the making, but reached a head late last year when it emerged one of the world's top female distance runners, Boston and Chicago marathon winner Rita Jeptoo, was caught using the blood-boosting hormone EPO.

Jeptoo is the biggest name in Kenyan sports ever to have been caught, and the bust has been a major trauma for a country that idolises its medal-winning and record-breaking runners.

"This doping issue is just as bad as AIDS," said the head of Athletics Kenya, Isaiah Kiplagat, in a comment that was doubtless exaggerated but nevertheless underscored the panic currently sweeping the local governing body for the sport.

While Athletics Kenya deliberates over how long a ban Jeptoo should face -- although it will be at least two years -- there are also fears of longer-term repercussions.

"We all now risk being labelled as drugs cheats," lamented Wilson Kipsang, an Olympic medalist and one of the world's top marathon runners.

"There is an urgent need to put those people who have been supplying our athletes with drugs behind bars," he told AFP, complaining that Athletic Kenya had failed to take the issue seriously.

Kipsang is backing former Boston marathon winner turned MP Wesley Korir, who has announced plans to push tough anti-doping legislation through parliament and go a step beyond competition bans.

The stakes are high for Kenya: aside from being a major source of national pride, the influx of prize money from track and road races have also transformed previously impoverished communities in the high-altitude Rift Valley region.

The small town of Iten near Eldoret in western Kenya, also brands itself as the "home of champions" and is now emerging as a major training hub for international athletes -- and can ill-afford a Lance Armstrong-type scandal that removes the gloss from Kenya's undoubted pool of talent.

"If we wait too long it will be too late," said Korir, but added that he was optimistic legislation would be passed: "From the feedback I have received, most MPs are in support of this bill that I have no reasonable doubt it will be enacted into law."

"What we want to create is the fear among the athletes that this thing is wrong and needs to be stopped. Something needs to be done and done very quickly," he said. "Otherwise at this rate Kenya might not be able to participate in the world championships in Beijing in August."

The head of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK), Kip Keino, has also added his voice to the campaign.

"We hope parliament will move faster to criminalise doping and those people who are found to have supplied or injected Kenyan athletes with illegal drugs are jailed for between three to six years," said Keino, winner of three Olympic 1500m and 3000m gold medals in 1968 and 1972 games.

"We need to educate the athletes about the seriousness of engaging in illegal doping."

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