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NAIROBI (Reuters) - The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is stepping up efforts to get Kenya banned from international competition for four years unless the nation seriously tackles doping by its athletes, the chairman of Kenya's Olympic committee said on Friday.
Dozens of Kenyan runners have been caught doping in the past few years, tarnishing the reputation of the east African country famed for its middle and long-distance runners.
WADA and other officials have voiced frustration over the years that Athletics Kenya (AK) has not cracked down on doping, despite frequent promises that it would do so.
Kipchoge Keino, a Kenyan running great and chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK), said WADA was "seriously considering" recommending Kenya to be banned from all competitions for four years, including the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"It is no longer just a threat," Keino told reporters in Nairobi after returning from United States where he met WADA officials.
"They think Kenya is sweeping doping issues under the carpet.
"The ADAK (Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya), Athletics Kenya and Government must meet immediately to confront this issue or else we are in big trouble. Things are that bad."
Keino said WADA questioned why Kenya had not taken action against Joyce Zakari and Koki Manunga, two Kenyan runners who failed doping tests at the world championships in Beijing in August. In September, two more Kenyan athletes were suspended for doping.
Kenya's champion runners say the failed doping cases have damaged the country's reputation and opponents often viewed Kenyan athletes with suspicion if they won lucrative road and track races.
Kenya's reputation was dealt another blow this year when Britain's Sunday Times newspaper and German broadcaster ARD/WDR said they had been leaked suspicious blood results from more than 800 athletes, including 77 Kenyans.
The Sunday Times alleged that athletes who won a fifth of Kenya's 92 Olympic and world championship medals between 2001-2012 had had suspicious blood results. ARD accused Athletics Kenya officials of covering up failed drugs cases.
Athletics Kenya has denied accusations of corruption and said it was trying hard to root out doping. It has vowed to investigate all failed tests and this year suspended two foreign coaches who trained several Kenyan runners who doped.
It is estimated that more than 35 Kenyan runners have failed drugs tests in the last three years, including Rita Jeptoo, winner of the Boston and Chicago Marathons.
Editing by Ed Osmond