Russia's athletics ban stirs fears in doping-hit Kenya

Sun Nov 15, 2015 11:04am EST
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By Drazen Jorgic

ITEN, Kenya (Reuters) - In Kenya's running heartlands, a spate of failed drug tests has fueled fears the East African nation could follow Russia in being suspended from world athletics over doping violations, threatening the region's economic lifeline.

The unprecedented move to suspend Russia from international track and field competitions follows an explosive report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) alleging sweeping, state-sponsored use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Kenya's lush Rift Valley region, famous for churning out champion runners from high-altitude training camps, was shaken by a warning from a top official that WADA was "seriously considering" banning Kenya for four years, including from 2016 Rio Olympics.

The threat is a major concern for a region where children still trudge to school barefoot and most hotels, large houses and flashy German cars belong to athletes who used running as a way out of poverty.

"If one athlete goes out there and wins, he brings the money and shares with the community. If that stops, life will be hard for most Kenyans here," said Philip Singoei, 39, a two-time winner of the Eindhoven marathon who used his race winnings to pay school fees for nine siblings.

In the last few years, 33 Kenyan runners have failed drugs tests in WADA-accredited labs, including Rita Jeptoo, winner of Boston and Chicago Marathons. The world governing body, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), said two Kenyans failed doping tests in August at the Beijing world championships, where Kenya topped the medals table.

Earlier this year Britain's Sunday Times newspaper and German broadcaster ARD/WDR said that athletes who won a fifth of Kenya's 92 Olympic and world championship medals between 2001-2012 had suspicious blood results.

Only Russia had more medal-winning athletes with suspect blood tests, according to The Sunday Times, which said its report was based on leaked IAAF blood testing data.   Continued...

Athletes run during a training session near the town of Iten in western Kenya, November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola