Kenya vowed on Thursday to clean up its act after escaping a ban by World Athletics for doping that threatened to make the east African track and field powerhouse a sporting pariah.
World Athletics decided against a ban at its council meeting in Rome on Wednesday but said Kenya had a “long journey” to rebuild trust after a string of high-profile doping scandals.
Kenya’s Sports Minister Ababu Namwamba thanked World Athletics for giving the country a second chance and said the government was ready to fight a “war” on doping.
“We will not allow a few greedy criminal elements to destroy this hard-earned heritage of a nation that prides itself on competing and winning clean,” he told reporters.
“We will make doping the most expensive affair you can engage in as athlete. We want to make the handling of doping substances as criminal as handling hard narcotics.”
Kenya’s doping problem is not new.
The athletics giant has been in the top category on the World-Anti Doping Agency watch list since February 2016, alongside only Bahrain, Belarus, Ethiopia, Morocco, Nigeria and Ukraine.
There are currently 55 Kenyan athletes listed on the Athletics Integrity Unit’s global list of ineligible persons, last updated on November 21.
A further eight are listed as being provisionally suspended.
Kenya created its own anti-doping agency in 2016 and introduced criminal penalties including jail time for those caught up in cheating.
But nobody has been prosecuted to date, and the number of Kenyan athletes found guilty of doping has only climbed.
Namwamba conceded that an “incredibly high level” of doping incidents had taken place and Kenya had no excuse going forward.
“If we repeat this misconduct, Kenya will have no excuse should stern action be taken against this country in future,” he said.
“Our commitment is that the fight against doping is now a number-one priority for us. Our new mantra as a government and Athletics Kenya is absolute zero tolerance to doping.”
The government has committed $25 million over five years to help pay for more anti-doping personnel, increase testing and investigation, bolster education programmes and also probe athlete entourages.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe on Wednesday welcomed Kenya’s pledge of a financial package to combat doping and do everything possible “to resolve this issue”.