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IAAF won't ban Kenya from Rio Olympics, despite WADA decision

The IAAF says it won't ban Kenya's track and field athletes from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro despite having serious concerns over the country's anti-doping program.

Distance running powerhouse remains on doping monitoring list

Despite Thursday's decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to suspend Kenya's drug-testing agency, the IAAF says its athletes can still compete internationally through to the end of 2016. (Ben Curtis/The Associated Press)

Kenya's track and field athletes won't be banned from the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro despite serious concerns over the African country's anti-doping program, the IAAF said Friday.

The IAAF said in a statement to The Associated Press that Kenya remains on a "monitoring list" of countries with doping problems until the end of the year. But, despite Thursday's decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to declare Kenya's drug-testing agency non-compliant, the nation's athletes can still compete through to the end of 2016.

"During the monitoring process ... Kenyan athletes remain eligible to compete nationally and internationally," the IAAF said.

That means Kenyans will be able to take part in track and field at the Rio Games in August, unless the International Olympic Committee, which has the final say, steps in. That is considered unlikely.

A country's anti-doping agency "can be non-compliant for a number of reasons, there are currently a number of others in this position. It does not mean that the athletes will be stopped from participating in the Olympic Games," the IOC said in a statement to the AP.

Kenya would "of course" be discussed at the next IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, early next month, the IOC said.

Although Kenya appears clear to go to Rio, there are still big problems with its anti-doping program.

Since the 2012 London Olympics, 40 Kenyan track and field athletes have been banned for doping — a rate of about one per month — and four senior track officials are under investigation by the IAAF for potential subversion of the anti-doping process. One of those officials is a current member of the IAAF's governing council, and another a former member.

WADA's decision to suspend Kenya's anti-doping program "is a further reflection of the IAAF's concerns about the level of commitment to anti-doping at the national level in Kenya," the IAAF said.

It also said Kenya's elite athletes were now the most tested of any country by the IAAF. Kenya could face more serious sanctions from the track body at the end of the year if its drug-testing program is still a mess.

Kenya's anti-doping program needed to be "significantly strengthened by the end of the current year," the IAAF said.

Fearing the possibility of an Olympic ban, Kenyan authorities were scrambling earlier Friday to sort out their problems. Parts of a new anti-doping law that was ruled inadequate by WADA — and led to the non-compliant declaration — would be hurriedly rewritten and pushed through parliament, the sports minister said.

Kenya Sports Minister Hassan Wario said that WADA had pointed out which parts of the law needed changing. He said the problem areas can be "rewritten or rectified."

"Meaning that as soon as parliament reviews those highlighted bits of the legislation we are fully compliant," Wario said in a statement sent by text message to reporters. "No ban was mentioned in the body of the letter."

That's because WADA doesn't have the power to enforce a ban on Kenya's athletes, but the IAAF does, and it did with Russia after its anti-doping program was declared non-compliant following allegations of corruption and doping coverups last year.

WADA's surprise decision to suspend Kenya's anti-doping body came after the East African nation finally passed the legislation last month following two missed deadlines. Kenya celebrated the passing of the law then and hailed it a success, but WADA on Thursday described it as "a complete mess." Late changes had been made, causing it to be rejected, WADA said.

The IAAF noted Friday that there was still a possibility, albeit remote, that the IOC could take action against Kenya ahead of Rio.

'Wouldn't want an Olympics without Kenya'

Reid Coolsaet, Canada's top marathoner, had a measured reaction to the latest developments. Coolsaet has been an outspoken critic of doping irregularities in Kenya, where testing isn't always random and athletes are sometimes tipped off.

"On one hand I wouldn't want to have an Olympics without Kenya," said Coolsaet, who spends the winter training in Kenya with some of the world's top distance runners at a training camp in the Rift Valley. "On the other, I'd like to see the IAAF take a serious stance to doping and insufficient testing." 

"If Kenya was banned that would mean many clean Kenyan athletes getting cheated out of the Olympics." 

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