World Athletics has been urged not to ban Kenya from the sport for violations of doping rules by a government minister from the East African country.
The nation is reportedly at risk of a sanction following a string of cases, with 55 of its athletes serving suspensions issued by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).
Kenya’s situation will be discussed at the World athletics council meeting in Rome next week, BBC Sport Africa understands.
Ababu Namwamba, the cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts, has written to World Athletics president Lord Coe to assure him that Kenya’s government is taking firm measures to uphold the integrity of athletics.
“We cannot allow our nation to be banned because of the actions of some greedy unethical individuals,” Namwamba said.
“We will target and deal decisively with the criminals and their syndicates. We must work together to eradicate doping and cheating from athletics and sports in general.”
Kenya is among seven countries deemed a ‘Category A’ federation – the highest doping risk – by the AIU, meaning athletes from the countries have to undergo at least three tests in the 10 months prior to a major event to be able to compete there.
Its total of 55 athletes serving bans is the third most of any nationality behind Russia (102) and India (61).
Russia has been banned by World Athletics from competing as a nation in athletics since 2015 but untainted athletes were still able to compete under a neutral flag until the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February, when all athletes, support personnel and officials from the country were banned.
Seventeen Kenyan athletes have been sanctioned by the AIU this year for a range of violations, with a further eight provisionally suspended and awaiting the outcomes of their cases.
An overarching ban by World Athletics and the AIU would be a huge blow to the reputation of the East African country, which has won 34 of its 35 Olympic gold medals in track and field events.
The National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) welcomed the government’s intervention and said it would continue supporting “all efforts and actions as a partner in dismantling all systems and avenues perpetuating the vice of doping in athletics”.
A statement from the body said the country had built an “illustrious history” in the sport and that “it is not ready to sacrifice this reputation due to the greed of a few actors”.
“We join our voice in pleading with World Athletics and other parties to withhold any punitive measures such as a ban and consider the multifaceted efforts of the Kenyan community, led by the government, as a positive sign and contribution towards a zero-doping environment in Kenya,” NOC-K president Paul Tergat added.
Two-time Olympic champion and marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge has said the increasing number of doping cases is “worrying” and “clean sport is the way to go”.
The Ministry of Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts said Kenya has a zero tolerance to doping and is “fully committed to ending the doping menace”.
“We must defeat doping and its perpetrators. This is a serious concern and that is why the government is giving total undivided attention,” Namwamba added.
“We are treating it as a matter of top strategic national interest.”