NAIROBI (Reuters) -Kenya's government is urging World Athletics not to ban the country from the sport, promising to step up its fight against the use of banned substances after a series of its athletes were suspended for doping.
The East African country is world renowned for its middle and long-distance runners, who have won numerous gold medals at Olympics and World Championships and clocked up record times. Kenya ranked third in the athletics medal haul at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Kenya has faced accusations of widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs for years, but the athletics powerhouse has recently been buffeted by an increasing number of its runners testing positive.
A ban would leave its athletes unable to compete globally, put its athletes' plans for the 2024 Olympic games in Paris at risk and badly damage the country's reputation in the sport.
"We will not allow unethical individuals to ruin Kenya's reputation through doping," Kenya's minister for sports, Ababu Namwamba, said on Twitter on Friday. "We must defeat doping and its perpetrators."
The government has told the governing body that it has committed an annual amount of $5 million over the next five years for the fight against doping, the Daily Nation newspaper reported.
It is also taking "firm measures" and had a commitment of "zero tolerance" towards doping, Namwamba said.
This week Kenya's government wrote to World Athletics to try and ward off a potential ban. A spokesperson for World Athletics confirmed to Reuters receipt of the letter.
The governing body's decision-making council is reportedly scheduled to meet in Rome next week, where Kenya is likely to be discussed.
Fifty-five Kenyan athletes are currently banned and eight provisionally suspended, according to the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), an independent body formed by World Athletics to combat doping in the sport.
Kenya is a 'Category A' country under World Athletics' Anti-Doping Rules, which means its athletes must undergo at least three no-notice, out-of-competition urine and blood tests before major events.
There are currently seven 'Category A' countries including Belarus, Ethiopia and Ukraine.
The AIU said in an email it had received a Kenyan government statement but had no response.
Among the Kenyans caught using banned substances are 2021 Boston Marathon winner Diana Kipyokei and compatriot Betty Wilson Lempus, who were provisionally suspended last month for using triamcinolone acetonide.
In April, Kenya's 2014 Commonwealth Games and Africa 10,000 metres champion Joyce Chepkirui was banned for four years, dated back to 2019, for an Athlete Biological Passport discrepancy.
Kenya in 2016 signed an anti-doping bill into law that was required to avoid a ban from the Rio Olympics.
(Reporting by Tommy Reggiori Wilkes; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Kim Coghill)