ELDORET (Reuters) - Kenya's government has failed to seriously tackle doping and must act swiftly to prevent its athletes being banned at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the chairman of Kenya's Olympic committee said on Tuesday.
Dozens of Kenyan runners have been caught doping in the past few years, tarnishing the reputation of the east African country famed for its middle and long-distance runners.
The World-Anti Doping Agency (WADA) ratcheted up pressure on Kenya last week by threatening the country with a four-year ban unless it stepped up the fight against drugs cheats.
Kipchoge Keino, a Kenyan running great and chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK), said government officials have shown little appetite to act against doping.
"I have personally tried to reach government officials to agree on how to act on this menace but I don’t get appointments. I make calls that are unanswered," Keino told Reuters.
"We even tried to convince senior government officials to attend these meetings, but they instead delegate to junior officers."
WADA this week called for Russia to be suspended from international competition after publishing a report alleging a state-sponsored culture including systematic doping, cover ups and bribe-taking.
Keino said Kenya's sports ministry has been "ambivalent" on doping matters and urged the government to take drastic measures to demonstrate its anti-doping credentials, including introducing new laws to criminalise thoze involved in doping.
"That way, we shall convince the world of our commitment to fighting this crime. Anything else is just sugar coating," added Keino, a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
WADA and other officials have voiced frustration over the years that Athletics Kenya (AK) has not cracked down on doping, despite frequent promises that it would do so.
Athletics Kenya has denied accusations of corruption and said it was trying hard to root out doping. It has vowed to investigate all failed tests and this year suspended two foreign coaches who trained several Kenyan runners who doped.
AK on Saturday also said the government was working to fast-track anti-doping legislation.
Kenya has recently established an independent anti-doping agency but it has few facilities to test athletes.
It is estimated that more than 35 Kenyan runners have failed drugs tests in the last three years, including Rita Jeptoo, winner of the Boston and Chicago Marathons.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ken Ferris)